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Kiribati: Where the End of the World Will Begin

According to a widely publicized prophecy, this Saturday, May 21, is Judgment Day — the day that the New Testament says true Christians will be elevated to heaven, leaving the rest of humanity to burn in a cataclysmic fire.

There is no widespread belief among Christians that the May 21 prediction is true — according to one passage in the Bible, Judgment Day is unknowable in advance — but let's say, for one second, that it is: Which country will experience the end of the world first?

It's Kiribati, a tropical island nation that lies in the central Pacific Ocean. Kiribati is the easternmost country that lies west of the International Date Line, making it the first country to see the dawn of each new day.

The International Date Line, which zigzags along the 180-degrees longitude line that cuts through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, marks an arbitrary boundary between one day and the next. To a traveler heading east, the time keeps getting later, hour by hour, until crossing the Date Line, at which point it becomes 24 hours earlier. That's why flying from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia looks like it takes about 32 hours on the clock, but when you fly the other way (from Sydney to L.A.), you arrive two or three hours before you left.

Dawn on Saturday in Kiribati (just west of the Date Line) will occur simultaneously with dawn on Friday in Hawaii (just east of the line). If the Rapture takes place this Saturday, Hawaiians will have a hole day to contemplate events in Kiribati before it's their turn. How would the Kiribati locals, the I-Kiribati, fare? Perhaps not too badly; Christianity is the major religion there.

This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover.