Courtesy of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Spring 2011 magazine
By Zach McKeague
Around the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) campus, astronomy Professor Parke Kunkle is known for his memorable remarks. However, it was his remark in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about a change in the zodiac that blasted off into cyberspace, orbited the earth and made him a star.
What started out as an entertaining story in the features section ended up in the news sections of print, television and electronic media around the globe.
Bill Ward, a feature writer for the Star Tribune, said he was approached by his editor to write a quick story about information gathered from the website livescience.com on the reorientation of the astrological zodiac.
“We call it a ‘brite,’ ” Ward said. “It’s just a small, fun, informative story we hope will turn into a talker.”
Soon after publication, the story titled “The stars may not be aligned in your favor” became one of the most talked-about subjects in the world, and “Astrological signs 2011” was the most searched phrase of Thursday, Jan. 13, according to Google trends.
Ward said Kunkle was contacted to confirm the information from livescience.com. “So that’s how the whole thing started,” Kunkle said.
In the article, which appeared on a Monday, Kunkle described the precession of the earth, or gradual wobbling, which caused a change in the zodiac calendar. “By Wednesday, it went viral,” Kunkle said. “By Thursday, my phone was ringing off the hook.”
When other news agencies began picking up the story, it started changing and making the rounds. “It just went out there as a short story and then morphed into this misguided, ‘Parke Kunkle and the Minnesota Planetarium Society had been the source of (the information),’ ” Ward said.
Articles appeared in the BBC, Irish Times, New York Times and Washington Post. Even television news stations devoted segments to Kunkle and the new astrological zodiac. Most blew the original idea far out of context.
“I started to see headlines ‘Astronomer drops bomb on astrologers’ and some other injudiciously creative writing,” Kunkle said. “This is known information; astronomers have known this for over 2,000 years. Every astronomy class talks about this day one.”
So, why such a big reaction from such old news? “People sense that there is more to them and life than we readily know,” said Twin Cities astrologer Sally Blumenfeld. “[Astrology] has a way of connecting with people.”
Kunkle, the astronomer who is now a household name, laughs and enjoys all of the attention he has received. “I just hope it gets people to look at the sky.”