Astronomy vs. Astrology: Words matter!

 David A. Wood Jr.
Guest Blogger

Too often, we are loose with our vocabulary, and we end up saying or writing one thing when we really mean something else. Then our intent changes meaning and confusion reigns. When you are an astronomer, this most commonly occurs when others mistakenly refer to you as an “astrologer.” Astronomy and astrology have a long, intertwined, and tense history, but there is a huge difference between them.

Astrology is a pseudoscience, having more in common with fortune telling than science. It claims to use the Sun, Moon, and planet positions against the background stars to predict human events on Earth. When an astrologer casts a horoscope for you, she claims that your day, week, month, or year are predestined by the relative positions of seven objects, most of which are tens of millions or even hundreds of millions kilometers away! Furthermore, generic horoscopes, based only upon the Sun’s position, attempt to describe the lives of 500 million diverse people whose only connection is that they were born in the same 30-day calendar period. Why, then, are some twins so different?

Astronomy, on the other hand, is a true science that relies on the scientific method to determine how the universe works. Astronomers are not going to cast a horoscope for you, but that doesn’t mean that astronomy doesn’t affect your daily life. In fact, just the opposite is true. Astronomical events are so fundamentally hard-wired into your DNA, that you unconsciously follow their patterns. Seasons are caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis. The Moon’s phase cycle affects everything from tides to fertility.

Weeks are divided into seven days, each originally to honor one of the seven moving celestial objects: Sunday is the Sun’s day; Monday (lunes) is the Moon’s day; Tuesday (martes) is Tews’s or Mars’s day; Wednesday (miercoles) is Woden’s or Mercury’s day; Thursday (jueves) is Thor’s or Jupiter’s day; Friday (viernes) is Freya’s or Venus’s day; and Saturday is Saturn’s day. Even the designations of a.m. (short for ante meridiem, means “before midday”) and p.m. (short for post meridiem, means “after midday”) are astronomical relics that remain in our lexicon.

There is one last dirty little secret that astrologers won’t tell you. Your horoscope sign is wrong by a month. Astrologers tell me that I am a Libra, and 5,000 years ago, the Sun was indeed in Libra in early October; however, thanks to a phenomenon called “precession,” the Sun drifted into Virgo in early October almost 2,000 years ago. So, should I read the Libra horoscope, or should I drift back a month to read the Virgo horoscope?

In the end it doesn’t matter. I get to choose my destiny. It is not predetermined by the random location of a few remote objects on the day I was born.

Dr. David A. Wood Jr. is the Director of Institutional Research, Planning, and Effectiveness. He is an astronomy instructor at SAC.

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How San Antonio College fits in City Mission

Helen Torres
Guest Blogger

San Antonio College is participating in the upcoming STEM Expo Nov. 8-9 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. This Expo aims to reach out to middle school students in five school districts: Edgewood, Southwest, South San, San Antonio and Harlandale.

Helen Torres

Helen Torres

Among the interactive sessions will be various SAC departments. These include: Dr. Dan Dimitriu, Engineering; Dan Suttin, math tutor; and Troy Touchette, Computer Information Services. Touchette will be accompanied by students from the Information and Technology and Security Academy. They took top honors in March at the CyberPatriot IV-The National High School Cyber Defense Competition in Washington, D.C.

The interactive sessions are designed to spark student interest in STEM careers at an early age. The overall goal of the college, businesses and city is to encourage engineers and scientists in San Antonio and keep the brainpower here. If we grow our city’s workforce in the STEM areas, San Antonio will attract strong business and industries that will pay competitive wages and raise income levels in San Antonio.

San Antonio College faculty have stepped up again to support community initiatives, the Mayor’s Educational 2020 goals, and support SAC’s goals of improved student success.

This partnership is a win-win for future SAC students who are being exposed to STEM careers early, and for the future workforce of the City of San Antonio.

Helen Torres, SAC’s Director of Partnerships & Extended Services, serves on the Hispanic Chamber Education Committee, and is responsible for forging college partnerships like this one with the Hispanic Chamber, UTSA, and area school districts.

Myths (and Truths) about winning the Texas Lottery

Gerald Busald, math professor and lottery buster

Gerald Busald

San Antonio College Math Professor Gerald Busald’s statistics classes have had interaction with the Texas Lottery since February 1997, when they discovered incorrectly advertised jackpot amounts for the Cash 5 game.

These SAC classes have been instrumental in causing numerous changes to the way the Texas Lottery does business. They were directly responsible for Spanish being included on the lotteries web pages. Professor Busald has studied other state’s lotteries and recommended “best practices” to the Texas Lottery, all of which have been adopted. His classes have had numerous appearances on television and had stories about them in local, state, and national newspapers. 

Gerald Busald
Guest Blogger

Not everything you think you know about the Texas Lottery is really true.

MYTH 1: I won $10 on a scratch-off ticket! Never true, because you paid something for that $10 ticket. If you paid $1, you won $9; if you paid $5 you won $5, and if you paid $10 you just broke even!

TRUTH 1: The more tickets I buy for an online game (Lotto, PowerBall, Mega Millions, Texas Two Step) the more likely I am to win. True, however that does not make it a good idea! For example, the probability of winning the top prize in Mega Millions with 1 ticket is 1 in 175,711,536. If you buy 10 tickets, the odds of winning the top prize becomes 1 in 17,571,153.6. To put those numbers in perspective, 175,711,536 seconds is over 5.5 years! Even if you spent $10, we’re talking 203.37 days. SAVE YOUR MONEY!

MYTH 2: If I buy a ticket for every drawing I’m bound to win eventually. Not true, the lottery balls never remember that you lost the last umpteenth times in a row, your odds for the next drawing will still be 1 in 17,571,536.

MYTH 3 (and half-truth): Lottery profits go to help education. The biggest education most get is that the more they play, the more they lose. However, since 1997 all Texas Lottery proceeds have been transferred to the Foundation School Fund to support public education in Texas. However, legislators have often simply used those proceeds to decrease the amount they must take from the general revenue fund to support education. Education doesn’t really benefit!

Gerald Busald has received several teaching awards: the Texas Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges Teaching Excellence Award, the NISOD Award, and the Yellow Rose of Texas Teaching Excellence Award. He also was named a 2011 Piper Professor.

Navigating the world of higher education can be tough

By Analisa Garza
Guest Blogger

I can remember being an incoming freshman; the college campus was a different world to me.  I felt lost and alone, the instructors seemed intimidating and I had no idea where to begin.  The first few years were rough waters and without strong ties to classmates and professors in my field of study I quickly began to sink academically.  Reflecting a few years later after having successfully obtained  my master’s degree in Biology from Texas A&M International University, I realized that the tides turned when I took a position as a student worker in a STEM office.  Mesa Logo

Working in the Biology and Chemistry department gave me (more like forced me) to have close connections with STEM professors and classmates.  Having these connections was one of the driving forces that helped me commit myself to being a serious scholar.  I was   surrounded by people that knew how to navigate the waters I was unfamiliar with, and I didn’t want to disappoint the people I saw daily.  Also, I quickly came to realize that my instructors were easier to talk to than I had anticipated and that each one of them sincerely cared about my success.  Over the course of several years these professors connected me with other STEM students, taught me how to do original literature and laboratory research, helped me successfully receive scholarships that paid for my entire graduate program, and gave me the opportunity to instruct lower-level undergraduate courses.  They helped me get my first job as a high school science teacher and hired me as adjunct faculty when I graduated with my master’s degree.  The support and direction they gave me helped me go from a mediocre student to an A+ Scholar and I will be forever grateful.

With this in mind, I am so excited and privileged to be the new Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) Center Coordinator.  I know the impact the MESA Center will have on student success by connecting SAC students to their STEM classmates, professors, and community partners in their field. The MESA Center is a great place to connect with likeminded students pursuing degrees in the STEM areas and STEM affiliated student organizations.  It can also help by introducing you to STEM faculty and counselors that will help you navigate the waters of higher education, and help you find the extra help you need to become successful in the courses you are finding most difficult.  Having these connections will also help you find and secure the internship and research opportunities you want (Did you read Isabelle’s blog about her internship this summer at NASA).  These opportunities will help to ensure your scholastic success and equip you for your future career.

If you are a STEM student, or even just thinking about going into a STEM field, drop by the MESA Center.   It is located in the Chance Academic Center, Room 204.  I’d be happy to show you around the center, give you more information about the resources the Center has to offer and introduce you to some of the students that hang out here.  You can also learn more about the MESA Center and download a membership application from our website, or keep track of all the cool things we’re doing by liking us on Facebook and following us on twitter.  The MESA Center is a boat that knows how to navigate rough waters, so hop on!  It’s more fun when your travel with friends!

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The first Adelante Tejas STEM-ulate: Science Showcase will be Wednesday, Sept. 5 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Professors and students will present experiments  in the Loftin Student Center Mall as part of the Organization Showcase of on-campus clubs.

For more info about  MESA, visit Alamo.edu/sac/MESA or find them  on facebook: MESAatSAC.