This page last modified 2006 February 15
The 2012 Winter Solstice Non-event
Click on image thumbnails for larger images. All images generated by
Project Pluto's GUIDE v7.
In all images, the ecliptic (the path of the Sun) is the red line.
In his book Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock, in a chapter entitled A computer for Calculating the End of the World, states (p175) that the Maya civilisation of Central America:
"...believed that the cycle will come to an end, amid global destruction, on [...] 23 December 2012 ..."
This, and similar writings, is possibly one of the triggers for a whole load
of ill-considered speculation on the subject. Some people have played with
planetarium programs around that date, and noticed that the winter solstice
(December 21) Sun of 2012 aligns with part of the Cygnus Rift, a dark part of
the Milky Way:
and have attached some significance to this date as a result.
What these people fail to recognise is that the winter solstice Sun will 'fall into' the Cygnus Rift every year for over a Century:
An alternative bit of related nonsense, e.g. here, states that the winter solstice Sun is in conjunction with the galactic equator in 2012. Not quite. This conjunction has already occurred in 1998 (the blue line is the galactic equator):
and precession is now moving the winter solstice Sun further from the galactic equator. The author of this nonsense also seems to find it noteworthy that the Sun is on the ecliptic at this time (!!!), and erroneously gives the time of the solstice as "exactly 11am GMT".
Update: 2004 May 09
I have received a couple of emails from a "John Major Jenkins" who asserts that he is the original source of this 2012 stuff, and who alleges that the author of the immediately preceding nonsense has plagiarised him, albeit inaccurately. Jenkins objects that my comments above reflect badly on him. Jenkins (and anyone else) should be aware that (a) I was commenting on what was actually written on the site to which I referred, not to Jenkins' writings (I do not comment on stuff that I have never read) and (b) objections to alleged plagiarism should be addressed to the alleged plagiariser, not to a third party.
Update: 2006 February 14:
(These comments refer to content in Jenkins's web pages as at 2006 February 13.)
Jenkins, in various pages on his web site, has attempted to refute criticism, from here and elsewhere, of his astrocrud. I am not going to attempt to go into detail with respect to all of his attempted refutations. Some are based on Mayan history which I am incompetent to comment upon; there are so many that they almost qualify as a complex question fallacy and, to quote them all would mean quoting such a high proportion of Jenkins's web site that it would be way beyond what is permitted by Fair Use clauses of copyright legislation (which I prefer to abide by, even if Jenkins -- by quoting, in full and without permission, my private correspondence to him -- evidently does not).
- "By mid-1999 I
had received a statement from an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University to the
effect that 'it is not possible that the Maya could see the Galactic center.' My
general response to this opinion is that the region of the Galactic center
should be more generally identified as the "nuclear bulge" which can
be noticed with naked eye observation because the Milky Way is wider in that
region and there are more bright stars there."
- Note the "to the effect that " ; i.e. he does not state what the actual objections were in order that we can see if he is actually addressign them.
- "there are more bright stars there". Note that Jenkins is deliberately vague: he fails to specify what he means by "bright" or "here" or to what he is comparing "more". This sort of vagueness is characteristic of pseudoscience:it makes it far more difficult to critically examine the claims. However, there is a greater density of naked-eye visible (magnitude 6.5 and brighter) stars in several other regions of sky (e.g. Cass/And/Lac region, Cyg region) than there is in the region of the galactic centre.
- The "nuclear bulge" as a rather large region. This (see later) introduces such a wide error-bar into his 2012 pseudo-hypothesis that it becomes even more meaningless.
- "the Milky Way
was conceived as a Great Goddess and the dark-rift was her birth canal. This
demonstrates that the Maya understood the region of the Galactic center as a
source-point or birth place." .
- "Ancient Maya
knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes is the hitch that most skeptical
scholars invoke to discredit my work. The evidence for precessional knowledge is
found in the academic data, (...) Citations to the work of Brotherston, Tedlock,
Schele, Smiley, Hunt, Aveni, and others are available upon request
(electronically) and are also contained in my book. "
- But these citations are not provided with the assertions on his web page, so this is a clear case of failure to specify.
assumptions or critiques are easily addressed:"
- Then why does he not address them?
- He states on the same page "check back in a week", but to date the page is unaltered since 2004 May 29. Some of the "easily addressed" objections have languished there since May 2003!)
- In response to this statement: "True statement: "The
solstice sun is in conjunction with the galactic equator in 2012.""
and the sun is half a
degree wide and therefore your statement is factually wrong. (...) You should
use the more accurate term "solstice colure" (...) It's a question of
linguistic accuracy; or, in your use, a misleading misuse of a term."
- A classic case of proof by redefinition of words! Jenkins seems somewhat reluctant to accept the astronomical definition of conjunction. Perhaps his own definition is that used in astrology or in pseudoastronomy; I'm not competent to say. However, if he wants to be taken seriously by astronomers, he might wish to start using astronomical terms correctly.
- When he made that statement about the colure, Jenkins seemed to be blithely unaware that solstitial colure always crosses the galactic equator (at two points), and does not only do so just at the 2012 winter solstice! The point above about correct use of astronomical terms applies.
- I have no doubt that the likes of Jenkins will
continue to bluster against the preceding comments so, for the sake of argument,
let us see where Jenkins's "[Tonkin] overlooks the fact
that the sun itself is one-half of a degree wide, and will in fact be touching
the galactic equator on all winter solstices between 1980 and 2016 (which is
1998 plus/minus 18 years; 36 years = one-half (...) What he is doing is invoking
a precise level of accuracy that is inappropriate to the real situation."
and "the region of
the Galactic center should be more generally identified as the "nuclear
bulge" which can be noticed with naked eye observation" take us,
i.e. let us see the consequences of what Jenkins himself insists to be the case.
Jenkins insisted that it is "inappropriate" to use the real conjunction of the Sun with the galactic equator, and that we should really consider the entire disc of the Sun. Presumably we must then take an equally "fuzzy" view of the galactic equator, i.e. we must regard it as a band of at least 30 arcmin wide (same angular size as the Sun). So, if we are no longer concerned with the precision of what Jenkins falsely terms "abstractions", i.e. the centre of the Sun and the galactic equator, and allow ourselves to consider the entire disc of the Sun and the region of the "nuclear bulge", the period of "conjunction" is a great deal more than Jenkins's ±18 years; it is at least double this. In other words, the consequence of Jenkins's attempt to, although he does not appear to have said so, is that the period during which the disc of the winter solstice Sun is in geocentric line-of-sight contact with the middle region of the "nuclear bulge" takes at least 70 years! His 36 year error bar was imprecise enough; a 70 year error bar is ridiculuous. With either error bar he has so great a margin of error that any prediction is meaningless and is essentially untestable; i.e.Jenkins's argument falls even deeper into the classification of pseudoscience.
So why is he so insistent on 2012 and not 1962 or 2034 or any of the other intervening years? How about 2030, the year when the Sun is most central in the Cygnus Rift, thus allowing us to combine two bits of astrocrud into one? There is no way to get to 2012 without either circular argument or argument by scenario and affirming the consequent.Whatever his reasons, they clearly have no basis in astronomy, be it proper astronomy or Jenkins's preferred species of pseudoastronomy.
In other words, this is just another example of astrocrud.