## Tuesday, 21 December 2010

### Winter Solstice

Today, 21 December 2010 is a day of great importance. Today is the day the Earth's axial tilt is at it's maximum of 23° 26' away from the sun. If measure the angle of elevation of the sun from the horizon at twelve noon today you will measure an angle of 69° 34'. It certainly brings back memories. If you were a reader of my blog exactly a year ago you might remember my creative technique of measuring the Earth's axial tilt. For those who weren't there, you should know that I managed to calculate the axial tilt of the Earth by measuring the angle of elevation of the sun on the day of the winter solstice. While this in itself is not very impressive, the method I used to calculate the angle of elevation of the sun is very interesting. I did not measure the angle directly. I used a more long winded but safer method of using shadows and similar triangles. If you are curious read this post: http://ashwinnarayan.blogspot.com/2009/12/few-clarifications.htmlI say my method was safer because looking directly at the sun is never a good idea unless you are hell bent on inflicting permanent damage on your eyes. The most impressive thing is that my measurement was very accurate. My answer was very close to the original value.

Historically, the winter solstice is a very important date. There are several festivals celebrated by almost all of the ancient cultures of the world that depend on the winter solstice. A very famous example is the Jewish festival Hanukkah. There are several magical tales and legends associated with this date. It is apparent that humans felt that solstice was a very mystic event.

Recently the date December 21 has gained quite some fame after the sudden surge in the interest the public has shown towards Nostradamus's predictions. Apparently he said that the world as we know it would end on December 21, 2012 due to the Earth, the moon, the sun and the centre of the galaxy lining up. Some people also believe that a fictional Planet Nibiru will come zooming into the solar system and knock Earth off it's orbit.

As someone strongly believes that  good science must be promoted and bad science must be debunked,  let me make an announcement. The world WILL NOT end on December 21, 2012. Period. It is a fantastic work of fiction. If you check the star charts you  will see that this alignment of the Earth, Moon, Sun and the centre of the galaxy happens EVERY YEAR. I thank my favourite astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for making me aware of this and for showing a contagious enthusiasm in science that has made the world a better place. So for those who are waiting for the end just take a step back and think for yourself. Do not be misled by pseudoscience.

On a different note today is also the birthday of my good friend Evelyn Chua. I wish you a very Happy Birthday!

#### 9 comments:

Srikanth said...

Strictly speaking if the world has not ended in n days the probability of the world ending in the n+1th day is 1/(n+1), as Laplace put it. So there is hope for freaks who like the world to end.

Srikanth said...

Modern theories hardly allow the freedom of an absolute statement like an event WILL or WILL NOT happen

Ashwin Narayan said...

You are right of course. It would be unscientific to say with absolute certainty that a particular event will or will not happen. But with the amount of knowledge we have of our cosmic neighbourhood, we can be reasonably sure that the world will not end on 21 December, 2012.

However, my point is that the chances of the world ending on 21 December, 2012 are about the same as the chances of the world ending on 8 March, 2011. So we are in no more danger of being participants in an apocalypse 21 December, 2012 than we are of the same on any other date. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that points to there being any object floating around in space that is hell bent on killing us on 21 December, 2012.

Srikanth said...

My point is- Do people want the world to end? That's what it seems like to me, with the amount of false science and data they put into this... Maybe they think being the last generation has a prestige of its own or its a big plot against environmental conservation

Ashwin Narayan said...

Then that is what we should be looking at. Every other day you see someone who is gullible enough to believe this conspiracy and preparing for an Armageddon. The number of people who believe in pseudoscience is alarming.

It is a fact that almost half of all Americans believe that the Earth is about 7000 years old and that humans walked with the dinosaurs. There are surveys which confirmed this. An even greater number of people do not believe in Darwinian Evolution. With all that it's no surprise that a lot of people believe in the 2012 apocalypse.

It is for this reason that I truly appreciate people like Michael Shermer,Professor Richard Dawkins and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for working so hard to promote good science.

Srikanth said...

The world IS full of the mentally retarded

Ashwin Narayan said...

Oh yes, remember my post?

http://ashwinnarayan.blogspot.com/2009/11/world-is-full-of-mentally-retarded.html

Recently Blogger added a new feature which allows me to monitor the statistics related to my blog. I can view things such as the number of visitors, which post is most viewed, traffic sources, in which countries are my blog most popular etc.

It is interesting to note that my post on the world's mental retardedness has received the highest number of hits.

Kian Seng said...

I've read about the Nibiru Planet Conspiracy Theory. Utterly baseless and ridiculous.

The thing is when someone believes in something, it is within human nature to attempt as hard as possible to convince others to believe in the same belief, even at the expense of concocting evidence or using them to their own convenience.

Just like how those nuts I blogged about that expound the Flat Earth Theory. They twist and turn facts to fit their own deluded and silly theory.

In regards to the End of the World theory, its all propagated by the media. The more people that believes in it and clicks to read more about it, the more money they earn. Hence, they will lose nothing in exaggerating as much as possible,.

Ashwin Narayan said...

Oh you know about the Flat Earth Society? I found their ideas very amusing. I always thought it was a society that was set up as a practical joke on an international scale. I wonder if they are completely serious about it...