Image Source: Hubble Source.
Several sites on the Web are reporting that an extra sign, Ophiuchus, also known as Serpentarius, the Serpent-Bearer, has been added to the zodiac because a wobble in the Earth's rotation has created a discrepancy between 2,000 year old astrological predictions about the planetary positions and actual astronomical data of nearly one month. This sign has finally made a comeback after originally being discarded by the Babylonians.
According to one report:
Thanks to Earth's wobble, astrological signs are, well, bunk. (Or even more bunk than you might expect.) Astrological signs are determined by the position of the sun relative to certain constellations on a person's day of birth. The problem is, the positions were determined more than 2,000 years ago. Nowadays, the stars have shifted in the night sky so much that horoscope signs are nearly a month off. [Read: Why Your Horoscope for 2011 Is All Wrong]"Astrology tells us that the sun is in one position, whereas astronomy tells us it's in another position," said Joe Rao, SPACE.com's skywatching columnist and a lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium.Here's what astronomers know: The Earth is like a wobbly top. As it rotates, its axis swings in a circle, pointing in different directions. As the Earth's position shifts, so does our perspective of the night sky.For example, Rao said, we take the North Star, Polaris, for granted. It's the star most closely aligned with Earth's North Pole. But back when the pyramids were constructed, the star that aligned with the North Pole wasn't Polaris at all: It was a star in the constellation Draco called Thuban. In 12,000 years, Earth's North Star will be Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.The complete rotation takes 26,000 years, Rao said. "Everything in the sky is in flux," he said.Even if the astrological signs were stable, there's no evidence the stars have anything to do with people's day-to-day existence. One 2006 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences used data from more than 15,000 people and found no relationship between date of birth and personality.Despite the complete lack of scientific and observational evidence for astrology, 25 percent of Americans still believe in it, a recent Pew survey found. So here are the "real" dates of astrological signs, according to astronomers: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. 23-29.Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17.Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.The list includes Ophiuchus, a formation the ancient Babylonians discarded because they wanted 12 star signs, not 13.
There is information on this sign here, which gives different dates for the altered zodiac. There are other reports here, here, here, here and here. (Hat tip: Kate Sherrod)
However, CNN says not to worry:
the tropical zodiac – which is fixed to seasons, and which Western astrology adheres to – differs from the sidereal zodiac – which is fixed to constellations and is followed more in the East, and is the type of zodiac to which the Star Tribune article ultimately refers.
Two zodiacs. That's nothing new.
"This story is born periodically as if someone has discovered some truth. It's not news," said Jeff Jawer, astrologer with Tarot.com.
The hubbub started with Sunday's Star Tribune article, which said the following: "The ancient Babylonians based zodiac signs on the constellation the sun was 'in' on the day a person was born. During the ensuing millenniums, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth 'wobble' around its axis, creating about a one-month bump in the stars' alignment."
"When [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces," Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society, told the Star Tribune.
"Indeed," the article continued, "most horoscope readers who consider themselves Pisces are actually Aquarians." The article also asserts Scorpio's window lasts only seven days, and that a 13th constellation, Ophiuchus, used to be counted between Scorpio and Sagittarius but was discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year.
True enough, Jawer says, the sun doesn't align with constellations at the same time of year that it did millennia ago. But that’s irrelevant for the tropical zodiac, codified for Western astrology by Ptolemy in the second century, he says.
In the tropical zodiac, the start of Aries is fixed to one equinox, and Capricorn the other.
"When we look at the astrology used in the Western world, the seasonally based astrology has not changed, was never oriented to the constellations, and stands as … has been stated for two millenniums," Jawer said.
People who put stock in astrology can ask whether they should adhere to the tropical zodiac or the sidereal zodiac. Jawer argues for the tropical.
"Astrology is geocentric. It relates life on Earth to the Earth’s environment, and seasons are the most dramatic effect, which is why we use the tropical zodiac," he said.
UPDATE (January 14), various high-profile astronomers have weighed in on this, and like Jeff Jawer, are skeptical of the insertion of a 13th sign; again, Western astrologers calculate time and zodiac signs differently based on the seasons, not the constellations. Their comments against the original story, initiated by findings from a Minneapolis-based astronomy instructor, Parke Kunkle, are reported in the LA Times:
"I defined the zodiac by the constellations that are in the background when you look at where the sun, moon, and stars are," said Minneapolis Community and Technical College instructor Parke Kunkle, the man responsible for momentarily turning the astrology world upside down. "Ophiuchus has been around a long time, and the sun has been going through Ophiuchus for thousands of years."
In Kunkle's 13-member zodiac, the signs occupy more or less space on the calendar depending upon how long they are in the sun's path. Although Ophiuchus (seeker of wisdom, lucky) has only what amounts to a celestial toe in the sun's path, Kunkle defended its inclusion by noting it hosts the sun for more than twice as long as Scorpio (independent, passionate).
Leading astrologers, after getting their collective bearings, were unified and defiant in their response: Not this time, Science.
"It holds no water," said South Florida's self described "master astrologer" Jeffrey Brock. Brock said it was a "completely unfounded" attempt by scientists to discredit astrology, which they had never been fond of to begin with.
Proclaimed Miami astrologist Ron Archer: "Mythology is always true."
Even uber-astrologist Walter Mercado weighed in, telling El Nuevo Herald that there would be no need to change its horoscopes.
Kunkle's re-examining of astrology is rooted in the Earth's "precession" -- put simply, the gravity-fueled change in orientation of the Earth's rotational axis.
"The Earth sort of spins like a top," explained Florida International University physics professor James Webb. "It usually doesn't just stand up straight and spin, it usually wobbles."
"Astrologers for years have not taken that into account," Webb continued. "So now people are starting to call them on it."
Hogwash, responded Brock, director of the Astrological and Metaphysical Research Center. Brock said the brand of astrology practiced by the vast majority of the Western world focuses on the first day of spring -- an ever-shifting date that compensates for the planet's rotational habits.
As for the inclusion of Ophiuchus, Brock said "we've always known about Ophiuchus" but that because the constellation only barely touches the sun's path, it is not truly a zodiac sign.
Up in Minnesota, Kunkle said the publicity frenzy surrounding his remarks has prompted media calls from as far away as France. Kunkle noted that he's by no means the first member of the scientific community to raise this issue (it's been debated for thousands of years). But thanks to the Twitter-ing, Facebook-ing age we live in, he might just be the most famous. Kunkle has never been a horoscope reader.
UPDATE: Astrologer Georgia Nichols agrees with other astrologers:
UPDATE (January 20): From Free Will Astrology's Rob Brezsny:What's My Sign?In the last 48 hours, the story about your astrology sign being "wrong" has gone viral. Yesterday, four different TV stations contacted me. One of them came to my apartment in Vancouver, I did two radio interviews, and two newspaper interviews -- one with Calgary and one with Santa Rosa, California. I even got a query from Hearst Publications in Florida. My In-Box was packed for two days with questions about this. So -- here is the scoop.The article by US astronomer Parke Kunkle is nothing that astrologers have not already known since before the time of Christ.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidereal_astrologyOver the last several thousand years, the cosmos has shifted, and the constellations in the sky no longer line up with the dates of the zodiac sign. Astrologers know this. Astrologers have always known this.Because of this, two different schools of astrology have developed - one school, which is the most popular in the West, is the traditional school that is based on the zodiac, which is not constellation based. (Yes, I know art work for the constellations is often used, but so is a smiley face for the Moon.) This is Tropical astrology.The other astrology "school" that is based on the current constellations in the sky is called Sidereal Astrology. This is commonly used in India.In the beginning of my entertaining, informative and witty book You and Your Future, I state that I don't even believe the planets affect us anyway! It's all about mathematics, and the interpretation of these mathematical cycles.Therefore, please relax. You are still your sign.To me this is an apt illustration of what the famous mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton said when criticized by astronomer Edmond Halley for being an astrologer, he replied, "Sir, I have studied the subject. You have not."Love to all --Georgia
News Flash: The zodiac isn't wrong. Your sign isn't changing. Ignore the misinformation.Every year or so, another astronomer erupts into the mainstream media with a portentous announcement about how, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the astrological signs are no longer aligned with the actual constellations. Often the supposed 13th constellation, Ophiuchus, is also invoked as a further proof of how delusional astrologers are.What it means, according to these experts, is that astrology is invalid. Most of the people who think they're Tauruses are actually Aries. Most Scorpios are really Libras. And so on.That latest offering is from Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society. "When [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces," he speculated, "it's really not in Pisces." His supposition hit the Internet recently, on Gawker and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, among other places.I understand that scientists like him would prefer not to lower themselves to the task of actually doing research about how astrology works. But if they're going to question its foundations, they should at least learn it well enough to know what they're talking about.Here, briefly, is the lowdown on what certain astronomers are too lazy to find out for themselves.The astrological signs are not defined by the constellations you see in the sky. In antiquity, when both astrological and astronomical thinking were based on insufficient data, the names of the constellations happened to be paired with the astrological signs. Today, those pairings are no longer in sync: Astrological signs do not line up with the constellations in the same way they did way back then, due to the precession of the equinoxes.Modern Western astrologers understand this perfectly. It's irrelevant to their work because the information upon which they base their hypotheses does not involve a study of distant stars or constellations. Rather, their data have to do with the movements of the planets in our own solar system within a zone of influence defined by the relationship between the Earth and Sun.The key demarcation points in that relationship are the equinoxes and solstices. At the Northern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, which occurs on about March 20th of each year, the Sun enters into the sign of Aries. At the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice, the sun enters into the sign of Cancer. The locations of the constellations are irrelevant; the "influence of the stars" isn't considered.To reiterate: Western astrologers don't work with stars or constellations. Their focus is our solar system. They study the patterns of the planets and the moon as they pass through 12 zones defined by the relationship between the Earth and sun. Those zones have the same names as constellations because of a historical quirk, but they are unrelated to the constellations.When Parke Kunkle triumphantly says, "There is no physical connection between constellations and personality traits," as if he has finally stamped out the delusions of us astrologers, he doesn't realize that we agree with him completely. We don't deal with constellations.