Kunkle’s astrology comment gets astronomical attention

Kunkle’s astrology comment gets astronomical attention

Parke Kunkle, Professor of Astronomy, poses for a photograph at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Jan. 20, 2011. (Photograph by Aaron DuBois/City College News)

MCTC 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 cyber-space, orbited the earth and made him a star.

What started out as an entertaining story in the features section of the newspaper’s weekday edition, ended up dominating the news sections of print, television and electronic media around the globe.

Bill Ward, a feature writer for the Star Tribune, said that 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,” said Ward, “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,” was one of the most talked about subjects in the world.

“Astrological signs 2011” was the most searched phrase of Thursday Jan. 13, according to Google Trends.

According to Ward, Professor 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 in the Monday Jan. 10 issue of the Star Tribune, Kunkle described the precession of the earth, or gradual wobbling, which caused a change in the zodiac calendar and introduced a new constellation
called Ophiuchus.

“By Wednesday it went viral,” said Kunkle, “By Thursday my phone was ringing off the hook.”

When other news agencies began picking up the story, it began changing and making the rounds.

“It just went out there as a short story and then morphed into this misguided, ‘Parke Kunkle and the Minneapolis Planetarium

Society had been the source of [the information],’” said Ward.

Articles began appearing in the BBC, Irish Times, New York Times, and the 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 unjudiciously (sic) creative writing,”

Kunkle said. “This is known information, astronomers have known this for over 2000 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,” Twin Cities astrologer Sally Blumenfeld said.

“[Astrology] has a way to connect with people.”

Many astrologers were not surprised by the news. “This comes up every 10 to 15 years,” Blumenfeld said.

What was surprising, however, was the worldwide reaction to the statements.

“It was almost like an identity crisis stirred up,” she said.

According to Mark Salo, a Philosophy professor at MCTC, there is an age old conversation in Philosophy: “Essence before existence, or existence before essence.”

He describes it as a way that people approach an understanding of themselves.

Some seek meaning in the tangible, touchable, knowable existence of life, while others seek meaning in the spiritual, metaphysical, or supernatural.

“People who are not rooted in the idea that they exist, seek meaning in other things to understand themselves,” Salo said.

“[Astrology] is an ancient way of thinking that is still valid in many people’s lives.”

“[It’s] ancient superstitions combined with modern technology, that’s the real story here,” John Plomondon, American studies professor said.

The issue has generated much conversation.

Astrologers say that the news changes nothing in the zodiac, while astronomers question what, if not science, astrology is based on.

Whether or not a person follows astrology or astronomy, the saturation of news coverage made them both unavoidable.

And both saw it as a positive opportunity to increase awareness and encourage inquisition.

“Most people’s view of astrology is limited,” Blumenfeld said. “This is certainly a time of questioning, and a great opportunity for people to look into it.”

“We are in a society that really doesn’t understand science,” Kunkle said, “your view of the world is very different when you understand science. We are opening up a connection.”

The whole experience was entertaining to Bill Ward, the feature writer who penned the
original article.

“I just spent half a day doing a fun little story,” he said “and it exploded.”

In the meantime, Parke 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.”