Has the Earth's Axis Tilt Changed Recently?

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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No

Every so often something so outrageous comes along I just shake my head in disbelief. Latest one (several e-mails from people wondering about it) is the claim that sometime around 2006 the earth's axis tilt suddenly changed by 26 degrees. The principal page making this claim is http://www.divulgence.net/.

Sunrise, Sunset....

The astronomy on this site is so bad it just leaves me stunned. Typical claim:

The sun should never be north of the Tropic of Cancer nor south of the Tropic of Capricorn. So, if you live north of Central Mexico, the sun should never rise or set to the north of those latitudes. But it is now rising and setting at a 26 degree angle to the north of Dallas, TX and the sun has been shining in the north windows at sunrise and sunset.

Most of the people who have contacted me have been struck by the fact that the sun has been striking north facing walls and shining in north-facing windows. This is perfectly normal. The only thing that has changed is that they've noticed it for the first time.

The theorist behind this claim is concerned that the sun rises and sets 26 degrees north of due east and west in Dallas, Texas. This is normal.

If you're on the equator, the sun sets 23.5 degrees north of west on June 21 and 23.5 degrees south of west on December 21.
The sun moves between 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator. If your horizon cuts that band obliquely, which it does everywhere except on the equator, the variation in azimuth of sunrise and sunset must be greater than 23.5 degrees. If your horizon just touches the limits of the band, as at the Arctic or Antarctic Circle, the azimuth difference from due east and west can be 90 degrees. Actually, 26 degrees is about right for Dallas (the actual maximum value is about 28.3 degrees).

The only dates when the sun rises and sets due east and west are the spring and fall equinoxes: March 21 and September 21 (the exact times vary and they can fall on the 20th as well). Between March 21 and September 21, the Sun is north of the celestial equator. It rises north of due east and sets north of due west. The closer to the Summer Solstice (June 21) and the farther north you go, the greater the deviation from due east and west. At 50 N the sun can deviate from due east and west by 38 degrees, and at 60 N the deviation can be 53 degrees. Just south of the Arctic Circle on June 21, the sun sets almost due north, dips briefly below the horizon, and rises again almost due north. On December 21, it peeps above the horizon almost due south and then drops back below, again almost due south.

It's flatly untrue that the sun never rises and sets north of due east-west except in the tropics. Between March 21 and September 21 the sun rises north of due east and sets north of due west everywhere on earth. The tropics are defined by what the sun does at noon. Outside the tropics the sun never appears overhead at noon. If the earth's axis tilt had increased to 49 degrees, it should be possible to photograph vertical objects with no shadow in International Falls, Minnesota near June 21. And of course, you can't.

The tropics are two parallels with latitude equal to the earth's axis tilt: 23.5 degrees. According to the axis-shift theory, the tilt is now 49.5 degrees, so the tropics are now at 49.5 north and south. Large cities with deep canyon streets would be a great place to test this theory. In New York, latitude 40.8 degrees, the sun should be directly overhead about May 18 and July 25. For Chicago (41.8 degrees) the dates would be May 20 and July 22. Skyscrapers should cast no shadows at noon. In between those dates at noon the north sides of buildings should be sunlit at noon and the south sides should be in shadow; the south side of the street should be sunlit and the north side should be in shadow at noon. Does that happen? (I don't care what happens at sunrise or sunset.  Of course the north sides of buildings will be sunlit early in the morning and late in the afternoon. It's only noon that matters.)

Around the poles are two more parallels, the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, and these are at latitudes equal to 90 minus the earth's axis tilt, or 66.5 degrees. Above those latitudes there is at least one day when the sun never sets in the summer or rises in the winter. If the earth's axis tilt had increased by 26 degrees, the Arctic Circle would be at 90-49.5 = 40.5 degrees. This means that on June 21 the Sun would never set in New York City and on December 21 it would momentarily peep above the horizon at noon. Cities like Minneapolis and Seattle would have distinct summer periods of midnight sun and equally distinct periods of continuous night in the winter. I think that would make the news if it happened. (I know it seems like people never see the sun in the winter in Minneapolis and Seattle, but it does appear.)

Caught in the Act?

These are two images that supposedly show the earth actually in the process of moving.

In the lower frame, the zigzag white line in the upper right is the computer-added edge of the earth. The re-entrant at  the bottom is the northwest corner of Spain. Note that nothing else changes. Landmasses are exactly in the same place. If the earth did shift to the left like that, shouldn't the cloud patterns as well? What we've got is a data glitch, nothing more.

The Stars

Wouldn't you notice changes in the stars? No, because:

A 2000 mile shift does not create a dramatic change in the appearance of the stars as some people might think. A 26 degree change in the angle of the sun does not translate into a 26 degree change in the stars. This is due to the distance and size perception of the stars versus the sun. If you traveled from Chicago to Brownsville TX, you would not notice any difference in the stars at all if it was the exact same time of night on the same day.

Absolutely unbelievable. Yes, if you traveled from Chicago (41.8 N) to Brownsville, Texas (26 N) you would see very dramatic differences in the sky. Polaris would be 16 degrees lower in the sky. Equatorial constellations like Orion would be higher overhead. Bright southern stars like Canopus or Achernar that are invisible from Chicago would be easily visible in Brownsville. In fact, if you found a clear, dark, flat southern horizon and looked at the right time, you can even see the Southern Cross just graze the horizon from Brownsville. This guy is apparently confusing parallax, apparent shifts in the positions of stars due to motion, which is utterly undetectable by eye, with the changes in star visibility due to changes in latitude.

To support his claim, he reproduces some star maps. His description of the maps is pretty much all we need.

Here are two star charts. One is for the latitude between the Dakotas 99.21 N Latitude [sic] and the other image shows the stars at the central Mexico Latitude 22.21 N. Both are the same longitude 99.24 W. Each pair of images are comparisons in the same time frame as stars will seem to move as we rotate below them. Stars also change as we rotate around the sun.... but again, not as dramatically as one would think.

It's a little hard to tell what the star maps are supposed to show, but since latitude can't be greater than 90 degrees, we can be reasonably sure they don't show a change in the earth's axis tilt. Actually the star charts on his site do show a dramatic change in the altitude of Polaris, exactly what we'd expect from a 25 degree change in latitude. The page shows blowups of the region around Polaris with slight differences attributable to the map projection.

So if the earth's axis shifted 26 degrees, anyone familiar with the stars would notice immediately. Most obvious change: the earth's axis wouldn't point at Polaris any more. Polaris would move in an obvious arc during the night. Some stars now invisible from the U.S. would be visible, other stars we normally see would be invisible. We might be able to see the Southern Cross everywhere in the U.S. but no longer be able to see Sirius, for example. You absolutely could not hide this.

Communications

Supposedly:

On Dec 6th, 2006 the world GPS system failed but this information was not made public until April 2007. Normally, something this big would be a major news story, but the 4 months of silence was more than telling. The news networks, military and phone companies all depend on GPS, so it was not a secret to any of them but for 4 months, not a word was mentioned.

How many people these days have GPS units? Saying there was a global failure of GPS but the Government kept it under wraps is like saying there was a global failure of telephones, the Internet, or electricity but the Government was able to keep it a secret.

How's Your TV Reception?

If the earth's axis shifted by 26 degrees, what happened to geosynchronous satellites? If they still remained in their original orbits, then the satellites would appear to drift 26 degrees north and south of the celestial equator over the course of a day. Considering how touchy satellite dishes can be about misalignments of even a few degrees, this would totally disrupt global communications.

It gets worse. The earth's equatorial bulge causes satellite orbits to precess, or change their alignments. We make deliberate use of this fact with earth-observation satellites, so they repeat their tracks regularly over the earth and also view the earth under optimum lighting. It's not a problem for geosynchronous satellites orbiting in the earth's equatorial plane, but if the earth's axis were to shift, the satellites would no longer be orbiting in the earth's equatorial plane. The orbits would begin to precess. The orbits would be all over the sky (or at least that part of it within 26 degrees of the celestial equator) by now.

What Caused It?

What caused the slippage? The melting of the polar regions has thrown off the balance of the earth. As the glaciers have nearly melted, the weight at the north pole has decreased. This has allowed the heavier, wider portion of the earth at the equator to start slipping downward, thus increasing the tilt significantly.

Downward relative to what? Actually, removing material from the poles increases the stability of the earth's rotation.

As the earth shifts onto its side, the north pole will be facing the sun in the summer and will have equatorial tropical temperatures. The northern hemisphere will be facing the sun during the summer, thus it will be burning hot and always daylight during those months. The south pole will face away from the sun in the summer and will be perpetually cold. The southern hemisphere of the planet will be freezing cold and dark throughout the summer. The equatorial region will be twilight year round and the midpoint between freezing cold and boiling hot. The farther away from the north or south poles, the milder the climate will become and the sun will be more of a twilight.

The argument seems to be that the earth is like a top falling over, but falling onto what?

Apparently he also can't picture what happens in between summer and winter. It won't be "twilight year round" at the equator even if this moonbat scenario actually happens, because at the equinoxes the equator will be pointing at the sun and there will be sunrises and sunsets.

Why Haven't We Been Informed?

Why has no one mentioned the shift of the Earth's Axis? Surely they would tell the public if something this major had occurred. Surely the scientists or meteorologists would have said something? Surely the media would have mentioned this?

Wrong!!!! Global Panic! Economic Meltdown! Panic Hording!

Or, alternatively, it didn't happen? Is "hording" anything like "hoarding?"

Absolutely nothing on http://www.divulgence.net/. has any validity. There was no global failure of GPS systems in December, 2006. The Sun is not rising and setting in unusual directions. And the astronomy is a total mess.

The fact that I've gotten e-mails from a couple of fairly intelligent people is a sad commentary on "Nature Deficiency Syndrome." People no longer know the stars. They don't pay attention to where the sun rises and sets any more. People go through life never noticing that the sun shines on north facing walls during the summer.


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Created 30 April 2008;  Last Update 26 August, 2011

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