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Episode 16: What the Sky Looks Like on December 21, 2012, Part 2

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Recap: What's the galactic alignment on the solstice in December, 2012, and what else in the sky is special about that date? Find out and whether it portends doom or enlightenment in this false dichotomy.

Puzzler (same as Episode 15): There is a widely propagated myth that you will find in many media outlets every March 21 that states the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere is the only day out of the year that you can balance an egg on its end. Let's assume the myth is actually that you can do it on either equinox. Can you come up with an actual force that would in any way help you to balance an egg on its end on an equinox?

Q&A: Q&A will return on January 1

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In the last episode, Episode 15 on Galactic Alignments, Part 1, I discussed some of the ideas about a galactic alignment happening in 2012 and causing death and destruction or transcendence of this physical plane. The last alignment idea I talked about was on whether there would be some sort of alignment between the sun and the center or plane of the galaxy in 2012. You should go back and listen to that episode to find out the answer.

Claim: The last alignment idea is the idea that on precisely December 21, 2012, on exactly 11:11 AM (EST), the Sun is going to align with the precise center of the Milky Way Galaxy causing a great giant beam of energy to come streaming forth or to block that energy that already is streaming forth and oh-my-great-flying-spaghetti-monster something good or bad is going to happen as a result.

Aligning with the Center of the Galaxy

In a bit of a repeat from last episode, no, there actually is no alignment with the center of the galaxy in 2012. In fact, it is currently impossible for Earth, in its present orbit around the sun and its current axial tilt, to EVER observe the sun appearing to be aligned with the center of the galaxy. The sun's motions through sky simply don't work that way.

But, this issue about aligning at least with the PLANE of the galaxy ON THE WINTER SOLSTICE is something that deserves a little extra attention.

The first important item to note is that the December solstice is defined as when the sun reaches its southern-most declination and sits directly on the 18th hour of right ascension, where the 0th hour is defined every year as where the sun is when it crosses the celestial equator. If you recall a bit of the geometry discussion in the last episode, the celestial equator is Earth's equator projected outwards on the sky. Astronomers measure longitude on the sky as right ascension, and they divide the sky into 24 hours instead of 36 degrees. But I digress.

As I said, the December solstice is when the sun is on the 18th hour of right ascension. This changes slightly every year because our calendar does not exactly equal our orbit, and I'll link to an article explaining this in the shownotes. In 2012, this happens at exactly 11:12 AM Universal Time on December 21, 2012. This year it's at exactly 5:30 AM on December 22, UTC. You'll note this is not 11:11 AM Eastern Standard Time in the US. So much for that idea.

When the sun is at this point in the sky, it actually DOES sit somewhat on the galactic plane. Does this mean that there actually could be something to all this, that the 2012ers were right and that this is something special!?

No, sorry, it doesn't. As I explained in Episode 15, the sun crosses the plane of the galaxy every year, twice. It just so happens that this century when it crosses the galactic plane, it happens to be around the time of the solstice.

So at the VERY least, 2012 is not special.

In fact, the alignment isn't even the best. Yes, the sun will be sitting on the galactic equator at this time, as seen from Earth, BUT it's almost off of it. Remember that the sun has an apparent size as viewed from Earth.

Using modern astronomy software - and I have images posted in the shownotes for this episode - we can go look at when the sun had its center smack dab on the galactic equator ... as viewed from Earth.

Doing this takes us back to 1998. Now, I'll admit: I wasn't really paying much attention in 1998 because I was in high school. But as far as I can remember, the world did not end. And I can guarantee you that my consciousness was not raised.

Where We Are So Far

At this point, the final alignment claim that the sun will align with the center of the galaxy on precisely the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere on December 21, 2012, is wrong because the sun will never appear to be aligned with our galaxy's center.

The claim that there's something special about its alignment with the plane of the galaxy in 2012 coinciding with the solstice is also wrong. Yes, the sun will appear to sit on the galactic equator, but it was a better alignment during the solstice in 1998, and nothing happened then. It's been getting FARTHER away from that best alignment ever since 1998, meaning that the alignment this year is better than it will be in 2012.

Anything Else in the Sky?

The name of this episode is, "What the Sky Looks Like on December 21, 2012, Part 2," so I should probably discuss what else may be special about the sky that day.

Yup. Nothing. The only other vague - and rare in this case - claim I've heard related to this is that all the planets will be aligned, but that seems to come up every doomsday and there is absolutely nothing to that claim for 2012.

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