Thursday, January 27, 2011

Astrology and a 13th Zodiac Constellation? New News?

We've received several questions about some of the news stories lately related to astrology. The TV news story I saw briefly mentioned that there are actually 13 constellations that the Sun seems to pass through instead of the 12 listed by astrologers, and that the dates for when the Sun appears in those constellations doesn't match with the dates the astrologers use. Honestly, our first reaction was to say "what stirred up this news item now"? To us in astronomy, this is OLD news. We can't find the original article, but it apparently ran in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. And the story has gone viral over the Internet.

First, to clarify, astrology is the belief that the positions of celestial bodies has some influence on human affairs. Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects and phenomena. People often get those words mixed up.

There are lots of cool astronomy concepts to explore related to the zodiac constellations, so we've decided to focus our February 16th public planetarium programs on this subject. The programs are entitled "What's Your Sign -- Really?", and we hope you can join us. But until then, I thought I'd provide a couple of links to good sources of information related to the subject.

  • A Sign of the Times:  Sky and Telescope ran a nice article, which included an essay printed in their magazine in 1998.
  • An Astronomer Looks at Astrology:  (PDF file) the Astronomical Society of the Pacific provided an article which shows how to debunk astrology.
The focus of our public planetarium programs will mostly be about the Earth's motions. We'll explore how it could be that the Sun would appear to be "in" a constellation, and how that would change throughout the year. And we'll show how the Sun's position among the stars has changed over the past 2,000 years. It will be a lot of fun.

Feel free to post comments and questions if you are still struggling with a certain issue or concept.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Milky Way Galaxy

Our public planetarium programs on January 19th were entitled "Galaxies!" Among the many interesting topics we tackled, we had a lot of fun exploring our place in the Milky Way Galaxy. As a follow-up to the program, we wanted to share a couple of links with you, and share a new, related, citizen science project that has emerged since the programs last week.

In the programs, we showed Axel Mellinger's fantastic mosaic of the sky as seen from all sides of the Earth (image inserted on the left). It beautifully displays our view of the Milky Way Galaxy as we see it from the inside. We encourage you to explore this image at its full resolution, and learn about how he made the image at his Milky Way Panorama 2.0 site.

Today, astronomy enthusiasts have some wonderful ways to actually help with many areas of astronomy research! Check out the Zooniverse web site to search for planets, identify craters on the moon, and so much more! The project we highlighted in the planetarium programs this month was the Galaxy Zoo.

If you are interested in actually helping to explore our Milky Way Galaxy, you're in luck! In December they started another research area using Spitzer Space Telescope images called The Milky Way Project. Anyone can help! Explore cool images, draw the bubbles that you see in the photo, and help contribute to science! How cool is that!

[adding another resource: 6/8/11]
Similar to the Mellinger mosaic of the sky, the new Photopic Sky Survey has some incredible differences. It's a beautiful 5,000 mega-pixel image! Zoom in and out, scan around, and be sure to click the "i" button to add the labels. Enjoy!