How Have the 2012 Doomsday Myths Become Part of our Accepted Lexicon?

The whole “December 21st, 2012 Doomsday” hype had pretty much fallen off my radar. I hadn’t received an email from a concerned or fearful person for months and no one had alerted me to any new breathlessly hyped end-of-the-word videos for quite some time. Optimistically, I began to think that the Mayan-Prophecy-Pole-Shift-Nibiru (et. al) nonsense was just a passing fad.

But, somehow it seems, doomsday hype has made it into the public’s psyche. I recently saw a local newscast that mentioned the world would be ending soon, albeit jokingly, and sometimes even well-meaning publications give the Mayan prophesies undue credence with unfortunate headlines. But a couple of recent polls say that 10-12% of people have doubts they will survive past Dec. 21st of this year. And a few conversations I’ve had with those who have been on the front lines of debunking the 2012 doomsday predictions reveal that an upcoming “end of the world” is somehow very real for a measurable segment of the population.

How has something that is steeped in nonsense with no scientific accuracy whatsoever managed to capture such attention?

Dr. David Morrison has been answering the public’s questions on the 2012 predictions for over five years on NASA’s “Ask and Astrobiologist” page on the Astrobiology website. Even after all the information Morrison and other NASA scientists have made available debunking the doomsday myths and providing real scientific reasoning, Morrison said he still steadily receives 5-6 emails every day from people asking if the world will end in December.

“These are for the most part from people who fundamentally distrust science and the government,” Morrison said in an interview for a podcast for the NASA Lunar Science Institute and 365 Days of Astronomy. “It is very hard to get through to them. These are people who… get their information from the internet,” (and You Tube videos and History Channel documentaries, Morrison later added.) “And among the kids, the information just passes from person to person. I’d like to think that the things I’ve posted and the videos I’ve made help, but a lot of people just don’t get it.”

And some people don’t want to get it.

“They are so invested this,” Morrison said, “with their books and websites and videos,” and when Dec. 22 rolls around, they may not want to admit they’ve either been part of the hoax or taken in by a hoax. They may end up changing the goalposts by saying they were off by a couple of months or years, like many of the failed end-of-the-word predictions have done.

Bill Hudson, who helps maintain the 2012Hoax website – a site that offers scientific information of why the world won’t end and a forum for people to express their concerns – says he has seen a steady uptick in traffic to the website in recent months and he anticipates there will be a surge ahead of December 21st.

“Most of the astronomical claims are easily dismissed, but a lot of our visitors have apparent anxiety issues, and the 2012 rumors set those off,” Hudson said. “So they realize intellectually that it is bunk, but emotionally they struggle to get past it.”

For example one woman has written in for the past few years in a constant up and down cycle of first feeling fears for herself and her child, then feeling calm when reading information on the 2012Hoax site, but then falling back into fear if she watches a new You Tube video hyping doomsday, or if she sees a big star in the sky she thinks she hasn’t seen before (it usually end up being Venus.)

Unfortunately, Hudson said, there are more people like this, who just can’t get past their fears.

Ian O’Neill producer of Discovery Space News and former Universe Today writer who authored a series of articles for UT debunking the 2012 doomsday myths says that he’s also witnessed how the “Mayan doomsday” has worked itself into society’s lexicon.

As an example, O’Neill shared via email a story of a person next to him at the gym watching TV reports of the recent swarm of earthquakes south of LA:

“The guy watching the TV next to me asked what was going on — I said that it was a USGS press conference to discuss the mini quakes. He responded with “Yeah, it’s not long until the world ends, we’re bound to be seeing more of this kind of thing.” A little taken aback, I questioned him on it (thinking he was joking) and he was positive that the world was really going to end and that he’d seen “videos on YouTube” about it. No matter what I said to him, his view was that he’d rather be safe than sorry — he’d stocked up on fuel and water.”

O’Neill said he’s found that among the public, stories of doomsday are generally accepted. “Some people know that it’s all crap, but others are totally convinced that it’s real,” he said. “It’s really sad that, after I’ve written countless articles on the topic and appeared on several news shows and documentaries communicating the real science, people are still out there needlessly worried, happy to believe a badly edited YouTube video over science and reason.”

The real unfortunate effect here is that children are being caught up by these doomsday predictions, whether by adults in their lives who are buying into the hype or by having access to websites and videos that purport to have the “real” truth and answers.

Hudson says the 2012Hoax site has been receiving a constant stream of questions from children who are fearful, and Morrison said many of the emails he gets are from children. There are at least two documented cases of young people committing suicide from their fears of the world ending, and Morrison shared a story from a teacher he knows where parents of two children in her class have come to her saying the families plans to commit suicide so they don’t suffer in the end times coming up.

This is almost more than anyone involved in debunking these doomsday myths can bear. Morrison called the people propagating the doomsday myths “evil.”

“These are evil people, whether consciously or unconsciously whose main effect is to frighten children,” he said. “I think it is a terrible thing.”

Morrison, Hudson and O’Neill said they all hope Dec. 21 can come and go without anyone else taking drastic actions that are completely unnecessary.

Asked what he will be doing on Dec. 22, Morrison said all he really hopes is that this whole subject will be dropped, never to be heard from again.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this before and I hope I never have to deal with it again,” he said.

Tomorrow’s Transit Will be the First Photographed From Space

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ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers captured this stunning image of Earth’s limb with Venus shining brightly above on the morning of June 4, 2012. While it’s a fantastic shot in its own right, it’s just a warm-up for tomorrow’s big transit event, which will be watched by millions of people all over the world — as well as a select few aboard the ISS!

While many people will be taking advantage of this last opportunity to see Venus pass across the face of the Sun — a relatively rare event that’s only happened six times since the invention of the telescope, and won’t occur again until 2117 — the crew of the International Space Station is preparing to become the first astronaut to photograph it from space!

Transit of Venus by NASA's TRACE spacecraft Image credit: NASA/LMSAL
Transit of Venus in 2004 by NASA's TRACE spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/LMSAL

Expedition 31 flight engineer Don Pettit knew he’d be up in orbit when this transit takes place, and he went prepared.

“I’ve been planning this for a while,” says Pettit. “I knew the Transit of Venus would occur during my rotation, so I brought a solar filter with me when my expedition left for the ISS in December 2011.”

(See more of Don Pettit’s in-orbit photography: Timelapse of a Moonrise Seen From The ISS)

Even though the 2004 transit happened while the ISS was manned, the crew then didn’t have filters through with to safely view it.

Pettit will be shooting the transit through the windows of the cupola. He’ll even be removing a scratch-resistant layer first, in order to get the sharpest, clearest images possible — only the third time that’s ever been done.

Don’s images should be — no pun intended — brilliant.

“I’ll be using a high-end Nikon D2Xs camera and an 800mm lens with a full-aperture white light solar filter,” he says.

And if you want to follow along with the transit as it’s seen from down here on Earth, be sure to tune in to Universe Today’s live broadcast on Tuesday, June 5 at 5 p.m. EDT where Fraser Cain will be hosting a marathon event along with guests Pamela Gay, Phil Plait (a.k.a. the Bad Astronomer) and more as live views are shared from around the world.

Unless you plan on being around in 2117, this will be your last chance to witness a transit of Venus!

Read more about Don Pettit’s photo op on NASA Science News here.

Help Astronomers Collect Venus Transit Data!

[/caption]During June 5th/6th 2012, Venus will be transiting the Sun, where it will make a rare appearance as a small dot moving across the face of the Sun. Astronomers around the world are planning observations, and one team is traveling to Easter Island in an attempt to reproduce the measurements first made/proposed by Edmund Halley in the late 1600’s, getting precise data of first contact between Venus and the Sun. They are working with students from around the world and are looking for help to connect with more students to participate in the event.

The team is asking for assistance from astronomy clubs and organizations, especially those who work with school children. Since the team will be observing on Easter Island, their view of the transit will be limited (it begins two hours before sunset). Since the team will only be measuring the time of ingress and not egress, the team is reaching out to additional observers to help collect data. So far, the team has colleagues in Hawaii, New York, Australia, Iran, and Holland who will be assisting with their efforts.

Keep reading to learn how your club (or school group) can help collect transit data!

Dr. Jacqueline Faherty states, “As part of the celebration, we are networking multiple school groups around the world that are also viewing the transit so we can make a measurement of the distance to the Sun, combining timing measurements of first and last contact from various points on the Earth.” Faherty also adds, “This is not about making an accurate measurement but rather an attempt to inspire young students, our next generation of scientists, when they see that astronomical phenomena (while rare) can be used to make real and extremely useful measurements while at the same time connecting a network of students from different countries, cultures, political histories, etc.”

To participate you only need do the following:

  • At the time of the transit have a calibrated clock (GPS clock preferred but not necessary)
  • From your location we need the time of ingress or egress interior (exterior as well if you can do it). This is the time that Venus has passed into the interior of the Sun. See this webpage for an estimated time of when you can expect the events to occur for your location: http://transitofvenus.nl/wp/where-when/local-transit-times/
  • As a secondary measurement of the transit we are also going to try to match images taken of the transit from different positions on Earth. If you will be photographing the event please try to capture an image exactly (or close to exactly) on the 10’s of each hour. We will coordinate the rest.
  • Be sure to take a photograph of you and your students watching/measuring/enjoying the transit
  • Email Dr. Faherty ([email protected]) saying that you are interested in participating in our group so we can add you to our global network and map: http://www.das.uchile.cl/~drodrigu/easter/transit.html
  • Once again the team is especially interested in school groups that will be viewing the transit. The team hopes to inspire the next generation of scientists, by demonstrating how astronomical phenomenon can be used for scientific purposes. The team will feature photos from participating groups and the results of their measurements in a blog series hosted by the American Museum of Natural History.

    For more information on the team, visit their website at: http://www.das.uchile.cl/~drodrigu/easter/index_en.html

    If you’d like to see the math behind the measurements, visit David Rodriguez’s blog: http://strakul.blogspot.com/2012/05/measuring-distance-to-sun-with-transit.html

    Visibility information for the transit of Venus can be found at: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/transit12.html.

    Source: Dr. Catherine Kaleida, Dr. Jacqueline Faherty, and the 2012 Transit of Venus Easter Island Public Outreach Team

    End of the World Averted: New Archeological Find Proves Mayan Calendar Doesn’t End

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    So much for the world ending on December 21, 2012. We’ve been saying it for years, but a new find by archaeologists confirms the Mayan calendar indeed does not end this year but keeps going, just like turning a page to a new calendar.

    “It’s very clear that the 2012 date, while important as Baktun 13, was turning the page,” David Stuart, quoted by Alan Boyle on MSNBC’s Cosmic Log. “Baktun 14 was going to be coming, and Baktun 15 and Baktun 16. … The Maya calendar is going to keep going, and keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future.”

    A team of archaeologists found a small room in Mayan ruins where royal scribes wrote on the walls — apparently like a blackboard — to keep track of astronomical records and details of the complex Mayan calendar. The writings date to about 1,200 years ago.

    These are the oldest known astronomical tables from the Maya. They were found at the Xultun archaeological site in Guatemala’s Peten region. Scientists already knew the Mayans must have been keeping such records during that time period, but until now the oldest known examples dated from about 600 years later.

    The room, about 2 meters (6-feet) square, contains walls decorated with images of a king and some other notable figures, as well as astronomical numbers and writings, the scientists said. The room had a stone roof rather than a thatched one, which may indicate the importance of the room.

    Why did they write on walls, as opposed to other Mayan texts that have been found on bark paper?

    The time period of the early 9th century was not a stable time for the Mayans, as there was political turmoil between the various city-states of the time, and the researchers said that perhaps the Xultun scribes wished to make a more permanent record of their data related to the calendar.

    By some supposed “researchers,” Dec. 21, 2012 has been correlated to the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which was based on a cycle of 13 intervals known as baktuns, each lasting 144,000 days.

    But the newly found writing on walls of the ancient room shows wide ranges of accumulated time, including a 17-baktun period. “There was a lot more to the Maya calendar than just 13 baktuns,” said Stuart, talking with reporters. Seventeen baktuns would stand for about 6,700 years, which is much longer than the 13-baktun cycle of 5,125 years. However, Stuart cautioned that the time notation shouldn’t be read as specifying a date that’s farther in the future than Dec. 21.

    “It may just be that this is a mathematical number that’s kind of interesting,” he said. “We’re not sure what the base of the calendar is.”

    William Saturno, an archaeologist at Boston University who led the team of archaeologists said many different scientists have been trying to get the word out that the end of the Maya culture’s 13-baktun Long Count calendar doesn’t signify the end of the world, but merely a turnover to the next cycle in a potentially infinite series — like going from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 on a modern calendar.

    “If someone is a hard-core believer that the world is going to end in 2012, no painting is going to convince them otherwise,” he said. “The only thing that can convince them otherwise is waiting until Dec. 22, 2012 — which fortunately for all of us isn’t that far away.”

    Read the team’s abstract.

    Read more at Cosmic Log, ABC News, Science, National Geographic.

    Still Concerned About 2012?

    Don’t be.

    Don Yeomans, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, was kind enough to address some common questions regarding 2012, such as the much-misunderstood Mayan “long-count” calendar, Nibiru, pole-reversal and other such purported “doomsday” devices. Check it out.

    Still set on the world ending come Dec. 21?

    Back off, man. Don’s a scientist.

    Pick Up Some Good Librations With This Stunning Moon Video


    As the Moon orbits Earth, it rotates at such a rate as to keep the same face aiming our way… but not exactly the same face, as shown in this excellent video from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (lovingly annotated by the Bad Astronomer himself, Dr. Phil Plait.)

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    The Moon has a slight wobble to its axial rotation, and over the course of a month its orientation shifts slightly — an effect called libration. Think of it like a top or gyroscope spinning on a table; it doesn’t spin perfectly vertically, but rather sways a bit while it spins. Libration is that sway.

    In addition to that movement, the Moon also moves closer to and further from the Earth over the course of a year due to its elliptical orbit. This makes it appear to change size slightly.

    Except for the Moon’s phases, such effects aren’t immediately obvious from one night to the next. But when assembled into a high-resolution video using images and laser altimetry data maps from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the monthly motions of the Moon become incredibly clear!

    This video shows all the views of the Moon for the entire year of 2012.

    Thanks to Phil Plait of Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy blog for adding the music and descriptions to the GSFC’s amazing video. What a marvelous night for a Moon dance!

    See the current Moon phase and the original video on the Goddard Space Flight Center’s “Dial-A-Moon” page here.

    Video: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Visualization Studio. Notations by Phil Plait. Music by Kevin MacLeod/incomptech.com.

    NASA’s Blue Marble…Side B.

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    In response to last week’s incredibly popular “Blue Marble” image, NASA and NOAA have released a companion version, this one showing part of our planet’s eastern hemisphere.

    The image is a composite, made from six separate high-resolution scans taken on January 23 by NASA’s recently-renamed Suomi NPP satellite.

    From the description on NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr page:

    Compiled by NASA Goddard scientist Norman Kuring, this image has the perspective of a viewer looking down from 7,918 miles (about 12,742 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface from a viewpoint of 10 degrees South by 45 degrees East. The four vertical lines of ‘haze’ visible in this image shows the reflection of sunlight off the ocean, or ‘glint,’ that VIIRS captured as it orbited the globe. Suomi NPP is the result of a partnership between NASA, NOAA and the Department of Defense.

    Last week’s “Blue Marble” image is now one of the most-viewed images of all time on Flickr, receiving nearly 3.2 million views!

    See the previously released image here.

    NASA launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (or NPP) on October 28, 2011 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. On Jan. 24, NPP was renamed Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, or Suomi NPP, in honor of the late Verner E. Suomi. It’s the first satellite designed to collect data to improve short-term weather forecasts and increase understanding of long-term climate change.

    Image credit: NASA/NOAA

    Added: check out a “zoomified” version of this image on John Williams’ StarryCritters site.

     

    Night Sky Guide: February 2012

    Special thanks to Ninian Boyle astronomyknowhow.com for information in parts of this guide

    This month, the Solar System gives us a lot to observe and we’ll even start to see the ‘spring’ constellations appear later in the evenings. But February still has the grand constellations of winter, with mighty Orion as a centrepiece to long winter nights.

    The Sun has finally started to perform as it should as it approaches “Solar Maximum.” This means we get a chance to see the northern lights (Aurora), especially if you live in such places as Scotland, Canada, Scandinavia, or Alaska or the southern light (Aurora Australis) if you live in the southern latitudes of South America, New Zealand and Australia. Over the past few weeks we have seen some fine aurora displays and will we hope to seesome in February!

    We have a bit of a treat in store with a comet being this month’s favourite object with binoculars as well, so please read on to find out more about February’s night sky wonders.

    You will only need your eyes to see most of the things in this simple guide, but some objects are best seen through binoculars or a small telescope.

    So what sights are there in the February night sky and when and where can we see them?

    Aurora

    Looking north from the science operations center at Poker Fla,Alaska. Credit: Jason Ahrns.

    The Aurora or Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) have been seen from parts of Northern Europe and North America these last few weeks. This is because the Sun has been sending out huge flares of material, some of which have travelled towards us slamming into our magnetic field. The energetic particles then follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines towards the poles and meet the atoms of our atmosphere causing them to fluoresce, similar to what happens in a neon tube or strip light.

    The colours of the aurora depend on the type of atom the charged particles strike. Oxygen atoms for example usually glow with a green colour, with some reds, pinks and blues. So the more active the Sun gets, the more likely we are to see the Northern (or Southern) Lights.

    All you need to see aurora is your eyes, with no other equipment is needed. Many people image the aurora with exposures of just a few seconds and get fantastic results. Unfortunately auroras are “space weather” and are almost as difficult to predict as normal terrestrial weather, but thankfully we can be given the heads up of potential geomagnetic storms by satellites monitoring the Sun such as “STEREO” (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory).

    Spaceweather.com is a great resource for aurora and other space weather phenomenon and the site has real-time information on current aurora conditions and other phenomenon.

    Planets

    Mercury is too close to the Sun to be seen at the beginning of the month, but will be visible very low in the south west from the 17th onwards. At the end of February Mercury will be quite bright at around mag -0.8 and will be quite a challenge. It can be seen for about 30 minutes after sunset.

    Venus will improve throughout the month in the south west and will pass within half a degree of Uranus on the 9th of February. You can see this through binoculars or a small telescope. On the 25th Venus and the slender crescent Moon can be seen together a fabulous sight. At the end of month Venus closes in on Jupiter for a spectacular encounter in March.

    Venus

    Mars can easily be spotted with the naked eye as a salmon pink coloured “star” and starts off the month in the constellation of Virgo and moves into Leo on the 4th. Mars is at opposition on March 3rd but is also at its furthest from the Sun on the 15th February making this opposition a poor one with respect to observing due to its small apparent size. The planet will still be visually stunning throughout the month.

    Mars

    Jupiter starts off the month high in the south as darkness falls and is still an incredibly bright star-like object. Through good binoculars or a small telescope you can see its four Galilean moons – a fantastic sight. On the 8th at around 19:50 UT, Europa will transit Jupiter and through a telescope you will see the tiny moons shadow move across its surface. Throughout February, Jupiter moves further west for its close encounter with Venus in March.

    Jupiter

    Saturn rises around midnight in the constellation of Virgo and appears to be a bright yellowish star. Through a small telescope you will see the moon Titan and Saturn’s rings as well.

    Saturn

    Uranus is now a binocular or telescope object in the constellation of Pisces. On the 9th Uranus and the planet Venus will be within half a degree of each other.

    Uranus

    Neptune is not visible this month.

    Comets

    Comet Garradd Credit: astronomy.com

    Comet Garradd is still on show early in the month — if you have binoculars — and as the month progresses the viewing should improve. You can find the comet in the constellation of Hercules not far from the globular cluster M92. It is about a half a degree away or around the same width as the full Moon. The comet is around magnitude 7 or a little fainter than the more famous globular cluster M13 also to be found in Hercules, so you will definitely need binoculars to see it. The comet is heading north over the course of the month which should mean that it will become a little easier to see. At the beginning of the month you will have to get up early to see it, the best time being around 5:30 to 6:30 GMT. By the end of the month though, it should be visible all night long.

    Moon phases

    • Full Moon – 7th February
    • Last Quarter – 14th February
    • New Moon – 21st February

    Constellations

    In February, Orion still dominates the sky but has many interesting constellations surrounding it.

    Above and to the left of Orion you will find the constellation of Gemini, dominated by the stars Castor and Pollux, representing the heads of the twins with their bodies moving down in parallel lines of stars with each other.

    Legend has it that Castor and Pollux were twins conceived on the same night by the princess Leda. On the night she married the king of Sparta, wicked Zeus (disguised as a swan) invaded the bridal suite, fathering Pollux who was immortal and twin of Castor who was fathered by the king so was mortal.

    Castor and Pollux were devoted to each other and Zeus decided to grant Castor immortality and placed Castor with his brother Pollux in the stars.

    Gemini has a few deep sky objects such as the famous Eskimo nebula and some are a challenge to see. Get yourself a good map, Planisphere or star atlas and see what other objects you can track down.

    Credit: Adrian West

     

    Help Astronomers Measure the Solar System!

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    As the bright Mars-crossing asteroid 433 Eros makes its closest approach to Earth since 1975, astronomers around the globe are taking the opportunity to measure its position in the sky, thereby fine-tuning our working knowledge of distances in the solar system. Using the optical principle of parallax, whereby different viewpoints of the same object show slightly shifted positions relative to background objects, skywatchers in different parts of the world can observe Eros over the next few nights and share their images online.

    The endeavor is called the Eros Parallax Project, and you can participate too!

    433 Eros' path from jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2012. (transitofvenus.nl)

    Discovered in 1898, Eros was the largest near-Earth asteroid yet identified. Its close and relatively bright oppositions were calculated by astronomers of the day and used, along with solar transits by Venus (one of which, if you haven’t heard, will also occur this year on June 5!) to calculate distances in the inner solar system.

    Having both events take place within the same year offers today’s astronomers an unparalleled opportunity to obtain observational measurements.

    Through the efforts of the Astronomers Without Borders organization, along with Steven van Roode and Michael Richmond from the Transit of Venus project, anyone with moderate astrophotography experience can participate in the observation of Eros and share their photos via free online software.

    Using the data gathered by individual participants positioned around the world, each with their own specific viewpoints, astronomers will be able to precisely measure the distance to Eros.

    The more accurately that distance is known, the more accurately the distance from Earth to the Sun can be calculated – via the orbital mechanics of Kepler’s third law.

    The tumbling motion of elongated 33-km-long Eros creates a changing brightness. (via transitofvenus.nl)

    The last time such a bright pass of Eros occurred was in January of 1931. Observations of the asteroid made at that time allowed astronomers to calculate a solar parallax of 8″ .790, the most accurate up to that time and the most accurate until 1968, when data acquired by radar measurements gave more detailed measurements.

    In many ways the 2012 close approach by Eros – astronomically close, but still a very safe 16.6 million miles (26.7 million km) away – will allow for a re-eneactment of the 1931 event… with the exception that this time amateur skywatchers will also contribute data, instantly, from all over the world!

    One has to wonder…when Eros comes this close again in 2056, what sort of technology will we use to watch it then…

    Find out more about the Eros Parallax Project and how to participate here.

    And be sure to check out the article about the project on Astronomers Without Borders as well.

    Top Astronomy Events Coming Up in 2012

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    As 2011 is drawing to a close, the festive season is here and many of us are winding down and looking forward to the holidays. But this is a great time to look ahead to 2012 and pencil into our calendar and diaries the top astronomical events we don’t want to miss next year.

    2012 is going to be a great year for astronomy observing, with some rare and exciting things taking place and a good outlook with some of the regular annual events.

    So what top wonders should we expect to see and what will 2012 bring?

    Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

    Venus & Jupiter Conjunction Credit: Anthony Arrigo UtahSkies.org

    On March 15th the Planets Venus and Jupiter will be within 3 degrees and very close to each other in the early evening sky. This will be quite a spectacle as both planets are very bright (Venus being the brightest) and the pair will burn brightly together like a pair of alien eyes watching us after the Sun sets.

    This conjunction (where planets group close together as seen from Earth) will be a fantastic visual and photographic opportunity, as it’s not often you get the brightest Planets in our Solar System so close together.

    Transit of Venus

    Transit of Venus Credit: Australian Space Alliance

    For many, the transit of Venus is the year’s most anticipated astronomical event and it takes place on June 5th – 6th. The Planet Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun and you will see Venus (a small black circle) slowly move across, or “transit” the disc of the Sun.

    Transits of Venus are very rare and only a few have been witnessed since the dawn of the telescope. Be sure not to miss this very rare event as the next one isn’t visible for over another 100 years from now in 2117 and the next after that is in 2125.

    The full transit of Venus in 2012 will be visible in North America, the northwest part of South America, Western Pacific, North East Asia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Other parts of the world will see a partial transit such as observers in the UK, who will only be able to see the last part of the transit as the Sun rises.

    First contact will be at 22:09 UT and final contact will be at 04:49 UT

    Take note! You have to use the right equipment for viewing the Sun, such as eclipse glasses, solar filters, or projection through a telescope. Never ever look directly at the Sun and never look at it through a normal telescope or binoculars – You will be permanently blinded! The transit of Venus will be a very popular event, so contact your local astronomy group and see if they are holding an event to celebrate this rare occasion.

    Meteor Showers

    Don't Miss the Major 2012 Meteor Showers Credit: Shooting Star Wallpapers

    2011 was a poor year for meteor showers due to the presence of a largely illuminated Moon on all of the major showers; this prevented all but the brightest meteors being seen.

    In contrast 2012 brings a welcome respite from the glare of the Moon as it gives little or no interference with this year’s major showers. The only other issue left to contend with is the weather, but if you have clear skies on the evenings of these celestial fireworks, you are in for a treat.

    • The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peak is narrow and just before dawn on January 4th this shower is expected to have a peak rate (ZHR) of around 80 meteors per hour.
    • The Perseid Meteor Shower peak is fairly broad with activity increasing on the evenings of the August 9th and 10th with the showers peak on the morning of the 12th. Perseids are the most popular meteor shower of the year as it tends to be warm and the shower has very bright meteors and fireballs, with rates of 100+ an hour at its peak.
    • The Geminid Meteor Shower is probably the best meteor shower of the year with high rates of slow bright meteors. The peak is very broad and rates of 100+ meteors per hour can be seen. The best time to look out for Geminids is on the evenings of the 12th to 14th December, but they can be seen much earlier or later than the peak.

    If you want to find out more and enjoy the meteor showers of 2012, why not join in with a meteorwatch and visit meteorwatch.org

    Jupiter and the Moon

    Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon on July 15th as seen from Southern England Credit: Adrian West

    European observers are in for a very rare treat as the Moon briefly hides the planet Jupiter on the morning of July 15th. This “lunar occultation” can be seen from southern England and parts of Europe at approximately 1:50am UT (dependant on location) and the planet re-emerges from the dark lunar limb at approximately 3:10am UT.

    This is a great chance to watch this rare and bright event, and it will also be a fantastic imaging opportunity.

    Annular Eclipse

    Annular Eclipse Credit: Kitt Peak Observatory

    American observers will have treat on May 20th with an annular eclipse of the Sun. The eclipse will be visible from many western US states and a partial eclipse visible from most of North America.

    Because the Moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle and is slightly elliptical, it moves closer and further away from us slightly in its orbit by 13% and on July 15th it is at its furthest point away from the Earth as it passes in front of the Sun.

    Normally the Moon covers the entire disc of the Sun and creates a total solar eclipse, but because the Moon is at its furthest point in its orbit on the 15th, we get an annular eclipse, where we can still see a ring of bright light around the Sun, but we don’t get totality.

    The eclipse starts roughly at 6:20pm local time for the Western US states and lasts for four and a half minutes.

    As mentioned earlier; never, ever look at the Sun without proper protection such as eclipse glasses or filters for equipment! This can damage your eyes and permanently blind you. This is the same for cameras; the sensitive chips inside can be damaged.

    The World Not Ending

    End Of The World

    Finally we get to December 21st, in which astronomy-minded folks will celebrate the solstice. But in case you haven’t heard, some have prophesied the end of the world, saying the Mayan calendar ends. This has been the subject of much discussion, comedy and media coverage, and it has even been made into films.

    Will the Antichrist press the red button and will there be the Rapture? Will the Earth reverse its magnetic poles, or will we get wiped out by a solar flare, rogue comet or asteroid?

    Nope, probably not. You can read our entire series which explains why this whole 2012 end-of-the-world craze is complete hokum.

    All I know is 2012 is going to be a great year for astronomy with some very interesting, rare events taking place, with many more regular events to see, as well.

    I’m sure it’s not going to end.