I always love getting the newest Old Farmer's Almanac, to get the astronomical outlook for the new year and read the articles. I love it. I rely heavily on the almanac for Moon times, astronomy, seasonal changes and other tidbits. I also collect them and have them going back to the early 1800s.
This one did not disappoint.
The main article this year for astronomy is The Sky is Falling (and this is a good year to catch it). It covers a few things, not the least of which is the Mayan New Year, which occurs on the winter Solstice and is above all a positive thing. I just don't know where everyone gets this doom and gloom prediction of the world, but it is amusing, none-the-less. However, the Mayan calendar hasn't anything to do with the end of the world or Armageddon. I find people who believe in this crap rather stupid (and if you'd seen the number of posts that mentioned that following yesterday's earthquake, well... you would see what I mean. Clueless...), and why not? I understand a certain amount of religious belief, but that kind of belief is beyond me.
The Mayan calendar has 21 December marked as the 14th b'ak'tun, a time of celebration for a new time period. The Mayans have never gone in for the "doom and gloom" new year predictions (I can't help but think that it's just some Roman Catholics that firmly believe we are meant to be miserable here on earth for the length of our lives - and having met Luis' family I have seen this in action). The doomsday folks (yes, the lowest common denominator) have claimed that the big deal is the big astronomical event coming up - the Sun lining up with the center of the galaxy.
Really? I mean, come on, really? Do you honestly believe that this has anything to do with anything other than a conjunction of heavenly bodies? If you do, it is time to sign your money over to the latest loser predicting the end of the world, who will of course live high on the hog while you are stuck alive and penniless... but you deserve it in this case. Really? I can keep on asking this forever.
And then there is my slice of heaven for 2012 - the Part II of Venus' transit across the Sun. I actually cried with joy to see it. The Mayans, by the way, loved Venus and knew her 8 year cycle practically to the minute. I love the Mayans - any group that looks upon the planets as I do is a culture I want to know more. Look at Stonehenge - which I've been to and just loved. Imagine people who found the one of two spots (that's right, just two spots on the whole planet) where astronomy is accurately predicted for all events. And then they moved rocks so enormous and weighty that no one can figure out how they got there and set 'em all up to do just that! Aren't these people you'd love to meet and chat with? You'd better believe it!
Knowing white man, we probably killed them all off.
Anyway, Venus this coming year will have its best year in our lifetimes. Considering how much of Venus I have seen and loved, that's saying a LOT. I had mentioned yesterday that she will be returning from her superior conjunction behind the sun in December - she'll appear just 10 degrees above the land on 1 December but will double her height by 31 December and reach a dazzling -4.7 magnitude for the winter and spring, before going into her inferior conjunction in front of the Sun. She returns in July as the morning star at a still brilliant magnitude and unusually high placement in the early morning sky. I love this and this one thing about not working - I can see all the astronomical events without having to worry about timing and planning work schedules.
The big news about astronomy in general and Venus in particular is Part 2 of her transit across the sun. An event that occurs every 121 and a half years, then twice in 8 years, then every 117 and a half years, it did not occur in the 20th century (the last cycle before Part 1 in 2004 was, I believe, 1888. (I should check that... 1874 and 1882, I was close.) The next recurrence will not be until 2117, and it is a very safe bet I won't be around for that unless I end up with a Vulcan's lifespan. It's a pattern that repeats every 243 years.
The 2012 transit will be visible all across the United States on 5 June, beginning at 18:04 EDT and is visible without a telescope (!) but will require strong goggles (you should not be looking at the Sun without very strong polarised glasses or like I have, the piece that goes over the viewer of my telescope. I still plan to use the telescope. It just has to be that much better! I had to use it on 6 June 2004. It was an early morning transit and not visible to the naked eye.
Other fun items this year include an annular solar eclipse - the last one was 1994, which I did see by creating a "poor man's telescope", taking two pieces of cardboard and putting a pinhole in the top piece. But it was visible in a strange, fascinating way, too... the air became... I don't know how to describe it... diffuse. Well, the light did. It was a bright, sunny day and I scheduled my lunch period to coincide with the annular eclipse. I was sitting there eating with Hillary, a friend of mine, and we watched the partial eclipse through my little creation - it's visible that a portion of the solar disk was occluded by the Moon. But the air quality changed and it was... weird. I don't know if I can capture it on film (well, by taking a video) on 20 May (in fact, I'm sure I can't because it won't be visible here), but I'd love to try. Unfortunately, the East Coast rarely sees the good stuff. GROWL.
Both the Perseid and Geminid showers occur in Moonless skies, giving a view unparalleled since 2000. Hopefully the weather, which has systematically blocked most of the best showers here for years, will give us break and remain clear.
The last detail - and this is really neat - is that all the high points of seasons' beginning are early! Due to the extra Leap Year thrown in 2000 to catch us up time-wise and the fact that 2012 is a regular leap year, Spring begins on 19 March; it's earliest arrival since 1896! The summer solstice occurs on 20 June instead of 21 June; the autumnal equinox on 22nd of September - also the earliest since 1896. Actually, the whole year's seasonal starts are early! Very cool.
What's not to love about 2012?