Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 16, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 2


Introduction

This is Part 2 of my two-part series on the 2012 claims of astrologer Terry Nazon, found on her website, “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012,” which I found after seeing the Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show for February 15, 2010 on their “Astrology Special.”

Part 1 of this series dealt with Ms. Nazon’s specific numbered claims on that page on her website. This second part will focus on the claims she makes throughout the paragraphical text on the page.

Note: There will be a third part to this series, but it will not be posted for a few months. I have been in contact with Johan Normark, who writes the Archaeological Haecceities blog and he has agreed to write a guest post for me about Ms. Nazon’s claims of the Mayan culture, but he will not be able to do so for a few months.

The Galactic Center — of Our Universe?

“Let me introduce you to the Galactic Center of our universe, the Milky Way 27° Sagittarius. This is where all the creative energy of universe comes from. A Massive black hole, many times larger than our own Sun.”

After reading some of what Ms. Nazon has written, and especially going into her numbered claims as I did in Part 1 of this 2-part post, I would surmise that she knows very little astronomy. I would expect she knows some very basics, like what a planet is, what the ones in the solar system are, and some basics known to laypeople. However, she apparently does not know galactic structure nor the basics of the layout o the universe, as evidenced by the above quote.

In my first part of this series on Ms. Nazon, I very quickly brushed through celestial coordinate systems. I’ll go a bit more in-depth here because this post is MUCH shorter.

If you were to project Earth’s latitude system onto the sky, you get what astronomers refer to as “declination” which is abbreviated as “DEC.” It’s that simple. The North Celestial Pole, at +90 DEC, is very close to the star Polaris and is where Earth’s rotational axis would lie if it were to go on forever. 0° DEC is the celestial equator.

Longitude is a bit trickier. While there are technically 360° in any circle, astronomers divide the sky’s longitude into what’s known as “right ascension,” where the circle is divided into 24 hours (abbreviated “RA”). The reason for this is to make estimating when an object will be visible a little easier. For example, let’s say I’m out observing and Mars is at the 13 hr RA. But, at that time, only objects at 12 hr RA are above my eastern horizon. Then I know right away that in 1 hour on the clock, Mars will rise. This is easier than taking the degree difference and then dividing by 15 to get the time.

So through this system of DEC and RA (where RA rotates with Earth’s rotation), we have a celestial coordinate system so that any astronomer could go to another and say, “I got an e-mail this morning from someone who claims they see Planet X at DEC +34° 12′ 52″, RA 11 hr 53 min 33 sec. Can you check out those coordinates to confirm?”

That is how you use the coordinate system Stating, “Milky Way 27° Sagittarius” is fairly meaningless. However, because I am familiar with to what she is referring as well as these general claims, I will decipher the statement (after first explaining why it’s meaningless). First, because she states 27°, one could assume she is referring to DEC because there is no such thing as degrees in RA. Stating that something is at DEC 27° is like stating that a ship is at 27° latitude. Okay, latitude is nice … but I’m not about to search the entire circle of the globe at that latitude for the ship.

She narrows it down by saying Sagittarius. Unfortunately for Ms. Nazon, the northern-most part of Sagittarius lies just above the -12° mark. Southern-most is just below -45°. So, let’s assume she actually means -27° instead of 27°. Because it’s Sagittarius, we are limited to RA 17h45m to 20h30m.

From the context, she’s talking about the very center of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A-star”), or Sag A* for short (us astronomers like abbr.). This object, which is a super-massive black hole, is located at the coordinates DEC -29° 0′ 27.9″, RA 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec. So even if we flip the sign for Ms. Nazon, she’s still 2° off, though not that big of a deal – I may be nit-picking here.

The second main reason why this claim shows Ms. Nazon knows little about structure is that our galaxy’s core has nothing to do with the universe. The universe couldn’t care less where our galaxy is nor where its core may be located. A galaxy is a grouping of stars, gas, dust, and dark matter, bound by mutual gravity. The universe is – by definition – “everything.” To claim that our galaxy’s center is the “Galactic Center of our universe” simply makes Ms. Nazon sound ignorant about the basic astronomy.

Oh, as to the creative energy flowing from the galaxy’s center … I’m going to leave that alone. It’s not worth commenting on other than to make a vague reference to Star Trek: The Animated Series.

To Infinity and Beyond!

“Now the concept of infinity and time has intrigued mathematicians, scientists, physicists and philosophers for eons. It was profound and very spiritual. On the number line with the center being zero, zero is never reached. To think that you can go infinitely in one direction and infinitely in another is not only profound but, it’s the truth. If that’s the case then, when we die or end, and when we are born and begin, is infinity. It’s a continuum of time. Since there is no end on the other side of zero… it is where everything happens, but didn’t.

“Our Galactic center at 27* Sagittarius is a black Hole…Is this where we find infinity?”

If you can understand what Ms. Nazon is saying for the first part of this, I congratulate you and I request that you explain it to me in the Comments section of this post.

As for the last sentence, as I explained above, the galactic center is at a DEC -29°, not 27°, and I think she’s mixing up her symbols with Sag A* and the little degree sign (°) on her “27.”

While you may not consider this to be an important point, it does speak to her lack of familiarity with the topic, and hence should speak to whether or not you want to pay her nearly $330 an hour for a phone consultation.

Real Particle Baths?

“During the Solstices the Galactic Center bathes us in energy. Real particle energy! Protons and Neutrons the DNA material that sustains life on Earth.”

Interesting claim. But profoundly meaningless. First, the center of our galaxy is very roughly 30,000 light-years away. That means that the fastest thing we know of – light – would take 30,000 years to get to us from there. So, perhaps Ms. Nazon is claiming that the Milky Way’s black hole is constantly spewing out material and so that 30,000 light-year distance -> time delay doesn’t matter.

Now, by definition, a black hole cannot emit particles (let’s ignore Hawking Radiation for this discussion). However, material falling into the black hole does emit radiation, and this radiation and any particles can be accelerated to speeds very close to that of light. So in that sense, Ms. Nazon is correct.

But, it’s this whole alignment with the solstices that’s meaningless. By definition, the Winter Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 18 hr, and the Summer Solstice happens when the sun is at exactly RA 6 hr. That’s actually how the RA system is set up, to line up with the solstices and equinoxes.

Granted, 17 hr 45 min 40.045 sec is not that far off from 18 hr 00 min 00.000 sec. But it’s not the same. And this is ignoring that it’s a few degrees off in DEC. So let’s say she’s right – on the Winter Solstice, this event for some reason happens because the sun is only about 14 min away from the galactic center. If that’s so, then why doesn’t this happen for the ~2-4 week period surrounding it? There are a few days around there when the sun is in closer alignment with the galactic center.

And then the same thing for the Summer Solstice, except why would this bathing event happen when the sun is in the opposite part of the sky?

And then, if you think about looking at the galaxy in a top-down way – say, a flat plate representing the galaxy and then a grain of sand representing our entire solar system – why would the orientation of that grain of sand relative to the center of the plate make any difference in the larger picture?

Final Thoughts, Part 2

This post is shorter than the first because there were much less astronomy-related specifics in it.

This post focused mainly on Ms. Nazon’s sketchy new-agey astronomy-sounding claims and why to anyone who studies astronomy they are fairly meaningless and demonstrably insignificant. If you doubt what I’ve written, I suggest you do a little independent reading on your own on astronomical coordinate systems, large-scale structure of the universe, and how an apparent alignment between two objects would have any bearing on anything. I invite you to post questions you may have in the Comments section for clarification.

And I would ask that – even if you don’t believe me completely – you consider the lack of knowledge that Ms. Nazon has demonstrated on her website before you fork over $64.00 for an “E-Reading via email,” or $74.85 for a 15-minute phone reading (or $329.95 for a 1-hour reading).

February 15, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 1


Introduction

While I was supposed to be working today, I was looking at the upcoming Coast to Coast AM late-night George Noory -hosted radio show. Tonight, February 15, 2010, they’re having what has been termed an “Astrology Special” with three astrologers coming in. I went to each of their websites just to nose around, and I found a page on Terry Nazon’s site dedicated to “The Mayan Prophecy of 2012.”

I’m an astronomer. Astrology is to astronomy what alchemy is to chemistry (or, for those about to take the SATs: astrology:astronomy::alchemy:chemistry). And, I’ve written many, many posts on the non-event of Planet X and 2012 (Planet X, 2012, and Planet X and 2012 — yes, those are different). So, this particular woman has combined two things that I just couldn’t help myself to post a break-down.

To do this, I’m going to examine both her numbered claims (part 1 – long!) and then claims she makes in the expository text (part 2).

Note: Several times I link to a NASA website on eclipses in this post. Unfortunately, that server seems to be down as of the time I’m posting this. You can do a search on Google for it and find the cached version of the page in most cases, however.

Other Note: It appears as though Ms. Nazon was cancelled from the show before it went live on Feb. 15. I am not sure when this change happened, but it was no more than 2-3 days before the episode.

Numbered Claim 1

“On December 21, 2012 The Winter Solstice, the Earth and the Galactic Center align. The Galactic Center is also called the Milky Way. The Mayans called the Milky Way, The Sacred Tree, or the Great Mother. This alignment of the Earth and the Galactic Center only happens once every 26,000 years! The Galactic Center is at approximately 26°-27° Sagittarius.”

I’ve addressed this claim directly, twice, on my blog before both in my post “ Planet X and 2012: What The Sky Looks Like On December 21, 2012” and “ Planet X and 2012: The PseudoAstronomy (or Just Plain Wrong Astronomy) About a Galactic Alignment.”

In sum and substance, no, there is no alignment between Earth, the sun, and/or the galactic center in 2012, let alone on December 21, 2012. Now, there was an “alignment” between the sun and galactic equator on December 21, 1998. I personally don’t recall anything special then except maybe taking my last semester exam in 9th grade. For references on this, see the two posts above and/or any astronomy planetarium software.

As for where the galactic center is located on the sky, it is true that it is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius. It is located at the celestial coordinates 17 h 45m 40s RA, -29° 00′ 28.00″ DEC. So while she’s right about Sagittarius, she’s wrong about the galactic center’s location, off in declination (latitude on the sky) by the width of at least four sun / full moon diameters.

Numbered Claim 2

“Uranus squares Pluto at 7° – 8° of cardinal signs. This is the waxing square of the cycle that started in the mid 1960s, with the conjunction of these two planets in mid Virgo. December 21st, 2012 A.D., represents an extremely close conjunction of the Winter Solstice Sun with the crossing point of the Galactic Equator (Equator of the Milky Way) and the Ecliptic (path of the Sun), what that ancient Maya recognized as the Sacred Tree, or the Great Mother. This is an event that has been coming to resonance very slowly over thousands and thousands of years. It will come to resolution at exactly 11:11 am GMT.”

I find this claim interesting. I really can’t say anything about “Uranus squaring Pluto” as that has nothing to do with astronomy, but I find it interesting in that this claim directly backtracks from the previous! She’s changed “Galactic Center” to “Galactic Equator,” which is actually finally correct (almost). The problem with this is that which I pointed out above, and I invite you to go to the links to my previous posts on the alleged alignment.

Numbered Claim 3

“March 16th 2012, A lunar occultation of Pluto occurs today. This is the first anywhere on Earth since January 19th 1935. They will occur every month now from today upto [sic] August 17th 2013.”

Now is as good a time as any to point out that I’m just copying and pasting from Ms. Nazon’s website. If there are spelling mistakes, I am indicating that with the [sic] as is standard practice to indicate it is not a transcription error on my part.

Anyway, I looked into this. I’m not sure what software she’s using, but I was using Starry Night Pro. I started out in my default location of Boulder, CO (USA) and didn’t see any occultation. I then went to France, Iran, a few places in Russia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the UK, Benin, Egypt, Venezuela, China, Australia, Chile … the closest I saw any approach was about 15′ of Pluto to the moon. That means it misses it about a quarter of a lunar diameter, and that was from the Falkland Islands. Finally I tried the south pole, and pluto gets within 6′ of the moon (0.1°). Close, but no cigar.

As far as I can tell, this claim is simply false, unless someone can give me a different location where this happens. (Again, I did this via simulation in Starry Night Pro.)

Now, what’s cool is that after March, the occultations do actually start to take place as seen from Earth, about every 27 days or so after that. Those of us at my latitude in Boulder, CO won’t be able to see this until January 10, 2013, at about 6:30 PM, though at that time they’ll be about 11° away from the sun. And, the occultations will stop around the August 2013 timeframe for those of us in the higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere.

And then this did occur back in January 19, 1935, again from the South Pole, and it just missed occulting Pluto on February 15, 1935.

So while this claim is partly/mostly correct, I’m not sure what the significance is supposed to be. It’s not like it happens on December 21, 2012.

Numbered Claim 4

“May 11th 2012 Saturn conjunct Spica (2nd time) [sic]“

I’d like to see her work on this claim. I checked several locations around the globe for this date, and the closest Saturn gets to the star Spica is several degrees (around 4). With the full moon being 0.5° across, that’s 8 full moons away.

However, I spoke with a friend of mine who practices astrology (yes, I do have friends, and yes, some of them have beliefs outside of my own). According to her, astrologers consider anything within about 5° to be a “conjunction” which is “considered to be mutually enhancing.” So, under that definition, yes, this will be a conjunction.

However, even if it is true … so what? (a) This isn’t December 21, 2012, and (b) what does a conjunction between Saturn and a star as seen from Earth have to do with anything?

Numbered Claim 5

“May 20th 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse at zero degrees Gemini. Central eclipse 23:53 GMT. Eclipse visible from southern USA, central America, central equatorial south America and Africa.”

A solar eclipse is a “rare” and beautiful thing that I hope to observe in August 2017, when totality will be centered pretty much directly over my parents’ house. It’ll be a partial eclipse from Boulder, but it will be occurring right around sunset so I’m not actually sure if I’ll be able to see it (or if I’ll still be in Boulder at that time).

The only thing un-rare about an eclipse is that they generally happen twice a year. And an annular eclipse – where the moon doesn’t quite cover the entire solar disk so you have an “annulus” of sun around it – isn’t the neat kind where you actually get totality. You can go to NASA’s eclipse website to view the eclipses for many decades into the past and future, both solar and lunar.

So, yes, there will be an annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012. This is not rare. And the time of greatest eclipse will occur at 23:53:53 GMT (so she’s a minute off, rounding, though that’s really nit-picking). And it will be visible from China, Japan, the Pacific, and western United States.

Otherwise, the where on the sky part of this eclipse is completely wrong. The sun and moon will lie within the constellation Taurus (the bull), with the sun at about 20° declination and about 4 hrs right ascension (see the diagram below from Starry Night Pro, location set to Boulder, CO). Far, far away from Gemini. In fact, it’s much closer to Aries than it is to Gemini. 0 RA is in the constellation Pisces … even farther from Gemini. I’m actually surprised that Ms. Nazon made a mistake this large unless she was using the wrong dates or just was making it up – about it being in Gemini. As for Gemini being at 0 RA, well, that just simply doesn’t happen and won’t for several thousand years.

Skychart on May 20, 2012 Showing Solar Eclipse

Skychart on May 20, 2012 Showing Solar Eclipse

Note on reading these images: First, you can click on any of the star chart images in this post for a much larger version. Second, a guide to reading these — Constellation names are in blue. Star names are in yellow. Solar system object names are in pale red. White outlines are constellation boundaries as defined by the International Astronomical Union nearly a century ago. Red grids are effectively the latitude/longitude system that we use in astronomy (declination (DEC) and right ascention (RA)). A green line is the line of the ecliptic – what the sun appears to trace out in the sky over the course of a year.

Numbered Claim 6

“June 4th 2012 Partial lunar eclipse at 15 degrees Sagittarius. Central eclipse 12:03 GMT [sic]“

We experience what are called “eclipse seasons” on Earth. This is when the nodes of when the moon crosses the celestial equator when it’s a new or full moon recur 1-2 times before they move away. In simpler terms, we only get an eclipse when the moon, Earth, and sun directly line up. Since the moon is on an inclined orbit, this only happens twice per orbit. And those locations (“nodes”) move around Earth. If we have a full moon when the moon is on a node, we get a lunar eclipse. If it’s a new moon, it’s a solar eclipse. And because it happens twice per orbit, then if you have one kind of eclipse, chances are very good that 2 weeks later, you’ll get the other kind.

That’s the case here, for June 4, 2012. And it will be a partial lunar eclipse – again, not the most interesting kind, and the time of greatest eclipse will be approximately 11:04:20 GMT (she was an hour off). But I’ll take this opportunity again to ask, “So what?”

The only thing wrong with this claim is that Ms. Nazon again gets the constellation wrong – the moon will be in the constellation Ophiuchus (which I think is the bane of astrologers since, because of precession, there are now 13 “sun signs,” but Western astrologers only recognize the original 12). The moon will be about 13° away from the edge of the constellation Sagittarius for this eclipse … that’s nearly 8% of the way across the visible sky at the time. Again, a fairly big miss for someone who studies the sky.

Skychart on June 04, 2012 Showing Lunar Eclipse

Skychart on June 04, 2012 Showing Lunar Eclipse

Numbered Claim 7

“June 6th 2012 Transit of Venus across the disc of the Sun.”

Now this is cool. Once every 122 years and then again 8 years later, the planet Venus transits across the disk of the sun as seen from Earth. Historically, this has been very important for astronomy because it was the only way to directly measure the size of the solar system and the distance between us and the sun. I invite you to read a bit more about it on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

Anyway, yes, this does happen, and will happen, though unfortunately it won’t be visible from most of the US as it happens from 22:09 June 5 through 4:49 June 6 (GMT). About the best place for this one will be Indonesia or Japan.

While this has historic significance for astronomy, though, I again fail to see the significance of it in foretelling, well, anything that is supposed to happen on December 21, 2012.

Numbered Claim 8

“June 11th 2012 Jupiter enters Gemini.”

If she’s right … So?

But yet again, Ms. Nizan is wrong. I’ll again direct you to any number of for-free or commercial planetarium sky programs and tell you to go to that date and look at where Gemini is and look at where Jupiter is. On June 11, 2012, Jupiter is clearly on the ARES side of Taurus, not anywhere near Gemini. Maybe she got her year wrong — Jupiter enters Gemini on June 27, 2013.

Skychart on June 11, 2012 Showing Jupiter's Location

Skychart on June 11, 2012 Showing Jupiter's Location

Also, Jupiter orbits the sun once every ~12 years or so. That means that about once a year, it moves into a new constellation. About once every 12 years, it repeats the cycle! Gasp!

Numbered Claim 9

“July 15th 2012 Lunar grazing occultation of Jupiter (visible from the UK with a clear horizon ) 02-00 [sic] GMT.”

This claim is true and pretty cool. The moon will occult Jupiter for several minutes at this time as seen from the UK. But it’s just as significant – and even more common – as the lunar occultation of the planet Saturn that was visible from the US and other parts of the world in 1997.

While in analyzing these claims so far I’ve concentrated on showing some of their flaws, I will yet again ask: So what? What does an apparent alignment from an insignificant planet floating in a vast universe have to do with anything?

Numbered Claim 10

“Aug 14th 2012 Mars and Saturn conjunct Spica [sic]“

Not sure what Ms. Nazon has against periods, but she leaves them out a lot in this list. Anyway, Ms. Nazon seems big on conjunctions with Spica. And as I stated for her 4th claim, this is another one that is simply not true. A conjunction is when things come together and appear to be in the same spot. Unless you’re using a very loose definition of the word – perhaps she meant “close conjunction” instead of “conjunction” – then this is again demonstrably false (just go to planetarium software and look!!).

Yes, they’re reasonably close, with about 3.5 full moons separating Mars from Spica, and 5.5 separating Mars from Saturn. I’m really not sure I’d call this a conjunction, especially if you’re trying to link it to some cosmic energy vortex being activated because these objects are supposed to meet. But, I suppose under the 5° idea that astrologers seem to use (based on my friend), the three will be in a “conjunction.”

Numbered Claim 11

“August 22nd 2012 The Moon, Mars, and Saturn are conjunct [sic] Spica.”

Moving the ol’ clock forward on Starry Night software and … Nope! For those familiar with photography, you could easily use a 100mm lens to photograph this close conjunction. You need something with wider than a 5° field of view, as Saturn from the moon is nearly 6° apart — even under the 5° rule we can’t really consider this to be a conjunction.

Now, granted, this would make a neat photograph. And if I remember, I’ll probably try to capture it. But in the grand scheme of things, this really is not a very close conjunction – definitely not a once-in-26,000-years event.

Numbered Claim 12

“October 5th 2012 Saturn enters Scorpio.”

Okay, I’m not sure what Ms. Nazon is using. But Saturn is still pretty much smack dab in the middle of Virgo in October 2012 (see image below). Unlike Jupiter, Saturn takes longer – about 30 years – to orbit the sun once. So, it will enter a new constellation about once every 2.5 years. And 30 years later it repeats. So, is there supposed to be some significance I’m not getting in it staying in Virgo on October 5, 2012 allegedly entering Scorpius?

Skychart on October 05, 2012 Showing Saturn's Location

Skychart on October 05, 2012 Showing Saturn's Location

Numbered Claim 13

“November 13th 2012 Total Solar Eclipse at 22 degrees Scorpio 22-12 GMT visible from north-eastern Australia.”

Let’s see … May + 6 months = November … we have another potential eclipse! Which is what Ms. Nazon is predicting for NE Australia. And, lo!, yes there is an eclipse on November 13, 2012, visible from northern Australia and the southern Pacific.

But in what seems to be a running theme, this takes place in the constellation Libra (the scales), and the declination is about -18°, not 22°. For those who don’t know, Libra is a full 3 constellations away from Sagittarius, over 11% of the visible sky away from Sagittarius. It hasn’t been since about the year 1400 B.C. that the sun was in Sagittarius on November 13 — assuming we use our calendar instead of what was in use at the time.

Numbered Claim 14

“November 14th 2012 The Moon occults Mercury (daylight occultation visible from the UK with a telescope) .”

Yep, the moon occults Mercury, visible from the UK, at about 10AM on November 14, 2012. And it does it again May 9, 2013. Mercury never strays too far from the ecliptic, so the moon has a reasonable chance of occulting it once a month. So again, this is not a rare occurrence, nor does it have any physical significance.

Numbered Claim 15

“November 28th 2012 Penumbral lunar eclipse 7 degrees Gemini. Central eclipse 15:33 GMT [sic]“

Yep, 2 weeks after a solar eclipse, we have the possibility of a lunar one. And not a very good one at that – the moon may appear to dim a little, but it’s unlikely that it will appear to go very red. That’s what a penumbral eclipse is versus an umbral – the good kind! And if Earth’s shadow could stretch farther into space, just a few hours later we would see a Jovian eclipse with Earth’s shadow turning Jupiter red!

Anyway, I’m getting kinda sick of saying it and hopefully I don’t have to post yet another screenshot for you to believe me, but she got the constellation wrong again. This happens in Taurus, not Gemini. And I’m not sure where she’s getting her coordinates from — she either needs a new calculator, better tables, or better software. The moon will be at about 4 hrs RA and +20° DEC … not 7° in Gemini. In fact, the farthest south that Gemini gets is just under 10°. Now, Gemini does cross through the 7th hour RA, but there are 24 hours of RA, not 360, so saying anything about it being 7° is either being completely oblivious about what RA means or making up numbers.

And she’s again an hour off, with the greatest eclipse time being 14:34:07 GMT. This eclipse will be visible in Europe, East Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific, and North America.

Numbered Claim 16

“Uranus will enter Aries in 2011. The last time Uranus transited Aries was in 1927-1935 which we all know as The Great Depression.”

Okay, for some reason this claim was bolded on her site, along with #17 and 18. Perhaps it’s because she actually ties these into past events. Let’s look …

Uranus has a longer year than Saturn, about 84 Earth years. When running open house observing nights on campus, we refer to it as the “once in a lifetime” planet because unless you have an unusually long lifespan, you will never see Uranus in the same location in a constellation (excluding retrograde motion, but that’s a different story). You will never see it in the same place in its orbit (that’s more precise).

So now let’s go through this without looking up to see if she has the constellation right. 1927 + 84 = 2011, so yes, wherever Uranus was in 1927, it will be returning there around 2011. So that would be a correct analysis.

Now, about depressions. For those who don’t know, one of my hobbies is coin collecting. As such, I’ve tracked US inflation rates throughout history and come up with some beautiful graphs. Suffice to say, the US has gone through several “great” depressions – present one excluded because only history will tell if it’s a “great” one. The first was during the Revolutionary War, when inflation skyrocketed. Second was around the War of 1812 – about 40 years later. Third was during the Civil War, when America experienced the largest inflation rates in its history as a country (excluding just after its founding) — that was 50 years later. And then the Great Depression – about 70 years later. If you want to play it forward, we experienced depression-class inflation rates again during WWII (15 years later) and again during the Korean and Vietnam Wars (30-40 years later).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see an 84-year pattern there.

United States Inflation Rates, 1776-2008

United States Inflation Rates, 1776-2008

Oh, and now let’s see if it’s actually in Aries (looks at Starry Night Pro …) Nope. Uranus is smack-dab in the middle of Pisces. It enters Aries in late 2018. And what would it entering in 2011 have to do with 2012?

Numbered Claim 17

“Neptune will enter Pisces its own sign in 2011. The last time this occured [sic] was 1847-1862 where it last transited during the time of the French Revolution.”

Just because I’m already looking at Starry Night for Uranus and Aries, let’s take a look at Neptune. Neptune takes even longer in its orbit – about 164 years. And in very late 2011 it moves into Aquarius, and finally in December 2023, it will move into Pisces. So, I am honestly curious now – Ms. Nazon, what are you using to make these claims? Are you just making them up? Are you using software that doesn’t account or over-accounts for precession? What’s going on here?

Anyway, about revolutions. Yes, 1847+164 = 2011. Now, I’m not a historian, so I did a quick look-see on Wikipedia … The French Revolution was 1789-1799, while there was a less severe one in 1848. But revolutions take place all the time. The Cuban revolution of the 1960s. The Islamic Revolution in Iran in the 1970s. You could even say the Civil Rights in the 1960s was its own kind of political revolution. Let’s not forget the Communist Revolutions in the mid-1900s in China, Vietnam, and Korea. Or Germany in the 1930s, Italy in the 1930s, the Russian Revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century … need I go on?

This – like the Great Depression link to Uranus – is an obvious example of retrodiction and anomaly hunting. She’s looked at the last time Neptune was in that place in the sky (NOT PISCES) and found something that would’ve made front-page headlines while ignoring any other occurrence of an event of that type that has happened since.

Numbered Claim 18

“Pluto has entered Capricorn, well, the last time Pluto entered Capricorn was 1762-1777 the American Colonial Revolution.”

I’ve heard this from several astrologers on Coast to Coast over the last few years, that Pluto is entering a place in the sky that it hasn’t been since the American Revolution. That’s because Pluto’s year is about 248 Earth years, so it takes quite awhile. The “only” problem is that, yet again, Pluto won’t be in Capricorn until about mid-2024. It’s still in Sagittarius until then.

Numbered Claim 19

“Venus will make a rare planetary loop above the Orion star system, a rare planetary passage over the disk of the Sun on June 6,2012.”

Let’s take this in reverse-order since there are actually two things here. Venus’ year, being an inferior planet relative to Earth (meaning that it’s closer to the sun than Earth), is shorter than ours and once or twice a year it will pass close to the sun. Unless it passes directly in front of it, as is actually the case in 2012, it will appear to pass above or below the disk. And as I already discussed in Claim #7. Double-dipping isn’t allowed.

As for “rare planetary loop,” this happens about once every 20 months – hardly a once-in-26,000-years. When Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the sun (its farthest distance) when it’s an evening star, it will appear to reverse directions in the sky and instead of traveling West-to-East, it will go retrograde and travel East-to-West. So, from Earth’s point of view, it will look like it stops and reverses direction, I suppose appearing as a “loop” in the sky.

This happens when it’s in Taurus in May 2012 (above Orion, yes). It will happen in the constellation Libra in October 2010. It happened in March in 2009 in the constellation Pisces, above Cetus and below Andromeda and Pegasus. In December 2013 it will happen in Sagittarius, just next to Capricornus. And in August of 2015 it will happen through Leo. In fact, just a month before that – on July 1, 2015, Venus and Jupiter actually will have a very close conjunction, appearing less than 0.5° apart in the sky. Too bad it’s during the day, though you may be able to catch them pretty close together just after sunset.

Numbered Claim 20

“We will be in an 11 year Sun Spot Cycle that is known to make us less compliant and more reactive over the slightest provocation.”

Please show your work. And, by the way, we’re always in an ~11-year sunspot cycle.

Final Thoughts, Part 1

Okay, there are two real take-away points from this analysis of Terry Nazon’s justification for why 2012 is meaningful astrologically or that it’s going to lead to something big that the Mayans supposedly predicted.

First take-away point is that she’s quite sloppy. Well over half of the specific claims that she made for where objects would be relative to constellations are demonstrably false – just use any planetarium software you like and you’ll see this.

Second point is really the main debunking point of astrology – what does any apparent alignment of an object with another object from Earth’s fleeting vantage point at that moment have to do with anything?

February 10, 2010

Another Winter Storm, More “Global Warming Hoax” In the News


Introduction

Well, the intro to this is basically the title of this post: Another winter storm blankets the eastern U.S., and of course we have, as a result, people trying to use it as evidence against global climate change.

Good Time Article

Last time I made a post like this – last month – I gave kudos to ABC News and their article explaining that climate is NOT the same as weather. This time, I would like to draw attention to Time article, “Another Snowstorm: What Happened to Global Warming?” by Bryan Walsh. Another good article that understands “it’s a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season’s worth of storms — to disprove climate change.”

The most relevant part are the following two paragraphs (emphasis mine):

“Climate models also suggest that while global warming may not make hurricanes more common, it could well intensify the storms that do occur and make them more destructive.

“But as far as winter storms go, shouldn’t climate change make it too warm for snow to fall? Eventually that is likely to happen — but probably not for a while. In the meantime, warmer air could be supercharged with moisture and, as long as the temperature remains below 32°F [0 °C], it will result in blizzards rather than drenching winter rainstorms. And while the mid-Atlantic has borne the brunt of the snowfall so far this winter, areas near lakes may get hit even worse. As global temperatures have risen, the winter ice cover over the Great Lakes has shrunk, which has led to even more moisture in the atmosphere and more snow in the already hard-hit Great Lakes region, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of Climate.”

The article also points out that the fallacy of equating weather and climate is used by people on both sides of the debate – both by people claiming winter storms disprove climate change and by people claiming that droughts or record highs during a month period mean that global warming is definitely happening.

Final Thoughts

Wow! A short blog post! Okay, but anyway, as is generally the case with a politically charged issue, and with one where there are people who are dogmatically set on a premise that fundamentally misunderstands the basic concepts, any ray of hope that can be grasped by a current event is used and exploited to its fullest. As I’ve mentioned before, unsurprisingly George Noory had on guest Robert Felix at the beginning of tonight’s Coast to Coast AM show to talk about how this storm and other record lows and snows prove his own pet ideas – that we’re going into an ice age, not a warming period. Sigh.

But, this Time article is an example of more good science reporting, and trying to explain to a misunderstanding public that weather and climate are two different things.

February 9, 2010

Astrologers Take Note – We Are Nowhere NEAR the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”


Introduction

This post is aimed towards astrologers. However, I’m not certain I honestly expect astrologers to be the people who read my blog. But, I may be pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, there is a myth floating around that we are near the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” – as the popular(?) song goes. From what I can find out, many astrologers realized that this wouldn’t happen for several centuries yet, but some decided that they could make more money if they moved up the date to something that would be within their clients’ lifetimes. And then, with all the 2012 stuff going on, another subset of astrologers actually claim that 2012 will mark the beginning of the Aquarian Age, or that we are already entering it, or some such.

Well, we aren’t.

This Is Not a Straw Man

I’ve been criticized in some previous posts for not providing references or links to other sources (see, I do read the comments). Well, to show that first off this is not a straw man argument, let’s take a look at what some astrologers are saying:

“From three very different calculations, we have the Age of Aquarius beginning from 2,060 to 2,100 AD.” — Naomi Bennett

“The age of aquarius was officially ushered in, in this Astrologer’s opinion, on January 23 1997 at 17:35 GMT.” — Astrology-Online

“This change in the Age happens every two thousand years – the last one coincided with the arrival of Christ. Alternative medicine, astrology, vegetarianism and other subjects previously considered weird are growing rapidly in popularity, and are all subjects associated with the sign of Aquarius.” — David Weitzman

“A popular date for the beginning of the Age of Aquarius is the year 2000. If, however, the Age of Pisces began with the ministry of Jesus (as many claim), and if each age is 2150 years in duration, then we clearly have a long way to go before we pass into the Age of Aquarius.” — Unknown Source from Paranormality

“February 4, 1962 marked the end of the Age of Pisces and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.” — Gnostic Center

Even Wikipedia’s Overview section on the “Age of Aquarius” lists a nearly 2200-year span of when different astrologers think it will happen, with a mode focusing in the 20th century (as in, at least 10 years ago from the time of this writing). To insert a snide astronomer comment – come on folks! Astrology is hardly a precision craft!

What Defines the Ages?

From what my understanding is, a new “Age” is defined as when the sun is positioned within the boundary of a new constellation on the vernal equinox (March 21). Because of Earth’s precessional period of approximately 26,000 years, many astrologers seem to take 26,000, divide by the 12 “signs of the zodiac,” and arrive at a timespan of approximately 2150 years for each “Age.” Seems pretty simple, right?

There are a few problems – well, one really. The issue is that the constellations are not all 30° regular boxes (360° in a circle, divide by 12 gives 30°). And, the sun’s path through them is not a simple line (more of a long wave). The current “age” is Pisces. Every year in March, the sun appears in that constellation. And Pisces is a really big constellation. The sun’s path through Pisces is approximately 37-38°. So, right away we have an age that lasts closer to 2700 years instead of 2150.

When Does the Sun Enter Aquarius on the Vernal Equinox?

In this astronomer’s opinion, using the constellation boundaries defined by the International Astronomical Union in 1928, the sun will lie in Aquarius beginning approximately in 2675. Because the sun is actually a disk that spans 0.5° on the sky, it won’t be completely within the constellation on the vernal equinox for several years after that – until 2701. See the diagram below.

Sky in A.D. 2675

As for when the Piscean age started, this was in about the year 355 BC. Well before the year pegged by most historians as the birth year of Jesus. Again, see the diagram below.

Sky in 355 B.C.

Final Thoughts

Unless I’m missing something in the way the “Ages” are defined – and any astrologers, feel free to chime in – then this is one of the easiest astrological claims to show to be false. I used the software “Starry Night Pro” to create the charts included above. Many free planetarium software programs exist out there that run on Mac, Windows, Linux, and likely Unix. Use these, have it show constellation boundaries (and labels), and run time forward for yourself. You will see that the sun is clearly still in the boundaries of the constellation Pisces (the fish), and it will be several hundred more years before it enters Aquarius.

February 3, 2010

“How Could a Simple One-Armed Farmer …” A Bit More on Billy Meier / Michael Horn, And What Scientific Falsification Means


Introduction

In what is hopefully the last post for quite awhile on the alleged contactee status of Swiss farmer Billy Meier and his “Authorized American Media Representative” Michael Horn, I would like to discuss two very old (3+ years) interviews that Horn gave on the podcast, The Paracast. Specifically, I would like to address the second interview where Horn is presented with a specific analysis of a specific photograph that was shown beyond a reasonable doubt by one of the foremost experts in Photoshop to have been faked … and then Horn’s apparent refusal to actually answer the claims raised.

What Does it Mean to Falsify Something?

In science, there is pretty much no case where you can “prove” something. Just like the American legal system, someone is never “proven innocent,” nor are they “proven guilty.” They are either shown to be “not guilty” (very different from “innocent”) or that there is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that someone is guilty.

We operate much the same way in scientific circles. Even the two pillars of modern physics – Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – which I note are “theories,” have never been proven to be 100% true. They simply can’t be – science doesn’t operate that way. True, there are literally thousands of independent experiments that have tested these theories and shown them – so far, beyond a reasonable doubt – to precisely predict the results of the experiments to within measurement uncertainties and errors.

However, all it takes is ONE experiment, one piece of indisputable, independently reproducible evidence or an experiment or observation that is irreconcilable with any established theory, and the theory goes out the window. In historic hindsight, it’s really as simple as that, though of course during the process of the revolution it is a little messier.

Why do I bring this up? Well, it’s very relevant to the interviews that I’m going to address.

Paracast Interviews

Yet again, Conspiracy Skeptic Karl Mamer clued me into some older interviews that were done with Michael Horn and put out on June 27, 2006, and July 11, 2006. I think during that time I was on a 25-hr/day schedule to photograph the moon every night for two lunar months … but I digress.

Anyway, in the first interview, Horn was pretty much given free reign, much like in the Coast to Coast AM interviews I’ve heard. It was really the latter that this post will focus on. First off, The Paracast has two hosts – Gene Steinberg who is an award-winning journalist, and David Biedny (pronounced “Bee-ed-nee”) who is one of the world’s foremost experts in the Adobe program “Photoshop” and works at Industrial Light and Magic. His credits include working on the effects of Hudson Hawk, Terminator 2, Star Trek VI, The Rocketeer, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and Hook (I wonder if he’s the one who digitally removed all of Robin Williams’ chest hair in that movie). The reason why I bring up Beidny’s credentials in what may seem like an obvious argument from authority (though it’s not and I’ll address that below) is that the second interview was almost all Biedny going head-to-head with Horn with the intent of his analysis of a single photograph that Horn claimed was genuine.

Burden of Proof versus Refutation

First, if you end up listening to The Paracast as a result of this blog post please note that it DOES have commercials annoyingly throughout it. Be fore-warned.

Moving on, if we ignore the front matter and the posturing, the real meat at the beginning of the interview as about falsification. The two hosts put forth the idea that if any single piece of Meier’s evidence that Horn was putting forth as genuine was proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be faked (false/hoaxed/lied/etc.), then that should – and would in their eyes – call the entire thing into question. Following the logic of science that I laid out at the beginning of the post, that makes perfect sense to me.

However, without actually acknowledging that, Horn countered that if he could show that a bunch of it was true, then it should be accepted as true. The hosts, and I sitting in my little office, laughed at that.

Why? one may ask. After all, isn’t that only fair – wouldn’t it be a double-standard to think otherwise? The answer: No.

Think of it like this: In my apartment, I could use a mixture of some various chemicals to come up with something that looks like chocolate. I may have actually done this. I could then present it to people as, “This is genuine chocolate. Here, have a taste! It’s chocolate and you’ll be able to tell!” Those people – I may present it to hundreds – may agree with me that it’s real chocolate. I could then call on them as witnesses that it’s real chocolate. However, I may then give it to someone who is able to analyze it in a different way, or may be more sensitive to the actual taste of chocolate or the chemicals I’ve used, and that person could then demonstrate that, beyond a reasonable doubt, what I gave them as “genuine chocolate” was fake.

I could say, “But all these other experts said it was real!” That wouldn’t matter. I had fooled them. All it takes is one, irrefutable piece of evidence that I had hoaxed my chocolate that would then call everything else I had tried to pass off as chocolate into question. Even if some of it actually had been real.

So, that is why I can fairly easily say to Meier, or a creationist, or an astrologer, or anyone else, really, that once I’ve conclusively demonstrated that any one of the claims you’ve put forward as genuine is demonstrably false, then that should call into question everything else you’ve done. Just look at the South Korean scientist who was found out to have faked some of his stem cell research.

[As a side-note, to anyone reading this who has had any chocolate that I've made, I would never actually try to pass of fake stuff as real, and I'm up-front when I do use white chocolate which isn't really chocolate.]

Getting Into It, But Not Really, or “How Could a Simple One-Armed Farmer …”

With this in mind, Biedny did an in-depth analysis of one of the photographs that Horn had been putting forward as genuine. On the episode, Biedny pointed to several artifacts in the photograph that clearly demonstrated compositing different images and models to create the single finished product. Getting into the details is not the purpose of this post – go listen to the episode if you’re interested.

Rather, Horn’s reaction is what I wanted to address. As has been the case in the comments section of my own blog, Horn has refused to directly address the refutations I gave of the alleged prognostication of asteroid Apophis. The first post on the subject contains the bulk of Horn’s comments which simply dodge the issue and point to other alleged predictions. The second post on the subject contained a detailed look at the timeline of the alleged prediction where I looked through all of the available documented evidence to show that Meier did not predict Apophis. For me, that was the equivalent of what Biedny did with the one photograph – I went into detail on one prediction. The third post was more of a superficial discussion of it, discussing my discussion of the blog discussion during my discussion with Karl Mamer. Lots of discussing.

But none addressing the point — I directly challenged Horn on at least 4 occasions on my blog – both in posts and on the comments – to come up with a refute to my break-down of the timeline of the alleged prediction of Apophis. He has not done so.

Neither did he with any of the points that Biedny raised for the faked photograph. Rather, very conspicuously – and discussed during a recap during the last ~8 minutes of the latter Paracast episode – Horn dodged the points that Biedny raised. He had two main things he kept going back to. First was the various other experts that he claims have looked at the photograph and said it’s genuine. However, I refer you to my discussion of chocolate that I had a few paragraphs ago – it does not matter how many experts I have convinced that what I’m putting forward is real, it just takes one to shoot something down. The second thing he kept coming back to was, “Yes, but how could a simple one-armed farmer …” (the quote may have been “simple one-armed Swiss farmer” a few times, I don’t actually remember). I liked the host’s response to that after the upteenth time that Horn raised it (following is paraphrased even though it’s in quotes): “We’re not saying that he did. He could have had help. All we’re saying is that there is undeniable evidence that this photograph has been faked, we don’t care how he may have done it.”

Final Thoughts

That was really the extent of the discourse. Not once did Horn directly address Biedny’s demonstrable claims of pointing out flaws in the photo that show it to have been forged. Horn simply dodged the subject. Occasionally, Horn would ask, “But look at this [other] photograph.” Biedny’s response – in my mind – was quite proper, and it was effectively, “Why should I? I’ve neither the time nor inclination. I’ve shown one that you put forward as genuine has been faked beyond a reasonable doubt, calling into question all the rest of the claims.”

Similarly on my blog, Horn has refused to directly address the evidence I presented in terms of the Apophis timeline, and rather he has pointed to other alleged predictions and claims and lines of evidence that, at the moment, I have zero inclination nor time to pursue. But, I don’t think I need to. I have demonstrably shown with the available evidence that the claim that Meier predicted Apophis is false. I think that calls into question all the rest of his claims, and I don’t think I need to go into them, especially when others already have.

February 2, 2010

On the Importance of Scientists to Publish in the Scientific Literature AND Other Venues


Introduction

This post isn’t actually about the process of peer review. It isn’t about the importance of press releases. It’s not about scientists going to conferences and hobnobbing with colleagues. Rather, it’s a tale of hope, joy, and crushing disappointment.

My Research

For very astute readers, you may have picked up bits and pieces of my current research, though I’ve never actually gone into any depth on this blog as that’s not the point of the blog. However, it forms the backdrop of this tale of woe:

My work has – for the past two years and for another year yet to come – been to create a new database of craters on Mars, statistically complete to diameters of about 1.5 kilometers. That’s about 170,000 craters larger than that size, though the database has around another 110,000 craters that are smaller in order to ensure statistical completeness. One of the goals of this database is to study a particular type of crater against the backdrop of other “less interesting” craters. The type I’m studying in particular are known as “lobed craters,” craters with “lobate debris aprons,” or “layered ejecta” craters. Everyone has their own pet term though the Mars Crater Consortium has tried to standardize nomenclature for them to be “layered ejecta.” The picture below illustrates a simple example of this type.

Single-Layered Ejecta Crater, Mars

Single-Layered Ejecta Crater, Mars

The basic idea is that this crater’s ejecta is very cohesive and does not look like typical ejecta that we observed on the moon for years before we went elsewhere in the solar system. Layered ejecta craters exist almost exclusively on Mars, though a few have been observed on some of the outer planet satellites, namely Ganymede and Europa.

The main hypothesis for their formation is that the impactor hit a surface that had solid volatiles in it (as in ice). The volatiles melted into the surface from the impact energy and caused the ejecta to act as a cohesive “mudslide,” giving the appearance we see today.

Moving Forward – The Discovery

Now, in my research, I’ve noticed that double-layered ejecta (craters surrounded by not just one, but 2 layers of this cohesive ejecta) seem to be concentrated around volcanic terrain on Mars. While I was busy cataloging and outlining these lobes a few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a marked increase of the double-layered ejecta in a certain region of the planet. But there wasn’t a volcano there, I thought.

I zoomed out on the map I was using and, lo!, I saw what appeared to be a volcano. In fact, the caldera of this thing was about 75 km by 90 km, or around 50% larger than the state of Delaware, several times larger than the caldera of the Yellowstone supervolcano. This size would put it easily in the top 25% of caldera sizes on the planet Mars.

Taking a step back, another, side-project that I’m working on is creating mosaics of the large volcanos of Mars and performing crater counts within them in order to develop a timeline for the “last gasps” of volcanism. I had a list of 24 volcanos that I had obtained from the USGS last summer, since they keep lists of things like that. And I knew that this new caldera I found was not on my list.

Checking Around

So my next step was of course to check all the lists of known volcanos that I could find for Mars. I re-checked USGS. I even checked Wikipedia. But this feature that looked like a caldera was not on them.

Unfortunately, my advisor was in Antarctica searching for meteorites, so I could not consult with him. Rather, I talked to the post-doc next door, who looked at it and agreed with me that it appeared to be a volcano. On a day when his officemate was there, another post-doc, I asked her, and she wasn’t as certain that it was a volcano, but said it was possible. She suggested I check with some other people outside of the university, but I wanted to wait until my advisor was back to check with him … after all, I didn’t want to make myself look like a fool in front of possible future colleagues.

Spreading the Possible Word

Meanwhile, I was getting excited. I mean, who wouldn’t? I tried not to get my hopes up, but from what I could tell, this thing sure looked like a volcano, not a crater (I knew what an impact crater looked like … I’d been circling them for years). And it wasn’t on any of the lists for Mars volcanos. So I mentioned it to a few people, including a comment on The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast episode from a week ago that some of you may have listened to.

Advisor Returns

My advisor got back to this continent this past weekend and we arranged a meeting for yesterday (Monday) to go over progress on what I’d done for the past 10 weeks while he was gone. I told him the first thing I wanted to talk about was this possible volcano to see what he thought. He seemed fairly excited, too, and I think had briefly looked at it and thought it looked promising.

I went into his office at 1 for our meeting and sit down on the couch, and I said that the first thing to talk about would be this possible volcano discovery. He said something to the effect of, “Yeah …” and handed me a paper, turned to a color picture, with big arrows pointed at my volcano.

The Reaction

I was not happy. Duh. But, as far as I could tell, I had taken the right steps. I’d identified a feature I thought was something interesting. I’d created a high-resolution image of it. I’d checked with a few people, and I’d looked at the standard lists.

The paper that this was tucked away in didn’t have a revealing title, so it’s also not as though I had something I could easily search for. At the time of writing this, I can’t actually find the paper in question, though I did just find an abstract for a conference from 2008 where they identify it. Sigh. The abstract is entitled, “New Evidence for a Magmatic Influence on the Origin of Valles Mariners.” Their paper from last year had a similar title. As you can see, nothing in the title about “volcano.”

Final Thoughts – The Moral

The point of discussing this in my blog is to point out the importance for scientists that, once they make a discovery, they need to not just publish in the standard scientific literature. They also need to make sure that it makes its way to other publications, such as standardized lists so that other people don’t get their hopes up on making a discovery others know of it and can easily find that information rather than doing a very exhaustive literature review. The USGS lists are meant to be used by people as a guide for this sort of thing. But, in my bitter opinion, this was a “science fail” by the authors in terms of publicizing their discovery.

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