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Professor’s Astrology Comment gets Astronomical Attention

Posted on: June 9th, 2011 by insidemctc 7 Comments
Parke Kunkle

Parke Kunkle, MCTC Astronomy instructor.

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.”

MCTC Astronomy Instructor Parke Kunkle Caught in a Whirlwind of Media Attention

Posted on: January 18th, 2011 by insidemctc 3 Comments

MCTC Astronomy Instructor Parke Kunkle.It is impossible to miss all of the headlines about the shifting zodiac—a story that rapidly began circling the globe last week. Parke Kunkle, an astronomy faculty member at MCTC and board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, has received more than a hundred media requests since the story hit last Monday

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Kunkle explained that the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis in a process called precession. This means the Earth is no longer aligned to the stars in the same way as when the signs of the zodiac were originally conceived.

Star signs, created about 2,000 years ago, were created by tracking where the sun was in the sky each month. However, the wobble has created about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment, according to the article.

According to Kunkle, when astrologers say the sun is in Pisces, it’s really in Aquarius, and so on. The new dates:

Capricorn: Jan. 20 – Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 16 – March 11
Pisces: March 11 – April 18
Aries: April 18 – May 13
Taurus: May 13 – June 21
Gemini: June 21 – July 20
Cancer: July 20 – Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10 – Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16 – Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30 – Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23 – Nov. 29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29 – Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17 – Jan. 20

In addition, Kunkle says astrologers have neglected a 13th constellation, Ophiuchus (Ooh-FEE-yew-kus). “The sun has been going through Ophiuchus for thousands of years,” said Kunkle, who says that his sign is “vegetarian.”

Astonished by all of the attention, Kunkle said, “Astronomers have been teaching this for 2000 years and yet it suddenly went viral!”

More coverage of this story:

Associated Press: Give me back my sign! Horoscope readers atwitter
Washington Post: Shifting signs: An astrological shakeup?
NPR: What’s Your Sign? Turns Out, Maybe It’s Not
Fox 9 News: Zodiac Sign Changes and New Sign Ophiuchus
New York Times: Did Your Horoscope Predict This?
ABC News: New Zodiac Signs 2011: Debunking a Zodiac Controversy
BBC News: Have people’s star signs changed?