The True Alignment Zone

John Major Jenkins
June 1999

When does the solstice-galaxy alignment occur most precisely?

Can we really nail it down to a day?

These are important questions, and we must identify the parameters of the alignment zone and the most important factors involved in the alignment.
In my book The Center of Mayan Time (February 1995), I discussed the astronomical fact that the alignment of the solstice meridian with the Galactic equator—the alignment the Maya were trying to indicate with their 2012 end-date— in fact occurs sometime between 1997 and 1999. This was an estimate based upon my careful analysis of sky charts. Later, information from an article by James Roylance (see biblio) came to my attention that calculated, using Norton's 2000.0 Star Atlas, that this "solstice-galaxy" alignment would be most precise between February 1998 and November 1999. I published this estimate in my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012 (1998). As my book was going to press, an article by Daniel Giamario in Mountain Astrologer (biblio) pointed out that European astronomer Jean Meeus calculated and puiblished in his 1997 book Mathematical Astronomy Morsels, the date of May 1998 for the alignment. Later on in '98, I was told that the Nautical Observatory calculated — with overconfident precision in my opinion —October 27, 1998.

In thinking this through carefully, I feel that the parameters and features involved in this question allow for at least a plus-or-minus one year for even the most precise scientific calculation. More generally, any calculation could easily be "off" by some five to ten years. Why? The precise calculation of the solstice-galaxy alignment is predicated upon identifying the precise location of the solstice meridian and the Galactic equator. Of these two abstract locations, the Galactic equator is subject to variation depending on whether you chose to identify with gravitational, visual, or electromagnetic criteria. If the currently accepted astrophysical location for either the solstice meridian or the Galactic equator is inaccurate by as little as 1/60th of a degree (1 minute of arc), the calculation of the precession-caused alignment of the solstice meridian (precise center-point of the body of the sun) with the Galactic equator would be subject to a +/- variable of five months. And how big is 1/60th of a degree? Well, the full moon is about 1/2 a degree, or 30 minutes of arc, in diameter. So, imagine slicing the full moon into thirty parts —one of those parts is 1/60th of a degree. It would seem reasonable that variations in the currently accepted locations of either the solstice meridian or the Galactic equator could be at least this much.

The other consideration involves acknowledging that we are not dealing here with abstract lines and meridians, we are dealing with astrophysical bodies that have size and shape, and that were tracked by ancient naked-eye skywatchers. When can we expect that the solstice meridian will have effectively moved to "the other side" of the Galactic equator? An analogy we can use is the earth's equator. Field effects in the northern hemisphere compared to field effects in the southern hemisphere include the directional rotation of hurricanes and tornadoes, or more locally, water spinning down a drain. So, which way does water spin down the drain when you are right on the equator? And how far do you need to move north or south to get a definitive directional spin? I suspect that there is an orb of ambiguity, or a zone in which effects are at their peak. That's in the realm of possibly demonstrable effects. In the realm of naked-eye astronomy, which is really the context here, we must acknowledge the visual size of the solstice sun (1/2 a degree wide). As I suggested in my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, the "solstice sun" will not have precessed clear of the Galactic equator until roughly AD 2018 (AD 2021 if you want to get technical).

Recent information (June 1999), from astronomer Patrick Wallace:

The winter-solstice Sun is closest to the Galactic equator in 1998. This presumably corresponds to the Meeus/USNO calculation. The distance from the Sun to the Galactic centre at that time is 6.4396 degrees (measured in apparent place).

The winter-solstice Sun has cleared the Galactic equator by 2021.

The winter-solstice Sun is closest to the Galactic centre in 2219, with a couple of years either side also candidates for this epoch because of nutation. The distance to the Galactic centre at the 2219 solstice is 5.6367 degrees, 0.8029 degrees closer than in 1998.

The winter-solstice Sun and Galactic center share the same apparent-place meridian in 2225.

Patrick Wallace
Starlink Project Manager
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot, Oxon OX11 0QX, UK

Thank you Patrick Wallace for these calculations. This valuable information fine-tunes the Galactic Alignment dynamic. The 2021 calculation I think is very important because the question of when the shift "to the other side" might begin to actually be felt (following the earth-equator metaphor described above) will be most critical to understand, at least for those who plan on being alive for the next forty or so years. Clearly, the "alignment window" needs to incorporate the entire process, including the solstice sun's closest approach to the Galactic Center (in 2219). This is roughly 208 years, or two Venus Rounds, after 2012! And so long-range prognosticators may look to the year 2220 for other astronomical/astrological phenomenon.

Another significant piece of information here is the difference in distance between 1998 and 2219: .8029 degrees. This is 1 and 2/3rds sun diameters, fairly significant in terms of possible intensification of effects as we move from 1998 toward 2219. Looks like we might have more time than we thought.

Having said this, these considerations in no way hcallenge the reocnstruction of the ancient Maya's calednar cosmology that targets this alignment, for it is absurd to expect the ancient Maya astronomers, working 2,100 years ago) to have made an absolutely precise forward calculation in precessional motion. The visual targets of the solstice sun's movement werethe mythologically potent "dark rift" feature along the Galactic equator. If, for reasons of explanatory simplicity, we state that the alignment zone is 1998 +/- 18 years, (because the sun is half a degree wide and 1/2 a degree of precessional shifts is 36 years), we achieve a realistic and fair appraisal of the process, yielding an alignment zone of 1980 - 2016. It is my hope that this will lend clarity to the discussion, as intellectually dishonest critics are likely to misinterpret contexts, parameters, and meanings in order to subvert the thesis.

Perhaps the most important consideration in trying to identify the true "moment" of transformation from the vantage of possible effects comes from straight social history. In Mesoamerica, major socio-political changes have always taken place very close to a period ending in the indigenous calendar. The best example of this is the revolution that culminated around 1820, leading to many countries in Latin America declaring their independence from the tyranny of Spain. This period, as Dennis Tedlock pointed out, was five Calendar Rounds after the Calendar Round ending of 1554. Around 1554, Quiché Maya leaders decided that the end to "the world as they knew it" had come, and set to recording the Popol Vuh, the Maya Creation Myth. We might expect, for purely sociological reasons, that 2012 will be a rally cry for repressed indigenous people throughout the Americas to revolt. That's about as close to December 21, 2012 being a "collective transformative moment" that I can accept.

For technical reasons that may be of greatest interest to future historians, I explained in a lecture given in Denver on December 13, 1998, that December 22 of 1998 might be called day one of the next 26,000-year precessional cycle. And thus 1999 would be Year 1. However, I leave this debate to those who find it important. Perhaps the true transition will only be identifiable in hindsight. Maybe it's a function of how dense we are. Maybe we will only be able to speak about it in turns of a period of years.

—JMJ 6-99

back to