Sky Talk January 2012: The Astronomy of 2012: Fact vs. Fiction

With so much hype and misinformation concerning the year 2012 currently in books, on television, in movies, and the subject of various conferences, this month’s column is designed to hopefully bring some science and common sense to this sensational topic as we begin the much-heralded year marking the end of the fabled Mayan calendar.

Let’s begin by asking just what’s so special about the “Galactic Alignment” we’re hearing so much about? Nothing! Every year on or about December 21st the Sun “aligns” with the center of our Milky Way Galaxy at the Winter Solstice. Supposedly it’s going to be more closely lined up than in recorded history. Yet, as is well-known to astronomers, it was actually closer to the center in 1998! (This stems from the subtleties of the galactic and ecliptic coordinate systems, which space prohibits covering here.) But in any case, the Sun will still be several degrees from being exactly over the galactic center in 2012. Even more significant is the fact that the alignment is only an apparent one—the actual center of our Galaxy is 26,000 light-years away (that’s 26,000 x 6,000,000,000,000 miles!). There can be no sudden drastic influx of radiation precisely at midnight on the 21st from the nucleus’ black hole devastating the Earth’s population, as is being claimed by some—nor will we be sucked in as others fear!

There’s also the “Great Dark Rift” that’s being talked a lot about as a kind of “roadway” into the center of the Galaxy. What’s being referred to is one of the many areas of dark obscuring clouds of gas and dust that line the spiral arms of the Galaxy. And there are at least six of these arms, with our Solar System here in the galactic boondocks being imbedded in an outer one. The dark rift seen in the summer and fall Milky Way in our local arm does not lead to the center of the Galaxy!

The thing that really puzzles me the most about the 2012 fiasco, as an astronomer, concerns the planet Venus. As the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon, this radiant orb held great importance to the Maya. And yet a very rare and spectacular event involving Venus that will occur during 2012 has been largely ignored by 2012 writers and speakers. On the late afternoon of June 5th, Venus will transit the face of Sun—an event that can be seen even with the unaided eye! (The transit will be featured in the June installment of Sky Talk along with tips on safely viewing it.) This happens in pairs separated by 8 years—the last having occurred in 2004—and then not again for more than a century (2117 being the next one)! Surely the Maya attached great significance to this spectacle. Should we not also?

I would like to conclude on a positive note about 2012. Raising public consciousness of the universe and our place in it as citizens of our home Galaxy is definitely happening because of all the attention being focused on 2012. This in turn leads to that “cosmic perspective” that my late friend and mentor Carl Sagan always talked about and felt was crucial to our survival as a species. In that sense, this year of 2012 is indeed significant.

—James Mullaney
Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine and author of eight books on stargazing.

Responding to More Feedback

Building off our recent novelty science kit announcement, we’ve also seen blog posts, tweets, and emails on our Psychology category, specifically the Astral Sounds CD and Kirlian Imaging Device, so we decided to address this issue now as well.

First, a little background. Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Edmund Scientifics carried a selection of “psychology” products, including Astral Sounds (page 116 of our 1981/1982 catalog, for example), Kirlian photography kits (see our Popular Science ad from 1975), and subliminal audio tapes to stop smoking/lose weight (page 54 of our Fall 1982 catalog.)  Over the last 5 or 10 years, we’ve received a number of requests from long-time customers looking for items similar to these, so we selected a handful to include in our recent catalogs.

With that, we’ve decided to transition these products to the X-treme Geek category on our site. This category is a selection of popular products from the X-treme Geek catalog, as a way of introducing our sister company to Edmund customers. (Similarly, there is a Science by Edmund Scientifics category on the X-treme Geek site.)

We would like to thank everyone for their feedback on these products. We are so very lucky to have such a passionate group of customers that hold us to a high standard. Companies work tirelessly to get the kind of customers we have, so we want to work tirelessly to make sure we’re living up to the standard you expect.

On Girls/Boys Novelty Kits

Note: Updated 12/1 below to address a question we’ve received from a good number of customers.

We’ve received a ton of negative feedback lately on our Girls and Boys Novelty Kits categories, through emails, blog posts, tweets — you name it. We have also read a few other posts on the topic, on sites like Scientific American and MSNBC’s Cosmic Log. Today, I’d like to announce a change to our site — one that better reflects our beliefs.

We have officially removed the Girls and Boys Novelty Kits categories from our site and replaced them with a single Novelty Science Kits category.  Our original intent was not to project gender bias, but to organize our product selection in a way that makes it easy to find specific items. We now realize that decision resulted in a category structure projecting gender bias and defining gender roles. We regret that choice, as it does not reflect our intent or beliefs.

The product selection of this new category remains the same, however, as they are simply a small selection of novelty kits that aim to combine fun DIY activities with a basic exposure to science. These kits make up around 10% of our larger Science Kits category and a much smaller percentage of our overall selection of educational science activities aimed at children.

Our main goal is to help parents inspire their kids to explore the world through science. To help parents & kids expand on their interests and develop new ones they never knew existed. We take pride in our wide selection of subject matter, from advanced robotics and alternative energy to the basics of astronomy, chemistry, physics, and biology.

We very much hope our products inspire the next Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Blackburn, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison. or Carl Sagan. On a grander scale, though, we just hope to inspire more people (especially young people) to be interested in science, to be curious, and to ask questions — we think the world would be a better place.

Update (12/1): We wanted to add an update to this post, as we’ve received this question many times: what about the individual products? We will be evaluating product lines after the holiday season is over. A good number of kits in the novelty category are already in clearance, which means we’ve decided to no longer carry those items. The category change was “step one” — something we could do right now to address the issue. More changes will be coming in the new year.

Thank you to everyone for reading, commenting, and sharing your feedback. The response has been overwhelming!

Win a dream holiday shopping spree at Edmund Scientifics!

Win a Dream Holiday Shopping Spree

The holidays are right around the corner and we’d like to give one lucky fan a holiday to remember. We’re giving away a shopping spree and leaving it up to our fans to tell us how much it is worth!

  • If we get to 8,500 total fans (Facebook, Google+ and Twitter) by December 10th 12th, we’ll give away a $100 shopping spree.
  • If we get to 9,000 fans, we’ll make it $200.
  • If we get to 9,500 fans, we’ll make it $500!

Imagine how much wonder and inspiration you can get with a $500 shopping spree!
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Weekend Links & Community Recap – 11/18

Each Friday we’ll post a collection of links for you to check out over the weekend — posts from around the web that didn’t quite make the cut for the week. Not saying these aren’t cool, by any means — they’re just older or not as exciting as the links we decided to post.


And here is a recap of this week’s community posts, in case you missed them on Facebook or Twitter:

Have a great weekend.

Our Customers Know Best!

Our customers know best!Do you have an Edmund product you absolutely love? If so, we want to hear from you!

We’re putting the final touches on our gift guide and we want you to be a part of it by recommending your favorite Edmund item for the holidays.

How can you help?
Take a picture of you (or your kids or whomever uses the product) and the product, write up one paragraph describing why you love this item and recommend it for the holidays, then send it to us!

There are a few ways you can enter:

  1. Post it to your Facebook wall and tag us (@Edmund Scientific) in the post. You have to “Like” us on Facebook in order to tag us, so be sure to do that first.
  2. Write up a blog post and send us the link (either post it on our Facebook wall, send us a tweet (@edmundsci), share it with us on Google+, or use the contact form on our blog.)
  3. Send us a tweet (@edmundsci) with the image and your review. Feel free to use multiple tweets, if necessary — although clever, 140 character or less entries may receive special treatment!
  4. Create a post on Google+ and share it with us (+Edmund Scientifics)

Of course, we won’t let you go away empty handed! As a way of saying thanks, we’re offering a couple prizes:

  • All submissions will be entered into a random drawing for a $200 Edmund Scientifics gift certificate.
  • The authors of any submissions we use in our gift guide will receive a $25 gift certificate.

Submissions will be accepted through Black Friday. (November 25th, 2011)

Good luck and we can’t wait to see what you recommend!

Sky Talk November 2011: Jupiter (and Its Belt) Returns!

Brilliant Jupiter is now well-placed in the eastern evening sky and once again has a surprise in store for telescope users. As reported here last year, the giant planet lost one of its two main equatorial belts (while its famed Great Red Spot increased in prominence after being nearly invisible for some time). But the belt is back! And adding to the show are Jupiter’s four bright moons waltzing around the planet from night-to-night. All you need to see the action for yourself is a clear sky and a good telescope.
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Looking for a Super Deal?

We’ve got a special offer for new fans and old fans alike. Simply ‘Like’ Edmund Scientific on Facebook and then head over to the Super Deal Signup tab on our page to register to get a super secret promotion code sent to your inbox. The more fans we get, the better the deal!

  • Get us to 6,500 Facebook fans by the end of October and we’ll give you 30% off one item under $100.
  • If we get to 7,500 fans, we’ll up the offer to 40% off one item under $100.
  • And if we get to 8,500 fans, we’ll unlock a whopping 50% off one item under $100.

Be sure to share this with your friends too! They can help us reach our goal and unlock the best deal for everyone.

We’ll send out the code once we get to the highest goal or the end of October, which ever comes first. Perfect timing for the holidays, right?

Offer details: Once conditions have been met, the offer code will be unlocked and sent via email to the fans who registered through our Facebook page. Offer good only in the United States. Does not including shipping costs. Offer rquires that you have only one item in your cart and the value of the product is less than $100. By registering for this promotion, you will also be subscribed to our email newsletter. Our newsletter features more deals, special promotions, previews, and new product announcements. Promo code expires 12/31/2011.

Weekend Links + Community Recap (10/14)

Each Friday we’ll post a collection of links for you to check out over the weekend — posts from around the web that didn’t quite make the cut for the week. Not saying these aren’t cool, by any means — they’re just older or not as exciting as the links we decided to post.


And here is a recap of this week’s community posts, in case you missed them on Facebook or Twitter:

Have a great weekend!