Exposing PseudoAstronomy

December 26, 2011

New Interview of Me on “Point of Inquiry” Podcast


Quick post to let you know that Karen Stollznow interviewed me for the December 26th episode – last of 2011 – of Point of Inquiry podcast. The subject matter was a summary of the 2012 phenomenon and associated phenomena, and it was appropriately titled, “The End of the World as We Know It.” It’s very, very roughly a 42.62-minute podcast, about the length of my own (so less detail on each subject). Enjoy!

And for reference, I figure it’s time to update my list of 2012 posts so far:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

And my podcast episodes so far on 2012:

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December 9, 2011

Podcast Episode 14: The Mayan Calendar and What the Mayans Think of 2012


I have posted episode 14 of my podcast. This one follows episode 13 about the history of Planet X to be the second in my four-part series this month on Intro to 2012. (The next two will be on galactic alignments and what the sky looks like. Then, throughout 2012, there should be at least one episode a month about some idea related to it in the popular/alternative culture.)

In this episode, I interviewed Dr. Johan Normark who lives and works in Sweden*. Johan and I have been commenting on each others’ blogs for a few years now and actually he’s the only person I’ve ever asked to do a guest post on picking apart astrologer Terry Nazon’s “facts” about 2012. I’ve also used him as a quick resource a few times for some later posts on 2012 when I mentioned archaeology or the Maya.

Hence, it seemed like a good idea to interview him to get the “low down” (or whatever the kids these days are calling it) on what the Maya actually said or didn’t say about 2012 and to get an introduction to their calendar system. I realize this isn’t a podcast about archaeology, nor is it a blog about archaeology. However, the whole reason for the 2012 doomsday/goodday that most people are advocating is the Mayan long count calendar. So, in any series about 2012, you kinda need to get into the Mayan calendars.

This interview is long, and the audio quality isn’t stupendous. Blame it on going from Skype in America to a landline in Sweden. I’ve cut the interview down from around 1 hour 10 minutes to about 50-55 minutes, but I really didn’t want to cut out too much (a large portion of what was cut were pauses). We talk about a lot of things, but the basic coverage is (1) Johan’s background and interest in 2012, (2) about the Mayan calendar, (3) how their calendar may or may not line up with ours, (4) who some of the big players are or big claims related to 2012 from his perspective, (5) his least favorite “popular” claims related to the Maya or archaeology in general, (6) evidence, and (7) what the Maya actually “said” about 2012.

*As a quick end-note, I also want to apologize if I still got some Swedish words pronounced incorrectly … including Dr. Normark’s first name.

November 6, 2010

Planet X and 2012: My Posts So Far


Introduction

In roughly 19 hours, I will be interviewed on the radio program “Amerika Now.” It is a four-hour (~2 hr 45 min without commercials) radio program broadcast from Fort Collins, Colorado, and I will be “live” in-studio. It will be from 10:00 PM through 2:00 AM Saturday into Sunday evening/morning Eastern Daylight Time for the US (8:00 PM Saturday – 12:00 AM MDT, my local time). It is a call-in program (1-800-259-5791). One can listen to it live on the radio, streamed over the internet, or you can download individual hours of it from this page after it has been aired (I don’t know how soon, though it shouldn’t be more than a day or two).

Interview Topic

The episode is going to focus on the “popular” 2012 phenomenon. As such, I thought it was high time I did another listing of all relevant 2012 posts I have made on this blog:

I have also written a few posts that are tangentially related to the 2012 subject:

I will likely be referring to these during the program. For example, I may, after describing what the sky looks like on December 21, 2012, and that there’s no galactic center alignment, say, “And if you go to my blog, linked from this show’s website, you can go to my post “Planet X and 2012: What The Sky Looks Like On December 21, 2012,” and click on the image and see a star chart of what it looks like rather than going off my verbal description.” Hopefully I’ll be that cogent when actually on the air in the late evening hours (he says, writing this at 1 AM).

Full Disclosure

No, I’m not talking about the government “coming clean on UFOs.” I want to put this in writing, up front, for anyone who may ask, imply, infer, or conspiracize:

1. I am technically a government employee because (a) I am a graduate student on a stipend at a state school in the U.S. that receives state and federal money, and (b) the grant from which I draw salary is funded by NASA. However, I am further removed from being “in” the government than a person behind the counter at the post office. The only thing I have been told I am not allowed to talk about is space mission specifics to foreigners. Since I do not work on any missions, that does not apply to me in any way. I’m about as much a government employee as a bus driver (if the bus company is not privately owned).

2. I do not claim in any way to represent the University of Colorado, the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences department, nor the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. No, I was not told I had to say this, I’m just saying it because I find it humorous when other people do and wanted the opportunity to say it myself.

3. There is no spot on my tax form for “secret government hush money.” If I were being paid to “keep quiet,” I would live in a nicer apartment and drive a better car. And my car would have less dings in it. And I would have a nicer couch rather than a decades-old one I inherited from another grad student. And I would’ve bought Honey Maid graham crackers at the grocery store on Monday instead of Kroger (store) brand.

4. I am not trying to sell anything. I have no books out, no e-books out, no websites with advertisements that give me money, and no movies/films/etc. If you want to be very peripheral, I am trying to excite and keep public interest in astronomy because – let’s face it – astronomy research is mostly paid with federal money which is subject to you, the voters.

5. My goal in doing this is solely to help promote the public understanding of science with a hope that it may also assuage some fear related to 2012: How science works, how science is done, and specifically how it is not done. Depending upon the questions during the program, I may or may not be directly talking about this subject, and I may or may not also address the limitations of science (some 2012 beliefs are purely metaphysical and cannot possibly be addressed by the methodologies of science — and this has always been my position).

Final Thoughts

The radio show is described as: “Amerika Now’s refreshing and provocative discussions take both a serious and ‘tongue-in-cheek’ look at the headlines of the day as well as regularly featuring top-name guests in the fields of politics and political cover-ups, spirituality and philosophy, economics, science and global environmental issues, the paranormal, and other topics of keen interest to the listeners.”

From the episodes I have listened to, it seems much like a smaller version of Coast to Coast AM, for the topics generally trend towards paranormal, spiritual / intention, alt med, and sometimes conspiracy theories. The hosts are friendly towards these topics.

I expect that the interview will be interesting, and I think it will be a learning experience for all involved (I’m including myself in that!). I have never done an interview for – for lack of a better short, encompassing term – a “pro-alternative” program. My lectures and shows in the past have always been for the general public or skeptics groups, and my interviews other than newspapers have been for skeptical podcasts or radio shows (I have those as plural, but I’ve only been interviewed for one podcast and one radio show, though multiple episodes of each … though I should be in a video podcast episode that’s due out in a month or so).

I hope the program goes well and is interesting. I encourage you to listen to it … at least at the moment. That may change afterwards (I always have a hard time listening to myself do an interview). 🙂

October 31, 2010

Planet X and 2012: When Is “2012,” Anyway?


Introduction

I was gone for over a week, without much e-mail contact nor modern things like air conditioning or heat. Which would have come in handy in sub-40° temperatures sleeping in a tent. During that week, it came to my attention afterwards that a chapter in a new book by Gerardo Aldana – an actual professor at a university (of California) as opposed to an “independent amateur scientist” – casts doubt on the alignment between the Gregorian calendar and the Mayan Long Count calendar.

What does this mean? “2012” doomsday via the Mayans may have happened up to 100 years ago. Interesting … we’re all still here.

Background

As I explained nearly two years ago in my “Primer on the Mayan Calendar,”, we don’t know for sure when the Mayan Long Count calendar started relative to the calendar that most of the world uses today. The very basic way these two calendars are lined up is based on the timing of known events that were recorded in both, and then counting the years forwards or backwards.

For example, if I say that today is October 31, 2010, on the Gregorian calendar, how would you know what day it is on the Hebrew calendar if you didn’t have someone keeping track? Let’s say that, also, American independence was recorded on the Gregorian calendar (it wasn’t, it was Julian, but let’s just be nice) as July 4, 1776. It also happened to be recorded by a living Jew as 17 Tamuz, 5536. Now, you may not know what today is, but you can count the number of days since July 4, 1776, and get an idea what day today is on the Hebrew calendar.

Getting back to the issue at hand, the correlation to get December 20, 2012 = 12.19.19.17.19 on the Mayan long count was based on work done a few centuries ago based on colonial documents (1500s) written in both Mayan and the Latin alphabet. It was later bolstered by an American linguist and anthropologist, Floyd Lounsbury, who did work with a Mayan almanac that charted important celestial events of the planet Venus.

Current Work

The latest work is by Prof. Gerardo Aldana of the University of California – Santa Barbara, who is a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies. In his book, Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World, he casts doubt on the correlation with the Venus tables. If the Venus tables’ interpretation is not correct, then that casts serious doubt on the historic correlations, since those were always less certain than the astronomical data.

Unhappily for doomsday proponents, perhaps, Aldana does not provide a new correlation, but simply the incremental work suggesting the old one is wrong.

Final Thoughts: What This Means

As I did mention in my original post on the Mayan Calendar, and as I suggested above, doing this kind of work is very difficult. There are many assumptions that need to be made, and there is often conflicting data. Fellow blogger and my internet acquaintance Johan Normark writes more on this issue in his post, “2012: The Long Count may be off by at least 60 days,” and I highly recommend reading it as he actually studies the subject.

I should also emphasize that this is one person’s analysis, and it was published in the popular literature as opposed to scientific (though in archaeology, the standards may be a bit different than in “hard sciences,” and I am led to understand from Johan’s post that he has been publishing this idea for a few years). Regardless, I am always wary of a single person’s analysis, and one should always withhold judgement until the other experts in the field can weigh in on it (even if it supports your own conclusions!). However, this is another piece that does add to the idea that the December 21, 2012 = 13.0.0.0.0 may not be the correct alignment.

I have already shown that all of the major physical claims of doomsday proponents will not be happening around that time, and this is a nice addition to the story — that the supposed “triggering event” may not even be happening at the suggested time, either.

Will this change anything? Very very unlikely. I would be surprised if even one true believer were swayed by this new analysis. Fence-sitters, perhaps, but people who are invested in this idea will not change. After all, many still cling to the idea that a solar event will happen in 2012 because about 8 years ago, that was when it was predicted the height of solar activity would be in the next sunspot cycle. But forecasts for the last three years by the same people have shown that the height of solar activity will be in 2013 to 2014 instead … and yet out of the hundreds of people I’ve listened to spout doomsday ideas, only one has actually incorporated this new data into it.

April 19, 2010

Planet X and 2012 and Astrology: Exploring the Claims of Astrologer Terry Nazon on 2012, Part 3


Introduction

Way back when, oh, about two months ago, I wrote a two-part series on astrologer Terry Nazon (part 1, part 2).

When I wrote the posts, I asked fellow blogger Johan Normark who writes the Archaeological Haecceities blog – and who has frequently written about 2012 and the Mayans – to do a guest post here. Johan is an archaeologist and so is much better-suited to address Ms. Nazon’s claims about Mayans. He was on travel at the time and said it would be a few months, but a few minutes ago I received word that he has written the post.

The post appears on his blog entitled, “Prophet of nonsense #12: Terry Nazon and ethnocentric astrology.” Johan has some interesting insights that I completely missed but agree with, especially in that Nazon is an obvious ethnocentrist. He has given me permission to copy it below, so the rest of this post is directly from his site:

Dr. Normark’s Post

While I was travelling in Thailand I got an email from Stuart Robbins who runs the blog Exposing Pseudoastronomy. He asked me to write a guest post on his blog as part 3 of his exposure of the astrologer Terry Nazon’s claims about the Maya. Part one and two are found at his website. I accepted the offer and I have just read what she has to say about the so-called Mayan prophecy of 2012. As you might expect from an astrologer, it is full of disinformation. Here follows some of it.

Puuc iconography

Her first claim is that “the ancient Maya were obsessed with watching the stars and making astrological predictions.” Obsessed is perhaps not the right word here. True, some Maya (a minority) were skilled sky watchers but they were far from obsessed, that is a word that better describe the 2012ers. Neither did they “go on the roofs at midnight, and through 2 crossed sticks X make their calculations. This symbol “X ” is found on many ancient Mayan buildings still, denoting places where the astrologers would go to watch the stars at night or early morning. “ This is her interpretation. First, they did not go on to the roofs of their buildings (this shows a lack of knowledge on how Maya buildings were designed). Few staircases lead up to the “roof”, maybe up to the top of a pyramid, but that is not the “roof”. Although “pecked crosses” were used for astronomical observations the symbol X she refers to on buildings is probably the common crosshatching we find on particularly Puuc architecture. This is believed to represent pop or the woven mat people sat on. It is a symbol of royalty in the Maya area. The four corners of a cross (such as the Kan cross) is otherwise a common theme in Maya iconography but it refers to the Maya cosmological model of a quadripartite cosmos with four corners and a center.

Next Nazon claims that the Maya astrologers “predicted the end to civilization as we know it in 2012, and their calendar actually ends on Dec. 21, 2012. According to others it’s Dec. 8, 2012.!”. No, they did not predict the end of civilization whatsoever and their calendar does not end in 2012. There are at least three inscriptions (at Yaxchilan, Tikal and Palenque) that indicate time periods in the distant future. She claims that “we know it has happened before in their Calendar long count on Aug. 12, 3114 B.C.” What has happened before? The end of civilization or their calendar? Neither option is applicable to the 3114 BC date. It concerns the beginning of the current Long Count but says nothing about the end of an earlier civilization. I have never seen the December 8 date before but it would not surprise me if such a correlation exists.

She speculates, like all other 2012ers, what this “end” means to us. Of course she brings up global warming (as if the Maya 2000 years ago knew that this problem would occur). As an astrologer she obviously focuses on the supposed alignments of planets that she believes will happen on December 21, 2012. However, if she had some critical thinking skills she would quickly see that such an alignment could not possibly occur on the alternative date she presents (December 8). One of these dates must be right but since such an alignment is nothing but pure fantasy in the first place I guess it does not really matter. In any case this alignment will change the seasons and “the length of months may change, years may change, and certain planetary cycles like Venus may change. Something new will have to replace the old calefndar [sic]”. Is it the Maya Long Count or our own calendar she talks about? We never see a reference to the Maya date of 13 Baktun, just the Gregorian date. It would have been illuminating if she had actually mentioned some of the logics behind the Maya Long Count. The Maya never predicted that a completely new calendar would replace the Long Count. It would simply go on and on and on.

More nonsense follows when she says that “The Mayans also correctly predicted the end of their own civilization. It ended when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded Mexico and South America, then fought bloody wars, killed or enslaved all the indigenous people. A clash of cultures ensued, and as the story goes the Mayans just disappeared.” How come roughly 7 million people today speak Maya languages and still have beliefs similar to those who lived before this conquest? They never predicted the end of their civilization and Nazon’s understanding of anthropology, archaeology, etc. is even shallower than her knowledge of astronomy. She is just as ethnocentric as the rest of the 2012ers. She also claims that “the Mayans were initially a very spiritual people, whose cities were settled and infiltrated by more warlike peoples. Eventually they gained power and created a warlike state. Through their spiritual rituals they got the spiritual message “sacrifice your Heart and your life” and well, they took it literally. In their use of ritualistic human sacrifice, they became entrenched in self mutilation, worshiping the dead, and all forms of ritualistic sacrifice.“ Well, this is the old idea that occupied some Mayanists 50 years ago. The warlike and more barbaric “Toltecs” were believed to have corrupted the peaceful and spiritual time worshipping Maya. It is completely outdated and simply reflects ethnocentrism again. Human sacrifice is found in the earliest Maya settlements as well, long before any “Mexicanization”. The Maya did not worship the “dead”. Their “religion” was that of ancestor veneration. Venerating ancestors is not synonymous with worshipping the dead.

There is even a supposed to be a “battle that brought down Chitzen Itza”. This “was started because a spanish conquistor [sic] soldier, stopped Mayan priests from brutally ripping the heart from the chest of a child.” One should perhaps know that by the time of the Spanish conquest Chichen Itza was mainly a pilgrimage site and it lacked political importance of its own. Chichen Itza’s political importance ended around 1050, fully 500 years before Nazon’s “battle”. What she refers to is a minor event but she has misinterpreted it as a Spanish conquest of Terminal Classic Chichen Itza.

More ethnocentric statements follows: “Looking at the planets in 2012 there is a very special alignment that occurs only every 26,000 years, and the outer planets and Venus will be making transits that in the past have lead to civil unrest. Remember 2012 is a US election year !” Of course, the whole Maya calendar was designed to end in a US election year. Once again the common theme among 2012ers is that the whole calendar is in fact related to USA and its evangelical believes in apocalypse and all sorts of related nonsense. I leave Nazon’s astrological interpretations that follow this statement to Stuart (he has already discussed them). I can only say that the Maya knew nothing of Uranus, Neptune or Pluto (and has not Pluto been ditched from the planet category?) Why not include some other dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt? Further, Nazon says that “we traditionally associate the planet Venus with love, marriage, harmony, beauty and luxury.” We? If she is talking about the Maya should she not say that the Maya associated Venus with danger and maybe warfare?

She claims that the Books of Chilam Balam refers to 2012. But “only very small references to 2012, are actually written down as so much of their written books were destroyed in an effort to purge the Mayans of their religious practices.” Not quite, The Books of Chilam Balam were written down at a later period (18th and 19th centuries) and they were written in Latin alphabet. Nazon confuses the 40 codices Diego de Landa and others burnt in 1562 with these books. She says that “there remains only one book on astrology by the Mayans, and one inscription that says during this Galactic Alignment of 2012, A God of War or a God of Creativity descends to the Earth. What we do know is that during every one of these transits sweeping social changes and social unrest has occured.” I am not sure which book she refers to but she believes the Books of Chilam Balam actually is just one book (but there are actually nine surviving manuscripts). If she believes it is a codex (which she never mentions in the text) there are four known codices. The inscription related to 2012 is the one at Tortuguero but it says nothing about a galactic alignment as this is a myth created by John Major Jenkins. She does not specify what transits have created sweeping social changes and social unrest. It would be nice to see some example.

I end with an astrologer’s dirtiest trick: to let the reader believe the predictions are related to him or her. Nazon says “it’s time to start thinking ahead as 2012 is only 3-4 years away! You were born for this moment in time!” Astrologists and other hoaxers try to fool you that you are chosen, there is no coincidence that you live right now. It can all be seen in the stars. Btw, did she predict my and Staurt’s critique? If so, should it not be found on her website? If she predicted it she could have corrected the information before we published our critique. I guess she didn’t. That makes me wonder how capable she is of predicting…

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?

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