Monthly Archives: December 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Years Eve Everybody!

As with just about every holiday, today bears a special astronomical as well as temporal significance: Today is the day where our little planet makes a complete path around the Sun.


As you can see, even though January is a winter month, Earth is actually closer to the Sun around January, but since the Earth is tilted, its rays don’t hit us in the Northern hemisphere as well. This is also why we perceive the Sun as sitting lower in the sky during winter.

So here’s a question: Why do we celebrate the New Year on January 1st? Well, a lot of it has to do with the stars- for centuries, people have based the new year on the appearance of stars. In fact, in the Stuart period, England produced a new observatory that helped standardize time, as well as geography:

That new observatory King Charles built was the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which is where we get Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the standard time for the whole planet. In addition, Greenwich is the site of the Prime Meridian, the imaginary line that conveniently divides the world in half, so we can keep track of the Eastern and Western hemispheres. In the 19th century, the English decided that Greenwich would be the standard for time as well as the beginning of the Western Hemisphere, and that a new year started at midnight, when a group of stars pass over the Greenwich observatory. To learn more about the observatory, click here:

The star Sirus in the constellation Canis Major (the great dog)

The star Sirius in the constellation Canis Major (the Great Dog)

However, way way before that, human beings used the motions of the planets and the stars to determine the time of year. One such star is visible tonight; the single brightest star in the heavens, the Dog-star Sirius (Hope some Harry Potter Fans appreciate this).

Now, I’ll go into the mythological history of Sirius later this week in a new page devoted to astronomy myths and legends, but for right now you need to know that Sirius is always just below and to the left of Orion, which is why some call it “Orion’s Dog.” Some say that the Ancient Egyptians based their calendars on the time in which Sirus passed over the peaks of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and then the Romans co-opted their system when they began the Julian calendar.


The Egyptians had good reason to revere Sirius; the coming of Sirius marked the annual flooding of the Nile River, which allowed the Egyptians to survive in the harsh desert. No wonder they chose to make its appearance the start of their year; it brought them life itself.

In addition to being bright, Sirius is HUGE (twice the size of our Sun), close (only about 8 1/2 light years away), and moving nearer towards us, which means that it will be brighter tonight then ever before.  It should appear at its peak at midnight tonight, so if you join us at Primland, be sure to check it out after your New Years toast. If you book a Tour of the Universe, one of our Star Masters would be happy to point out Sirius to you, and go into even greater detail with the significance of this unusual star.

But in the meantime, I wish you all a very happy New Year. Please visit back often as this site is just going to continue growing! I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far, and if you like what you see, forward it to your friends and leave a comment below!

Happy Stargazing!


It’s the End of the World, Right?


Today is December 21st, 2012 a day full of misconceptions, confusing statements and all-out hoaxes about what is going on in the stars, so I thought I’d allay some fears right now. First of all, CALM DOWN; the world is not going to end. Every expert in Astronomy, history, religion, and Mayans has confirmed that there is nothing going on today that will destroy civilization as we know it. Why then, are people so worried?

Copan Stela from an ancient Mayan ruin.

Copan Stela from an ancient Mayan ruin.

Hoax #1- The so- called Mayan Prophesy

A lot of doomsday prophesies center around something called the “Long Count” calendar; it was a system designed to track all of history back to the beginning of time, and it supposedly ended in 2012. However, the Mayans had several ways of keeping time and many different calendars. The end of one era doesn’t necessarily mean the end of time. In fact, the Mayans also have calendars that extend beyond 2012! So even if you believe that the Mayans some how knew when the world was going to end, even they don’t believe it’ll end today. To read more about the Mayan calendars and the mistakes and misconceptions about the 2012 prophesy, visit the University Of Pennsylvania Museum’s “Maya: Lords of Time” exhibit webpage:

And if you don’t believe that, ask an actual Mayan Elder, speaking at the 2012 Stellar Knowledge Conference:

Image of the so-called Planet Nibaru, which supposedly will knock the world out of its orbit.

Image of the so-called Planet Nibaru, which supposedly will knock the world out of its orbit.

Well, that was the most popular myth, but my favorite myth comes from a so-called psychic named Nancy Lieder, who claims she is receiving messages from ALIENS called the Zeta, THROUGH A CHIP IN HER BRAIN, and that the world is going to be wiped out today by planetary collision with a planet called Nibaru. She claims there is a massive NASA cover-up designed to hide the planet’s impending doom, but if that was true, wouldn’t people like me have seen it by now looking through our telescopes? Well, if you wish to subscribe to Miss Lieder’s theories, I’ve included a link to her Twitter page:

What is actually going on?

Simulated image of the path of the Sun during the Winter Solstice created by

Simulated image of the path of the Sun during the Winter Solstice.

December 21st is the winter solstice- the shortest, darkest day of the year, which is why it has a dark connotation in our minds. The Sun is the furthest distance from the celestial equator. The Sun will appear lower on the horizon today than any other day of the year, which is one reason why cultures have feared this day, almost since the beginning of time, but if you look at this diagram, there’s really nothing to worry about:

Path of the Earth and Sun during the Summer and Winter Solstice.

Path of the Earth and Sun during the Summer and Winter Solstice.

Every culture on Earth has its own celebration of the Winter solstice, in fact, the whole reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, is because it occurs right on the Roman Winter Solstice. To the Romans, after Christmas, life literally got brighter  This is why Christians (who began their religion as part of the Roman Empire), wish to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who said : “I am the light of the world,” on the day when light literally does return to the world.

There are plenty of other examples of this solmenizing the Winter Solstice, for example in Ireland there is an ancient stone burial chamber named Newgrange, just as old as Stonehenge. For centuries on the winter solstice, people have gathered inside the chamber to watch the sun stream through and illuminate it, like in this video from 2007:

Unfortunately, According to the Irish Times, cloud coverage made it impossible to see the sun rise today, omen?

So, basically there is nothing to worry about. 2012 is not the end, in fact it might be the beginning according to the Mayans. All the same, it’s perfectly natural to want to romanticize and wonder about the stars; we humans have been doing it since the beginning of time. This is why it’s so much fun to look up at the sky and wonder whether our destinies really do lie in the motion of the stars.

Happy star gazing, and hope to see you as I celebrate the Almost-Apocolypse tonight at Primland!

Paul Rycik

Greetings Earthlings!

Hi everyone!

Primland Observatory, where I give my nightly presentations.

Primland Observatory, where I give my nightly presentations.

Since we haven’t met before, let me introduce myself. My name is Paul, and I work at the Astronomy Department at Primland Resort, (left). Every night, I use this wonderful observatory to show guests the stars. I gotta tell you that I have never found a place that has lower light pollution, which makes it ideal for viewing stars, constellations, planets, and galaxies. So this blog is my way of chronicling what I see, and to let you know about the amazing work we do at Primland. Come back often for photos, new posts about guest speakers, new programs we’re implementing for parents and students, and my own little musings about the universe, which I pick up from my incessant reading and researching. Hope you enjoy visiting my site!

Our first picture of the week, is a breathtaking view of the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest galaxy to the Earth.