Astrological sign of the times

By Phil Plait | January 13, 2011 1:21 pm

Sometimes, I’m not even sure where to begin with something.

OK. So this afternoon I see on Twitter that the word "zodiac" is trending, meaning lots of people are talking about it (as I write this it still is). Right, that happens sometimes, and sometimes I’ll post a snarky response. But I also see the word "Ophiuchus" trending, and I think, what?

Then I get an email from BABloggee Kevin Jung saying he heard some DJs on a radio program talking about how astronomers have "rearranged the zodiac". Even before I read another sentence I pretty much know what’s going on. Happily, Kevin found the source of all this: an article in Minnesota’s Star Tribune. And it all falls into place.

OK, first, let’s get this out of the way:

Astrology is 100% utter and complete nonsense.

Got it? Good.

Great, so what’s with this new story? Basically, the Star Tribune talked to an astronomer and an astronomy teacher in the area, who (correctly) poo-pooed astrology. The astronomer mentioned that the signs of the zodiac have shifted since they were first invented thousands of years ago. This is true, because the Earth’s axis wobbles over time, which has the effect of shifting the positions of the zodiacal constellations in the sky, or, more accurately, the time of the year the Sun passes through them. So it used to be that if you were born on March 22, you were an Aries… if you went by the original timing of when the Sun was in Aries. But now, millennia later, the Sun is actually in Pisces on that date. And it won’t be much longer before it’s in Aquarius in late March (hence "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius", in case you’re my age and a hippy or a 5th Dimension fan).

So that takes care of the shifting zodiac constellations bit. What about Ophiuchus?


Ophiuchus (which I pronounce oh-FYE-uh-cuss) is the serpent bearer, and is a constellation near Scorpius in the sky. Technically, the Sun passes through Ophiuchus, and in fact is in the constellation longer than it’s in Scorpius! But we don’t include it in the zodiac for a couple of reasons; one is that the stars in it are pretty faint, while those of Scorpius are brighter and easier to recognize, and another is that we can’t have 13 constellations, can we? So poor Ophiuchus is sent off to hold his serpent by himself.

That’s really all there is to it. The constellations aren’t being redefined, and certainly not suddenly by some astronomical coup (the same group, no doubt, being blamed for Pluto). And Ophiuchus has long been a point of contention. Nothing in this story is new at all! It’s another case of media (social or otherwise) fueled nonsense.

I’ll note this silliness has extended well beyond Twitter; the prestigious scientific journal OK!* says that "Taylor Swift’s the New 13th Sign Ophiuchus!" and goes on to say that even if the astrological signs change, "horoscope readings reportedly shouldn’t be affected."

Phew! I’ll agree with them on that. After all…



* Not an actual scientific journal.


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- Wacky astrologer is wacky
- Mike Adams fails again, astrology edition
- Bad astrology
- Astrologers jump on Cox


MORE ABOUT: astrology, Ophiuchus

Comments (235)

Links to this Post

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  3. Ophiuchus and other ways to plot the way we die. « Ramblings and other savageries | January 13, 2011
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  36. March 2011: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere. : Astro Guyz | February 28, 2011
  37. Why the New Zodiac Changes Nothing – Tech Talk – CBS News « OPEN VOICES | April 12, 2011
  1. Ray Robinson

    Just like every religion.

  2. Kevin

    Thank you Phil, for writing this.

    I am (figuratively) tearing my hair out here trying to get people to stop and actually read the facts about this. Every media outlet where I am has this story on their websites and Facebook pages. I have been going to them all and pointing out the problems with the article, and what information they should be taking from it. Thankfully some have listened, but others are still clueless, and panicking because now they are a “different sign.”

    I’ve even used my astronomy club’s Twitter account to try and get the straight story out to people.

    Gah, this makes me so angry. Good thing I’m not full of gamma radiation, or I would be “hulking out.” :)

    But we have to keep going against this nonsense, no matter how frustrating it gets.

    Phil, I am now going to direct people to this page.

  3. Lila

    Oh great. The source is from Minneapolis. Well, I know what we’ll be discussing at our skeptics meetup tonight!

  4. Oli

    “So poor Ophiuchus is sent off to hold his serpent by himself.”

    Sorry Phil, but that just sounds wrong.

  5. Earl Truss

    I saw this on the local Minneapolis KARE11 TV news. I did not know it was in the paper too. They were talking to this guy and he was saying how the Earth’s axis has shifted so your astrological sign is now a month off from what you think it should be. About half-way through the interview, I’m screaming at my TV “… and it doesn’t matter anyway because astrology is BS anyway!!” And they cut off the interview before he was allowed to say it! I swear I don’t know why I bother watching TV news.

  6. John Paradox

    I remember years ago, I read an astrology book that insisted that there should be 14 (?) signs, adding both Ophiuchus and Cetus, The Whale. It was a chuckle to read, but I can’t recall if the correction for modern locations of the planets were included in it as well.

    J/P=?

  7. Jim Ernst

    I’m a Pisces, and Pisces don’t believe in astrology

  8. Ciaran

    No wonder my horoscopes are always wrong…

  9. Ethyachk

    People ask me, “Do you believe in astrology?” and the most diplomatic response I’ve ever come up with was, “No, but I do believe in astronomy.”

  10. Joe Alvord

    I’m OK with it. I’m an Aquarius and we don’t believe in any of that stuff, anyway.

  11. Larch

    It is now (4:00 PM Eastern) a featured story at Salon.com. It was not there a few hours ago.

  12. AliCali

    Many times, I’ve seen the Astronomy is Bull picture, but I never really looked at it. You gotta admit, the picture for Virgo is awesome (to the right of Taurus the bull). I guess that’s how you picture a virgin.

  13. Terry

    Being someone who knows that astrology is bogus, it’s sad that it still annoys me to see my sign constantly used by skeptics in the “Astrology is Bull” context. Meh, I still like the picture above.

    I remember talking to my family (all the type who complain about people rejecting global warming science while also complaining about the dangers of vaccination) about the precession issue and they laughed it off. I agree with the scientist from the article that today’s type who believe in and practice astrology likely never even look at the stars to do so.

  14. So you’re saying that the season of birth has no impact on a person’s personality? People always say that the effect of the gravity or light from distant stars on one’s life is less than the gravity and light from a match held a mile away… which is unarguable. But the effect of the seasons on earth when those stars are visible is fairly dramatic. I think it’s likely that all children born in January in north America have at least some similar traits.

  15. Dan

    Ah, the newsmedia, somehow managing to find the angle that sells papers by offering superstition and ignorance rather than reporting simple facts. Funny how, “Here’s an example of why astrology is bull: The system they use isn’t even accurate; it doesn’t take into account that precession of the Earth has altered the number of constellations that lie on the Ecliptic since ancient times” somehow manages to transform itself into, “Why, the astronomers have gone and altered the Zodiac and now there’s 13 astrological signs! Your sign isn’t what you think it is!”

  16. I wonder if this will get a bunch of astrologers all up in arms, and cause a lot of confusion amongst their clients.

    Suppose someone goes to an astrologer and says they need a reading for their Ophiuchus sister. The astrologer says they are full of crap, and an argument ensues.

    That actually might be a good thing.

  17. Gus Snarp

    So what does it actually mean to say “the sun is in Pisces” anyway?

  18. Ira

    Regarding “matches made in heaven”, the loveliest stats I saw proving that Zodiac signs are absolute BS, are from the geeky dating site OKCupid:

    http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/how-races-and-religions-match-in-online-dating/

    Interesting, btw, to see their tables of religion matching. Atheist+Agnostic couples have the highest average match stats. hmm.

  19. bahdum

    So poor Ophiuchus is sent off to hold his serpent by himself.

    And that’s why Virgo is still a Virgin.

  20. Spock

    OK, I agree that Astrology is bs.
    However, it is possible that the time of year a person is born is correlated with personality traits. I just don’t think science has fully explored this yet.
    Science seems to indicate that our personalities are partially determined by our genetics. Our personalities are also determined by social factors as we grow. However, both our genes and the social environment are affected directly by environmental factors. For example, high carbohydrates in a woman’s diet may influence her genes to favor male offspring, while a climate-induced famine can definitely affect social tensions due to lack of resources.
    Is it not possible then, that when a person is born has an effect, even subtly, on our personalities, and even producing trends such that a person born in late winter might be more moody and artsy than a person born in late summer?
    Although astrology is historically more mysticism than anything else, the anecdotal observations over centuries may have a basis in fact and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. I really don’t think much scientific work has yet been done on human behavior and birth date, partially due to the complexity of the task.
    Even the placebo effect, as practiced by witchdoctors for millennia, has some validity now in science.
    A true scientist would be curious rather than so dismissive.

  21. hi-light the entire url… sorry

  22. Presumably the list of alternative dates was compiled by working out when the sun crosses the official constellation boundaries, which were defined by… dun dun dun… the IAU (admittedly in 1922).

    So your Pluto comment isn’t so far off.

  23. I think it’s worth stating clearly that Parke Kunkle (astronomer that kicked this off originally) is in full agreement that astrology is B.S. He is a friend and colleague. The intention was to point out the silliness of the zodiac / horoscopes. He was critiquing the whole belief system. Somehow it got translated that he was ‘correcting’ the zodiac signs, which makes for better news I guess.

    Anyway, astronomy fans wanting to help promote real science education in Minnesota and elsewhere should follow the Minnesota Planetarium Society on facebook or on Twitter @MPlanetarium

    Thanks Phil for a clear summary!

  24. Robert E

    There’s a comment about “holding his serpent by himself” and going blind that could be made, but this is a family blog.

  25. mikethetech

    I looked at my horoscope the other day (because its on the same page as the comics if you must inquire) and it said i should take the chance to get off work early and spend time with my loved ones. so I took my wife to an early dinner. Lovely. Now you say i looked at the wrong sign, gasp. I’m not springing for another dinner. maybe i shouldn’t spend time with the people i love. i am soooo confused. just hit me on the head and get it over with.

  26. Oh, thank you, thank you for posting this. I’ve known about this for a long time, but was having trouble explaining it to everyone on twitter and FB today.

  27. Wait, wait, wait. Taylor Swift is a snake handler? Well, I guess her growing list of celebrity ex-boyfriends may have something to say about that.

  28. Interskeptor

    …what a pity. Usually, when asked what sign me and my girlfirend are, I use to answer “She’s an ophiuchus and I’m a monkey”. But if that word becomes trendy, it’s not much fun any more…

  29. dre

    @GusSnarp – “the sun is in Pisces” means that if you could look at the sun and see where it was against the stars (which you can’t, ‘cuz it’s the sun, which is famous for being blinding and whatnot), you would find it at that time of year to be “in” the constellation Pisces. As the Earth orbits, the sun would appear to be against a cycle of different “backdrop” constellations depending on the time of year. After one year, the sun would appear to be in Pisces again.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, readers.

  30. Minos

    I am an Ophiucus, and astrologers are always discriminating against me.

  31. QuietDesperation

    Isn’t this story years old? I remember they added Ophiuchus to the pantheon of celestial harbingers back in the 1990s or thereabouts.

    Hey, they adapted to new information. That makes it a science, dang it!!!!
    ;-)

  32. Harry

    So, has anyone worked out a new Zodiac?

    I’d be dead curious to see how the Zodiac lines up now.

  33. Dark Jaguar

    I’ve seen two comments in here from people trying to figure out if seasons can “explain” the mood differences, even if the astrological nonsense isn’t a part of it.

    I have to say one thing. Why do you think there’s even a phenomenon that needs to be explained? What makes you think people really DO differ in their personalities in a “map to their date of birth” way? Thousands of years of anecdotal evidence is still just anecdotal evidence, and really, it’s only a regional observation. Here in Oklahoma, no one pays any attention to that at all, and not a single person has ever “noticed” that sort of thing (that’s an exaggeration, there are SOME who read horoscopes, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as in, say, New York). Instead of desperately trying to hold onto that effect even if you have to tie something more “scientific” to explain it, just ask yourself why it’s so important to believe personalities are defined by date of birth. A much stronger effect is simply the family and ideas you are saturated in growing up. I’d start there.

    (That said, I actually have recently read of a study that does conclude seasons have a connection on people from birth, but the effects aren’t about personality so much as health. I believe it was an article at ars technica.)

  34. Martin Blaise

    “Astrology is a perfectly valid and defensible science.”

    –”The Choice” by Mike Bara, p.31

    DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK

  35. Astrology? It’s all a load of old Taurus droppings, isn’t it?

  36. TechBear

    I know astrology is a load of cr… bunk, but I would like to clear up a bit of misinformation.

    Modern astrology uses a system developed in the early Renaissance based on “houses” rather than actual constellations. The first “house” starts at the apparent location of the sky on the eastern horizon at sunrise on the day of the spring equinox. About 30 days later, sunrise occurs at the beginning of the second house, 30 degrees away, and so on through the twelve houses. Each house is named for a sign of the zodiac and allegedly has that sign’s meaning, but otherwise the houses are totally unrelated to the constellations themselves. When a modern astrologer says that “the sun is in Pisces” or “Mars is in Libra,” what he is actually saying is that the sun is within the 30 degree segment of the 12th house and that Mars is in the 30 degree segment of the seventh house. The location of the planets against the backdrop of stars is entirely irrelevant.

    Yes, I will admit to having studied astrology: when I was in college, astrology was big and casting horoscopes was a great way to make beer money. I knew then and I still know today that it is utter bull… bunk, but hey, cash is cash. I just want to make sure people condemn the RIGHT bunk.

  37. Bill Nettles

    University of Nebraska Lincoln has a very cool set of astronomy simulations. One of them shows the Sun moving through the stars of the Zodiac. Unfortunately, those are the only constellations shown in this particular simulation.

    It’s worth it to poke around and play with the others, too.

    http://astro.unl.edu/classaction/animations/coordsmotion/zodiac.html

  38. Aly

    This is precisely why we should stop letting astrology dictate how we run our country. I’m tired of them casting the runes to see whether we should declare war on others, and turning to tarot to make economic decisions.

    Oh, wait…we don’t do any of those things. Why? Because they are for entertainment purposes, and most people realize that.

    Lighten up.

    Arguing about the absurdity of astrology is like arguing about Santa or the Easter Bunny. Let people have their fun, and let the news have their fluff pieces. It’s so much more harmless than all the real reasons there are to get bent out of shape.

    Do you also correct people with long scientific diatribes when they make a passing remark on what a pretty blue the ocean is?

  39. John Matthews

    I never really cared about or followed astrology, since I always thought it was stupid. But (using dre’s comments for example) how do they know Pisces is correct?

    Using this map as a reference:

    http://www.surplusandadventure.com/images/page/northern_hemisphere.gif

    Why isn’t it Andromeda, or Cassiopia. or Lacerta, instead of Pisces?

    I was born in late December (21st), and I’m supposed to be Sagitarius (sp?), Looks like I should be Taurus or maybe Aries, or Camelo-Parbalus.

    Just wondering….

    Actually, I’m not wondering. I don’t care. As I said, astrology is stupid. And incredibly arbitrary.

  40. There is a place called Lily Dale, NY. It is populated by psychic’s. They have doorbells on their houses. Why? They have bells on their phones. Why? They have a freakin ambulance. Why?

  41. TheBlackCat

    So you’re saying that the season of birth has no impact on a person’s personality? People always say that the effect of the gravity or light from distant stars on one’s life is less than the gravity and light from a match held a mile away… which is unarguable. But the effect of the seasons on earth when those stars are visible is fairly dramatic. I think it’s likely that all children born in January in north America have at least some similar traits.

    There are several problems with this.

    First, this is not just an issue with North America, everyone, everywhere, that is born at the same time is supposed to have the same characteristics. This includes people in the southern hemisphere, who have reversed seasons.

    Second, there is really nothing seasonal that is really consistent even across North America. The winter in Florida is like the spring or summer in more northern latitudes in basically every way.

    Third, rather than just guessing, we can actually look to see if traits are correlated with time of birth. This has been done over and over, and the results are almost uniformly negative.

  42. TheBlackCat

    This is precisely why we should stop letting astrology dictate how we run our country. I’m tired of them casting the runes to see whether we should declare war on others, and turning to tarot to make economic decisions.

    You mean like Reagan?

  43. Keith Bowden

    “So poor Ophiuchus is sent off to hold his serpent by himself.”

    I know how he feels. Can I be the 15th Zodiac? :p

    (Oddly, when I clicked on the “Astrology is utter and complete nonsense” link, and it took me to Phil’s post on the original Bad Astronomy, the first ad link at the top was… yep, get your 2011 astrology from a psychic named Gabriella! Why are there so many anti-science ads in science magazines and websites? Seems counter-productive…)

  44. Chelfyn

    On the topic of time of birth having a developmental effect, one has to consider the changes of a modern diet. It could well be that nutritional deficiencies at certain times of the year could have a profound effect on foetal and child development, but these effects have been reducing in effect to almost zero as things like agriculture and refrigeration came on to the scene. What I’m basically trying to get at is that these traits may well have been far more pronounced in earlier societies, so the correlation to the stars was easy to (mistakenly) make back then.

  45. @The Black Cat
    It’s unclear whether horoscopes for the northern and southern hemisphere’s are the same. Perhaps canny astrologers have taken this into consideration in their charts. But that doesn’t matter. I’m making the case that it’s possibly a myth that astrology has NO basis in fact. I’m reasonably certain that a baby born in the dead of winter and a similar baby born in the heat of summer will have significant differences. I also believe two winter-bornes will have some significant similarities. The winter-borne might have a fondness for down comforters and the summer-borne might be more comfortable naked. Who knows? As for studies that map personality traits to month of birth, I find it hard to imagine a study that could conclusively eliminate the possibility. One can’t, for example, find twins that were born several months apart. Still, if you have a study that shows me up… please feel free to cite it.

    In the meantime, I think this could be one for Mythbusters. I’d say the idea of Astrology is at least based on the germ of a rational thought , and at best has some statistical plausibility.

  46. CB

    I have to say one thing. Why do you think there’s even a phenomenon that needs to be explained? What makes you think people really DO differ in their personalities in a “map to their date of birth” way?[snip] Instead of desperately trying to hold onto that effect even if you have to tie something more “scientific” to explain it, just ask yourself why it’s so important to believe personalities are defined by date of birth. A much stronger effect is simply the family and ideas you are saturated in growing up. I’d start there.

    Indeed.

    I hear the same thing from people about homeopathy, or ESP, or EM sensitivity. They say “Okay, sure the official explanation for these phenomenon make no sense at all. But shouldn’t we still look into them to try to understand what’s really going on?”

    And my response is always: “I think we should wait until there is any evidence at all that there’s something going on before we try to figure out why it’s happening.” After all, it’s not worth putting a lot of effort into figuring out why homeopathic medicine doesn’t work, or why there isn’t a correlation between date of birth and personality type. There’s not much of a mystery there.

    That’s usually — especially with astrology — when the anecdotal evidence comes out. But these things — especially astrology — are so rife with confirmation bias it’s actually funny. Everyone remembers the hot-headed A-type Scorpio they met, but they conveniently forget the hot-headed Virgo, or the timid little mouse who they didn’t bother to find out was a Scorpio.

  47. Chief

    I now know the reason why different newspapers have conflicting astrology forcasts. Even they can’t agree on which sign to use, ie past or present dates of the zodiac. Thanks for clearing it up Phil.

  48. Bemopolis

    I can’t recall the name of the person who proposed this hypothesis, but it has been suggested that Melville based characters in “Moby Dick” on the constellations (with the title character being Cetus, natch). Starbuck was suggested to be based on Ophiuchus, so named because he encroaches on the Zodiac.

    And it is fair to say that the book has had more impact on my personality and life fortune than astrology ever could.

  49. TripCyclone

    Okay, here is a question for you. I’m reading people saying that Ophiuchus only affects people born after Nov. 2009 because THAT’S WHEN IT APPEARED!

    Anyone have a rough idea when the sun first started passing through Ophiuchus?

  50. CB

    @CW

    I’m making the case that it’s possibly a myth that astrology has NO basis in fact. I’m reasonably certain that a baby born in the dead of winter and a similar baby born in the heat of summer will have significant differences. I also believe two winter-bornes will have some significant similarities. The winter-borne might have a fondness for down comforters and the summer-borne might be more comfortable naked. Who knows?

    Shortly after my birth (at my birth I was in a hospital, so if the actual birth environment is what matters then just about every baby in the industrialized world will have very similar personalities), my northern midwest home state experienced the worst blizzard in the surrounding two decades.

    I never use a comforter unless it’s actually so cold (and hey, central heating means it rarely is) that a comforter is required. My cousin who is the same age and born in the same town who went through the same blizzard loves to huddle under the covers. We have plenty of personality differences, yet also similarities, though they seem much more obviously related to my family. Schoolmates also born in that town and around that blizzard have personalities all over the map in the “how comfortable are they in the cold” metric.

    Yes, just an anecdote, but shouldn’t your theory have some relevant predictive power for my case? Weren’t you “reasonable certain”? Yeah it would be hard to conduct a study to completely eliminate the possibility. What about a study to show any relationship at all? I was going to ask what plausible mechanism you think there could be for even your theory, but why bother asking about a mechanism until there’s something for the mechanism to explain?

    It’s possibly a myth that astrology has no basis whatsoever in reality. It’s possible that astrology as given is exactly true, even though it would mean most of what we think we know (and have observed) about the universe is wrong. It’s also possible that i’m actually the sock puppet of an interdimensional ninja unicorn. I’m just asking for any evidence that there is any actual effect that we would need such theories to explain.

  51. Keith Bowden

    @TripCyclone

    Well, it’s been at least a few thousand years… Exactly when depends on the rate of movements of the component stars and our solar system relative to the constellation.

    Or at least, when the constellation was given that name. ;)

    http://www.space.com/1434-doorstep-astronomy-celestial-medicine-man.html

  52. Keith Bowden

    I think this is what CW is alluding to: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101205202510.htm

    However, without digging into this deeper at the moment, I’d guess that with all the other relevant human studies in of specific environments, genetics, birth order, etc., that this would have very little correlation to people. Especially since most people tend to keep babies comfortably indoors and their light/darkness ratio is not quite so controlled. But there may be other studies on this.

  53. Monkey

    You had me for a moment with the “OK” rag being a reputble sci-mag! I thought I missed the boat somewhere….so easily fooled….

    …speaking of astrology, here in Taiwan (and, im sure, throughout the asian region) a common introduction when meeting somebody is:

    1) Name

    2) Job (with an estimate of how much you make, wait until asked but always be ready to tell your salary)

    3) Where are you from (if you are a foreigner)

    4) Astrological sign.

    …and every time they get the response “I dont have one, its bunk” they ask for your birthday, do the math on their own and then spurt out “Oh, yes, your a pisces, I KNEW that…you are totally like other pisces I know..”.

    Its not a hidden sub-culture of crackpottery, its a mainstream reality to so many. So many. It doesnt slip in somewhere along the fourth meeting at night over a beer, or get spurred by a radio show talking about astronomy…its right there, front and centre, who are you/what do you do/where are you from/whats your freaking astrology sign. Bah!

  54. meh

    this guy sounds just like an Aries.

  55. And

    Would love to see you weigh in over here: http://freewillastrology.com/guest_astros.html . I keep asking questions, but I’m not getting any useful discussion… I’m on a quest to understand all of this – siding with science, of course, but still wanting to understand where the astrologers think the science is. Brezny says:

    “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 at all. 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.”

    So, it sounds to me like “modern astrology” is considering itself a science, although nobody’s explaining to me yet why the equinoxes, for instance, would affect our moods… and I also don’t understand what modern astrologers are now saying about “sun signs.” Are they now rejecting the whole “I’m an Aquarius” thing, too? So who’s still defending that and why? What *are* the measurable calculations at work here? And I have about 8,000 other questions….

  56. To understand that Discover Magazine would like everyone else fall for the misrepresentation of the news.

    The Zodiac of 12 calendar cycles which is the basis of Astrology – did *not* change.

    What did change or however it is represented as a change is the ‘common’ thought of “Astronomy” and the view of the heavenly bodies into 13 segments that rotate through the skies throughout the year.

    Being that there is not a ‘lead’ Astrology representive that can make the judgement call to change to a 13th Zodiac for Astrology the end result is that the whole thing is made up nonsense about the inclusion into Astrology.

    However, there is a basis of factual information for Astronomy which has it’s merit, still yet. Noone that has the judgement call to actually make that change.

    There is ‘nothing’ but commonality of society view to make this interpretation at this time.

    #getfactsstraightoryourturningintomsnbc

  57. Retraction, remove the first sentence of my comment, sorry Phil ;)

  58. Dom Schlabach

    There goes my zodiac tattoo…

  59. Stuartg

    In New Zealand the Maori know a completely different set of constellations. Since the Maori constellations were named and plotted only a few centuries ago, as opposed to the multiple-millennia old greek constellations, they are obviously the much more accurate set of constellations.

    Maybe astrologers would be more accurate if they used the Maori zodiac for their fortune guessing? :)

    “What sign were you born under?”
    “Maternity Ward.”

  60. Retraction, remove the whole comment please, or not accept. Trying to cover damage control over this nonsense.

    The fact is, that there is no real true governing body of Astrology leads that can make this decision that there is a 13th zodiac.

    It is all based on commonality of thought, which doesn’t happen over night with a single news article.

  61. katwagner

    @13 AliCali – Haha looks like Betty Boop! I always loved Betty Boop!

  62. Makes me very glad I only view astronomy as a curiosity and not as an absolute. :/

  63. Oh great. Now I have to not give a crap about being a Libra instead of not giving a crap about being a Scorpio.

  64. ITK

    @ 52. TripCyclone

    “Okay, here is a question for you. I’m reading people saying that Ophiuchus only affects people born after Nov. 2009 because THAT’S WHEN IT APPEARED!
    Anyone have a rough idea when the sun first started passing through Ophiuchus?”

    Um… Since the creation of the universe…

  65. Kim (Sunflower)

    Well, feel free to add to the comments on the article. If you want to register there. I can’t be snarky all by myself.

    One of the guys I work with mentioned the article today. He missed the part about how they were trying to point out how lame astrology is because he thought everyone already knew that. He couldn’t believe people actually think it is real and affects you. He also thinks not having a 13th floor is pointless. We may not always get along, but at least he is in reality. Unlike the coworker that believes almost every kind of woo/crap that is out there.

    Glad to see some of you at the meetup tonight.

  66. Patastro

    http://freewillastrology.com/guest_astros.html

    What do you make of this Phil? Tropical zodiac? Siderial zodiac? What up?

  67. Paul

    If anyone asks, I usually say “Nesbitt”.
    Sadly, I’ve yet to hear anyone respond “I’m Derry and Toms”.

  68. I always find it shocking when otherwise intelligent people get caught up in Astrology — I see this far too often. I guess it’s just a natural human thing of wanting to “believe” in something … on faith.

  69. I dare any of you to watch this musical astrology video to the end and live to come back here and comment on it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6_VAiznSTc&

  70. TheBlackCat

    @ CW: “Still, if you have a study that shows me up… please feel free to cite it.”

    Here are 91 studies on astrology (copy and paste the url, it should work as-is):

    astrology-and-science.com/d-rese2.htm

  71. RL

    First Pluto and now this? I refuse to go along with it.

  72. amphiox

    Let people have their fun, and let the news have their fluff pieces.

    All well and good, but if they are entitled to their fun, then we are just as entitled to have some fun making fun of it.

    And that is how it always starts. Criticisms of astrology these days are almost always light-hearted fluff interest pieces to start with. And they turn serious. Why? Because supporters of astrology make it so with bitter complaints.

  73. TheBlackCat

    To continue my 78 post, there is a lot more at that website than just the link I pointed to, including stuff on twin studies that compare the lives of twins.

  74. David

    Ok so maybe I’m not the brightest star in the galaxy but I don’t get how the earth’s wobble would change how we see the stars in relation to the sun. I defer to people who are smarter and better educated than I and by no means am I saying it’s not true. But I just don’t understand. No matter how the earth wobbles if you draw a straight line from the earth threw the sun it will still have the same stars behind it right?

  75. Amusingly this is either the second or first place I’ve heard about this. Just as I started to read this article my local news began talking about this story, too! Coincidence? I THINK SO! :)

  76. CRB

    Actually, the 13th sign thing is a hoax, started by someone who liked to prank astrologers.

    http://planetwaves.net/pagetwo/2011/01/13/your-zodiac-sign-is-not-wrong/

    Yes, the URL links to an astrology site, but it at least debunks the so-called thirteenth sign crap. Take the rest of it with a grain of salt.

  77. DanMingo

    What about John Nelson’s use of the planetary alignments to predict radio wave interference and storms?
    He was 85% accurate in his predictions. Using Astrology.

    “certain configurations of the six inner planets correlated with degraded propagation conditions. Nelson was not dogmatic about his theory. Rather, in the article and in a followup article published in May 1952, he encouraged further study. Nelson believed that his theory was about 85 percent accurate in its predictions.’
    Some Ham Radio enthusiast decided to try to verify or disprove his theory and wrote about it here. http://www.eham.net/articles/8828

    I am not a scientist; is this valid?

  78. Just remember … Astronomy is the bastard child of Astrology =)

  79. One of my favorites is from an old episode of Cheers.

    Woody Boyd: Hey Mr. Peterson. I’m a Leo. What’s my horoscope say?
    Norm Peterson: “Young bartender should refill mug of thirsty patron in corner bar.”
    Woody Boyd: Those things are so vague, they could apply to anybody.

  80. 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.”

    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.

  81. @ 83, David- go to wikipedia and stick precession in the search engine. Though unrelated(kind of), you might want to also check out parallax.

    I would provide links, but I submitted a comment earlier in re: seasonal rhythms of the body and it didn’t make it through moderation.

  82. Treiz

    Whenever some one asks my sign, I just say “Trojan” >.<b

  83. Bahaha

    Americans will do anything to get attention.

    Next they’ll be saying Aliens will be visiting the earth, or doomsday shall occur….. oh, wait…..

    So is there like a book launch attached to this nonsense? Wouldn’t be surprised.

  84. David

    OK it makes more sense now. I was picturing the planet wobbling but staying on the same elliptical plane the entire time as it wobbles. On a side note this subject sure is making me rethink my faith in humanity. I simply posted something on my facebook asking what about the people who got astrological sign tattoos? I expected a laugh or so but somehow it turned into a huge argument involving me and two other people about whether astrology was real. I sent one a link to the astrology page on the old bad astronomy site to which the response was “that’s just one guys opinion. it’s not like he’s an astrologist or anything”. Then out of all people my sister decided she wanted to tell me that it’s not dumb and people can believe what they want to believe so what’s the harm? I mean I’m pretty tough and I’m about 6ft 220lbs and can bench press close to 300 lbs, but right about now I just feel like crying.

  85. WeirdLisa1105

    FWIW, I’ve heard it said that Astrology is considered to be the first known Science…soooo…it served a purpose! I love the mathematical quality of Astrology-whether there’s truth in it, or not. We humans take things so seriously nowadays! I believe Astrology gave birth to Astronomy, though…

  86. AkamaruRules

    im a libra and i believe in the possibility of all this but i refuse to be a virgo, libra is so much more me and also to other people, SOME of the charateristics is what your born with, not all of them, and also you have to add in social and mental growing up, like my parents, theyre both Sagittarius, even the same day, but my dad had a mental disorder and my mom was way more Sagittarius than he was, i belive in the possibiltity of zodiac cuz look at your own birthday (not from the new chart) and look at how close it is to you, it gets kinda freaky how close. and dont go looking at the negative things and say all of them arnt you, just have to have an open mind about it,
    From the peace loving libra =insert peace sign=

  87. Messier Tidy Upper

    we can’t have 13 constellations, can we?

    Actually we have 88 constellations – well 88 astronomically accepted ones. ;-)

    13~ish of which are located on the Zodiac or to put that another way along the ecliptic plane.

    How many can you spot in the sky? ;-)

    How many can an astronomer find – versus an astrologer?

    How much can an astronomer tell you about what those stars are really, things like their :

    names, distances, spectral type, size, mass, magnitude, luminosities, evolutionary paths, variable types, metallicities, ages, rotation rates – and consequent effects on shape and magnetic fields and spectral lines, etc ..

    Versus what an astrologer could tell you?

  88. Messier Tidy Upper

    In case folks are wondering, here’s what Ophiuchus looks like :

    http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/ophser-p.html

    Via Kaler & also via there check out :

    http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/const.html

    Kaler’s constellations intro. which lists & has plenty on all eighty-eight of them! :-)

    Incidentally, with Serpens :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpens

    being split in twain (caput and cauda sections) and held in the arms of Ophiuchus does *that* constellation not count as zodiacal as well? ;-)

  89. Joe

    …It was a good article right up until the Taylor Swift crap. That made me smash my head against my computer desk for about 5 minutes.

    I suppose that that’s not the authors fault, though…

    Welp, off to the star charts to find out what I ‘really’ am! =D!?

  90. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    . . . we can’t have 13 constellations, can we?

    Wait, have you suddenly got triskaidecaphobia, Phil?

  91. csrster

    David is basically right, though, isn’t he? I mean the zodiac, or rather the ecliptic, still follows the same path through the stars. It’s not as if people in a couple of thousand years are going to be born under the sign or Orion! The effect of precession is to change which constellation the Sun appears in at a given season of the year, but it still follows the same path through the constellations. Parallax is surely irrelevant here – observers at opposite points on the Earth see the Sun displaced by a tiny fraction of a degree [= (diameter of Earth)/(1 AU) radians, give or take a factor 2].

  92. cy

    Now “astrology experts” are coming out and “debunking” this horrible myth thats spreading.

    Also, apparently astrology has nothing to do with constellations…go figure.

  93. ggremlin

    I never did understand why we only had 12 months when we have 13 Luna cycles a year, except for the fear of thirteen. For it is written in the stars…. ;)

  94. DP in CA

    I’d like to hear the answer to David’s objection. How can Earth’s AXIS wobbling possibly have any effect on which stars are on the other end of the Earth-Sun line at any given time? I suspect someone meant to say that Earth’s ORBIT wobbles, since sometimes we come around the left side of the Sun with Jupiter in front of us, speeding us up, and sometimes with Jupiter behind us, slowing us down. Being in a different place in a slightly different ORBIT on a particular day would affect which stars are behind the sun, but I see no way the AXIS could make any difference whatsoever even if it flipped completely around.

  95. Easy: the intersection of the equator and the ecliptic is the starting point. This changes if the axis wobbles.

  96. Paul

    At least Phil Plait agrees with astrologers on one thing: this isn’t new.

    The problem that’s arising here is the assumption that astrologers use the constellations. They don’t. That’s a bombshell for a lot of people, astronomers particularly. But tropical astrologers (such as who write sun sign columns in newspapers etc) do not use the consetellations AT ALL.

    Also Ophiuchus is not related to precession really, they’re two separate issues and neither of them have any bearing on the mathematics behind how the tropical zodiac is calculated.

    Clearly the astronomer who mentioned it knows nothing about how the astrological zodiac is actually calculated. It’s kind of embarrassing.

    (oops just realised there’s another Paul posting here, this is my first post, from here on I’ll post as Paul – Astrologer.)

  97. Trending tweets—what is this world coming to? I’m still managing to avoid Twitter. Maybe it is useful for some things, but in this case it is really old information which gets replicated, increasing the entropy of the universe in the process. What a waste! And the newspaper reporting as if this were something new, while the precession of the equinoxes has been known for a long time.

    Age of Aquarius, anyone?

  98. Paul - Astrologer

    And # 62
    ” I’m on a quest to understand all of this … I also don’t understand what modern astrologers are now saying about “sun signs.” Are they now rejecting the whole “I’m an Aquarius” thing, too? So who’s still defending that and why? What *are* the measurable calculations at work here? And I have about 8,000 other questions….”

    Ask your questions.
    The key point here isn’t whether there is proof for astrology or not. That is not in debate. What IS in debate here is whether precession and ophiuchus have a bearing on modern astrology.

    As for your question about ‘Im an Aquarius’ and sun signs – that IS sun signs. When someone says I’m a Gemini, what they really mean is that I was born when the sun was in the zodiac sign Gemini (by apparent observation). Only a tiny number of actual astrologers believe that the sign your sun was found in has much bearing on your personality or anything else.

    Astronomers appear woefully (perhaps deliberately?) ignorant of how astrology actually works. It would the briefest visit to even wikipedia to discover this themselves. Even Phil Plait makes mistake after mistake here, for example he says:
    “But we don’t include it in the zodiac for a couple of reasons; one is that the stars in it are pretty faint, while those of Scorpius are brighter and easier to recognize, and another is that we can’t have 13 constellations, can we?”

    Actually we don’t include for NONE of those reasons. We don’t include it because constellations have nothing to do with tropical astrology. They are solely to do with Sidereal astrology as practiced by the Eastern traditions who, by the way, don’t have such concepts as ‘sun signs’. In other words, the frustrating thing about all this is that actually it’s the astronomers who are making so many mistakes here and are being sloppy with their research. Eventually it will sink in, western astrologers are only concerned with this solar system, other constellations are irrelevant to them and the precise mathematics that goes into calculating the zodiac has nothing to do with constellations whatsoever. Therefore it is impossible for a constellation to upset that calculation.

    Basically there’s nothing new here. It is not that astronomers have just discovered something that astrologers weren’t aware of as seems to be implied by many articles I’ve read online.

    You’re interested in the science part? Hipparchus discovered precession of the equinoxes a couple of centuries BC. He was an astronomer and mathematician so was aware of all the science behind it, and he was also an astrologer so he was able to look at it from both sides. Ptolemy was also an astrologer and an astronomer and even mentions precession as well as ophiuchus being a constellation – with the knowledge of both camps he also doesn’t include it and for good reasons. Again, this is nothing new, it’s weird that it’s being treated as if it is. It would be like waking up one morning to shock announcements that maps are going to have to be changed because we’ve just discovered that the world is not flat.

  99. gia

    I am very well astrology is bs. However, casually speaking, it’s just harmless fun. And it also provides inspiration for some truly gorgeous artwork. You don’t have to be such a jerkass who takes the joy out of everything.

  100. I’ve known for years that the Zodiac was about a month off. In fact, I think I learned this fact from you, Phil, reading your website. It was either from you or from Carl Sagan, two people I hold in equal regard. (That’s intended to be a compliment.) It was valid as a *calendar* system, but nothing more. And apparently, even that validity has now faded away. I don’t know why my local newspaper has chosen to run with this non-item. It’s not like it was a slow news day or anything like that.

  101. @The CW / Spock:

    I’m an Aquarius (late January.) My aunt is also an Aquarius (her birthday is the week before mine.)

    I am a selfless individual. I am dependable. I take my own needs last. I am a bit lethargic. I’m a romantic and want to settle down with one person one day.

    My aunt is very self-centered. The world must revolve around her. She’s always active. I can’t remember how many boyfriends she’s had, and she recycles them constantly.

    There is no correlation between birth season and personality.

  102. Lynn Wilhelm

    I’m proud that my “sign” works so well in the Astrology is Bull graphic.

    About Astrology, since it’s the time of birth that rules one’s life and fortunes, what happens with an induced birth or an early c-section? Wouldn’t that mess up someone’s sign and, hence, readings for life? Or is the actual emergence out of the uterus the important thing no matter the circumstances at birth. What about an accidentally induced labor… I think those people could be really confused.

    This is just so complicated. I really need to learn so much more…

    Or not.

  103. BLA

    I heard this story on NBC Nightly News a couple of days ago. It caught my attention because I heard Brian Williams say “precision” when he should have said “precession”. I thought that was funny. Then I listened to a few seconds before I realized it was old news.

  104. Robert

    The stars/planets clearly have no influence on personality. However there are some statistically significant correlations between month of birth and personality traits. The one that comes to mind is that within a school year you will always have young kids (those born right before the summer vacation) and older kids (those born right after, who had to wait nearly a year before they could enter 1st grade.) Now at our age, those few months dont seem very significant, but at the age of 6, an extra 6 months is a huge difference in physical developement. This means that the older kids have an edge in physical activities (sports), which afterwards reflects in their interests and can stay for a long time afterwards. So if you were in the older half of your school year, there’s a slightly higher chance that you will be an athlete. This has been measured, and this correlation also also changes correspondingly if you look at different countries (where the dividing line between schoolgoing age can be different.)

  105. John EB Good

    You should know, Ophiucus has a much funnier name in French: Serpentaire. Which phonetically corresponds in the French translation of the book from the very respected and scientifically established Hogwarth School of Wizardry to the House of Slitherin (Serpentard).

    And someone going by the nickname of Camille, while commenting on the L’Express.fr website’s article over this, resumed pretty well all of the science lying behind astrology and reads, in English:

    “So, I read this morning I’m now a Slitherin? I would have much prefered becoming a Gryffindor.”

    And that should be all there is to wisely say about astrology guys. :D

  106. Steve Boltzman

    …we can’t have 13 constellations, can we?

    We should be so lucky!

    ;)

  107. Venture Free

    When I saw this on the news I started laughing. My credulous sister-in-law thought I was celebrating some imagined victory over those stupid astrologers. She thought that scientists had decided to just redefine astronomy in a doomed bid to trick people into believing that they had “proven” that it was fake. In fact I was laughing at the fact anybody thought it was news. I explained the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” line to her as a way of demonstrating that this has been known at the VERY least since the sixties, and really much much longer than that. As expected it made no impact on her at all.

  108. Pops

    My son is an Ophiuchus. Born Dec. 13, 2004.

  109. mike burkhart

    The zodiac is improtant to astronomers because it is where to find the planets.Also the planets move thro Cetus and Orion so there are relly 15 constelations in the zodiac.In the past I mention Wall Street stock brokers useing Astrology and other ocult methoids to predict the Stock market (I saw this in documentry ) I don’t invest in the stock market ,but if I did and found out my broker used the ocult to give me advice I get a new one.No Astrologer predicted the stock market crashes of 1929,or1987..

  110. Andy

    Does that make Ophiuchus a member of the 13th tribe and therefore a cylon?

    Just remember, anyone could be a cylon, even a mythical figured represented by stars.

  111. PayasYouStargaze

    Funny how the astrologers are out in force now, defending their bull**** by saying that it has nothing to do with the constellations (and even pointing out that “Eastern Astrology” does use constellations). Of course, that doesn’t actually help their cause at all. It’s still bull. Even if it’s just a equally spaced calendar based around the solar system, there is still no evidence that it actually does anything, as many studies have shown.

    Time for the world to grow up and throw astrology in the bin where it belongs. “It’s just harmless fun,” some say, yet enough people take it seriously enough that it’s not.

  112. Karen

    Thanks for this piece, for this simple reason. . . As someone who studies historical astronomy, and therefore astrology since the two were so intertwined early on, my biggest issue with these stories is that even for the framework of astrology (which is not fact-based, but certainly has an internal set of rules) the signs aren’t about to change. It’s not like the astrologers didn’t know that the signs have shifted. So I’ve not even been sure how to frame my response to this story as it’s been reported, since it has so many problems with it. (That having been said, I have to admit a strange curiosity about this Ophiuchus constellation I’m suddenly supposed to be associated with . . . )

  113. For the few folks who keep saying “it’s just harmless fun”, it may be so for them, but there are many people who live their lives according to what their astrologers tell them. As pointed out above, the Reagan’s were known to follow astrology closely and base decisions on their particular horoscopes.

    When Phil talks about astrology here, it’s usually not about the daily horoscopes in newspapers, but about astrologers who charge for readings and make a bundle off of them.

    Astrologers bilk people out of money claiming that they have answers to questions that they don’t. They know it’s BS, but they perpetuate the myths to fill their pockets. Not all that harmless, after all.

  114. GeneralMusings

    According to the nice placemat in this Asian style restaurant I’m sitting in, I was born under the sign of the Tiger. So there :-p

  115. Martha

    I think this being in the news so much really annoys the astrologers and in fact many of them are outraged from what I read on some social networks. I have yet to see any astrologer capable of having a rational discussion when their belief system is challenged. Most of them become unhinged almost immediately as you would expect from those who hold irrational beliefs.

    Next time someone asks you what sign you are give a random answer. No matter what date you give as your birthday they will inevitably say they just knew you were whatever sign you give them.

    This may for a while ruin the pick up line “what is your sign” I mean many people just don’t know now.

  116. Mark

    I’d love to see someone who knows more than I do give this guy a little what-for:

    http://planetwaves.net/pagetwo/2011/01/13/your-zodiac-sign-is-not-wrong/

    An astrologer…calling out an astronomer, for not knowing science?

    But I guess it’s best not to feed the trolls. Still, the geek in me would love to see it.

  117. ND

    “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.”

    So what is the evidence behind the position of the planets in the 12 zones and our daily lives? This “zones” not actual “constellations” is a bit of a red herring. What is the evidence to support what you claim? Astrologers have had centuries to make their case, and astrology has been left behind by science for good reason. Please show the evidence supporting the things you you claim about Astrology.

  118. It is obvious that Astrology is not a reliable prognosticative science. What is less obvious is how an educated modern person should view Astrology in light of its long and storied place at the center of Western culture.

    It is impossible for us ever to repay our debt to the ancients and their great mythologies, who saw and named the constellations, and whose minds envisioned that the stars and planets influenced our lives. Nor is it possible for us to imagine where we would be today without the incredible insights of geniuses such as Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei who were both astrologers and astronomers.

    This article, and the comments posted, remind me of those precocious children who go to school, learn a few tricks their parents don’t, and then disrepspect and malign those who feed them, clothe them, and raise them.

    I for one am more inclined to be silently respectful of the ancients. For although the stars and planets of astrology may not be accurately used to literally predict the minutae of our lives, they seem to me symbolic of mankind’s place in an interdependent universe. It would do us all more than a little good to take a moment to look up humbly at the shining vault of the zodiac.

  119. gia

    @Kevin, Critically Skeptic @drksky
    I agree that people who actually take these things seriously, as opposed to having a laugh about it are crazy. However, their craziness is the problem, not the topic of it. Do you know that there are people out there whose babies died of malnutrition because they fed them a strictly vegetarian diet? That others let their children, once again, die from neglect because they obsessively play World of Warcraft? No matter how many times you say “Astrology is BS” they won’t change because they’re SICK IN THE HEAD and if they’re not obsessing over astrology they’d do so over something else because their psyche requires that crutch? In the meantime you just insult those of us who actually have only a passing, romantic interest in the whole thing.

  120. MattF

    David: Ok so maybe I’m not the brightest star in the galaxy but I don’t get how the earth’s wobble would change how we see the stars in relation to the sun.

    It doesn’t. It changes the timing.

    Because of the wobble of the Earth on its axis (precession), the amount of time it takes the Earth to go around the Sun once is not the same as the amount of time it takes to go from one vernal equinox to the next. (The former is about twenty minutes longer.) Our calendar year is based on the latter; the Sun’s position in the constellations is determined by the former. Since the two are out of sync, one tends to drift with respect to the other.

    David: I was picturing the planet wobbling but staying on the same elliptical plane the entire time as it wobbles.

    That’s exactly what happens. But what constellation the Sun is in in (say) March changes because of that wobble.

    David: I mean I’m pretty tough and I’m about 6ft 220lbs and can bench press close to 300 lbs,

    Um… bully for you?

    DP in CA: I suspect someone meant to say that Earth’s ORBIT wobbles,

    Probably not.

    DP in CA: since sometimes we come around the left side of the Sun with Jupiter in front of us, speeding us up, and sometimes with Jupiter behind us, slowing us down.

    Not very much. Yes, you need to account for it if you’re being super-careful, but this doesn’t affect the constellations or where the Sun appears to be with respect to them very much at all.

    DP in CA: I see no way the AXIS could make any difference whatsoever even if it flipped completely around.

    Remember that the seasons are a result of our axial tilt. If “it flipped completely around”, that would change where the Sun seems to be during the summertime, right? Our calendars only care when summertime is, not in which constellation the Sun appears to be.

  121. Kevin Brennan

    As much as I really, really, really don’t care, it turns out that I’m an Ophiuchus! I will have forgotten this fact by tomorrow. Awesome.

  122. Jim

    So the confusion is only because the article in question was referring to the sidereal zodiac, not the Tropical Zodiac…. Of course!

    There’s always some dumb excuse.

    http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/13/no-your-zodiac-sign-hasnt-changed/?iref=NS1

  123. There actually used to be one less astrological sign. The Romans created Libra (the only sign that is not living) out of the claws of the originally much larger constellation Scorpius. Two of the brighter stars in Libra show this. They are Zubenelgenubi (which means ‘southern claw’), and Zubeneschamali (‘northern claw’). I always remember this because it’s an interesting historical curiosity, but mostly because those are such great names. Go ahead, say them out loud. Even if you mispronounce them, they still sound great.

    The idea that Ophiuchus has somehow entered the Zodiac because the earth’s axis has wobbled seemed wrong to me, so I checked my planetarium software program, Stellarium. I went back to the year one (1), and it shows the ecliptic running through Ophiuchus. I suppose it may be the software at fault, but I don’t think so, since the program is able to accurately show historically recorded eclipses even farther back in time (but I’d love to know if I’m wrong, and be pointed to a detailed explanation).

    What may have had an effect is that the ‘official’ boundaries of the constellations were not set until a conference in 1930. So the less-well-defined boundaries of the past may not have had Ophiuchus cross the ecliptic.

    I find the defenses of the astrologers to be very funny: ‘Astronomers don’t understand MODERN astrology; it’s not based on the constellations!’ Well, it used to be, and if it isn’t now, it’s because the original concept behind it, that the planets were gods (or some other influential items) that had an impact on our lives because of their positions in the sky on the day our mothers gave birth to us, is such obvious baloney. They had to make up some new esoteric garbage to befuddle folks smart enough to understand the ridiculousness of their old esoteric garbage. Maybe the new esoteric garbage has even been befuddling enough to actually convince some practitioners that it is real and useful, but I think most of them must realize it’s woo, and are out to defend their bank accounts.

  124. RJ

    I get the general rally against astrology by skeptics but why all the commotion over this story? When I first heard this bit of “news” the first things that popped into my mind where:

    1) The idiots who believe in the power of astrology have never been reading the right horoscope, which proves that it’s all crap.

    2) The shysters that propagate this nonsense have never looked up.

  125. The ghost of Carl Sagan has posted a YouTube containing his reaction to this news:

    http://youtu.be/litgdI5_1Uo

  126. Sarah

    What, people who didn’t know how to construct indoor plumbing, how to prevent communicable diseases, thought that the universe revolved around the Earth, and thought that there were only four elements DIDN’T have special insight into how the world works that we have lost in modern times? What a shock!

  127. cgauthier

    Just like every religion.

    Actually astrology has done far less to cripple humanity’s progress. It also lacks the heinous strictures on human nature that religions tend to carry. Then, also, I don’t remember the last time someone was killed or tortured in the name of astrology.

    Considering how much more harmful religion is to people on an individual level and for the whole of society, doesn’t public ridicule of astrologers seem a wee bit dickish?

    (Yes, though, astrology is no less BS.)

  128. Matt T

    @Rob Brezsny & Paul

    I think you’re missing the point that Parke Kunkle was making, although, to be fair, it’s hard to determine what that is, thanks to it being mangled by Bill Ward, then everyone else on teh intartubes thereafter.

    Here’s the crux of the argument, in my words:
    Fact 1: There is sidereal astrology and tropical astrology. Both exist. Both claim to be correct. Both have adherents that defend them.
    Fact 2: Because of precessional motion, a pisces in sidereal is not a pisces in tropical.
    Fact 3: The different signs are claimed to indicate different personalities.
    Conclusion: At least one variant of astrology must be wrong. The same person has different signs in the two variants. If sidereal says the person is introverted while tropical says extroverted, there’s a problem.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t even matter which one is wrong. The fact that one isn’t self-evidently right, while the other self-evidently wrong demonstrates that neither has sufficient predictive ability to be evaluated as worth, well, anything. Quoting CB (#49) for maximum truth: “That’s usually — especially with astrology — when the anecdotal evidence comes out. But these things — especially astrology — are so rife with confirmation bias it’s actually funny. Everyone remembers the hot-headed A-type Scorpio they met, but they conveniently forget the hot-headed Virgo, or the timid little mouse who they didn’t bother to find out was a Scorpio.”

  129. Martha

    #144 said; “doesn’t public ridicule of astrologers seem a wee bit dickish?”

    No. It depends on how we ridicule them. I think this recent news story about a 13th sign is a great opportunity to get scientific information to the general public. If everyone here could post a link to Phil’s article in just a couple of articles that allow comments then we can educate a lot of people. I don’t care about convincing astrologers. My goal is to deny those astrologers new customers so that the astrologers have to find an honest way to make a buck. This news is helping to raise doubts about astrology and we can help to deepen those doubts.

  130. mike

    Wow, a lot of people here, including the author, are so far off base it’s hilarious.

    Look, fellas…virtually everyone KNOWS astrology is a bunch of nonsense. It takes some pretty serious vanity (and perhaps some worse things) to think otherwise. I mean really…thanks, Captain Obvious.

    The entire story has traction simply because people think it’s fun. Think of it like Santa Claus. Everyone knows it’s a fictional character, right? But people still talk about him, put up figures of him, leave out cookies for him, etc. You guys are the equivalent of some twit with Asperger’s running into the room screaming “SANTA CLAUS ISN’T REAL, YOU FOOLS!”. Uh…yeah, thanks.

    I’ll leave you all now so you can continue impressing each other with your brilliance…

  131. ThemKitties

    Hi. I keep seeing this all over the news. I am sick and tired of hearing it. Why is this news? Why do people still believe in this nonsense? Please gather as many astronomers and other scientists as possible and debunk this crap in such a way that your average non science nerd can access it and understand it. Thanks.

  132. QuietDesperation

    Whenever some one asks my sign, I just say “Trojan”

    I had a deaf coworker teach me “You’re stupid” in American sign language so I could respond to that question. Get it? Sign languane? Sign? Hello? This microphone on?

  133. Steve D

    Several other constellations are close enough to the ecliptic for the Moon and planets to pass through them, notably Sextans, Orion and Cetus.

  134. Yojimbo

    “At my Nativitie,
    The front of Heauen was full of fierie shapes,
    Of burning Cressets: and at my Birth,
    The frame and foundation of the Earth
    Shak’d like a Coward…
    The heauens were all on fire, the Earth did
    tremble…”

    Now that’s a sign! :)

  135. Really?

    “My goal is to deny those astrologers new customers so that the astrologers have to find an honest way to make a buck.”

    So your goal is to prevent people from believing in what they want? No fun allowed.

    “This news is helping to raise doubts about astrology and we can help to deepen those doubts.”

    If you didn’t already have doubts about astrology, you’re probably not very bright to begin with. This news is 11 years old. Resurrecting it and kicking it all over the place is not helping to raise doubts about anything except the scientific community’s ability to take a joke.

    My friend does tarot as a hobby, and whenever she does it she always informs the people she’s doing it for that it can be interpreted in any way fit. She doesn’t do it because she believes in mystical wizard magic or whatever. She does it because it’s fun and it can be very motivational.

    Astrology is the same way. It can be horribly wrong or eerily fitting, but in either case most of the people who read into it know that it’s only something that can be applied to reality. It does not shape who we are – it can only be interpreted to be true if it happens to mirror us and we accept it.

    As for the people who do believe in it completely, what can you do? They’re going to believe just as hard as a fervently religious person. If it works for them, whatever. They’re not trying to force science to amend itself to their ways, so why rain on their parade?

  136. Brad

    I was just thinking that, while religion and superstition have caused so much grief and misery throughout history, it wouldn’t be very much fun if they weren’t around. Sure, we might live in an eternal utopia where everyone is always healthy and never dies, the earth is kept in perfect natural balance, and we understand how the universe works completely, but it would be so BORING.

    So I say we just keep trolling the astrologists and Christians. For the lulz.

  137. Falcon333

    Dangit Spock! You green blooded hobgoblin!

    That’s the single best scientific argument for this nonsense that I have ever heard! Of course the seasonal, social and cultural practices and food availability could have a huge and lasting impact on a newborn personality and behavioral development.

    As for the daily Horosopes here are a few, I guarantee 90% accuracy

    Aries, Try to remain grounded.
    Taurus, Yes, your butt looks in that outfit.
    Leo, Avoid annoying people today, you will be tempted to bite their head off.
    Sagittarius, STDs are no joke. Wrap it up.
    Virgo, Watch out Sagittarius, find out where the relationship is going first.
    Cancer, Give up smoking today.
    Gemini, be nice to your sibling, you might need a kidney some day.
    Libra, it’s just winter weight, you have plenty of time to slim down for swimsuit season.
    Capricorn, make sure you pick up so feta cheese on your way home, it’ll go great on your salad.
    Aquarius, Check the chlorine levels in your pool. It’s looking a little green.
    Pisces: Drink plenty of fluids.
    Scorpio, Call professional pest control right away, that spray you bought at the grocery store only pisses them off.

  138. Dan I.

    I cannot, CANNOT believe CNN just referred to the article that started this whole thing as being based on information from an “Astrology Professor” and then has an “astrologer” on to talk about it.

  139. Martha

    #152 I am never surprised by the stupidity on CNN. The other day one of their talking heads said something like ‘we should not forget that an abiding faith in Jesus Christ is helping Representative Giffords survive.’ The Congresswoman happens to be Jewish.

  140. Dan W.

    My sun might be in Libra, but my moon is in Fresno.

  141. TheBlackCat

    Look, fellas…virtually everyone KNOWS astrology is a bunch of nonsense.

    Citation needed

  142. Kevin

    I’m not sure I understand what Phil thinks of Astrology. lol.

  143. Paul Astrologer

    Matt T (#147)
    You say that we’re missing the point which is, apparently, that “At least one variant of astrology must be wrong. The same person has different signs in the two variants. If sidereal says the person is introverted while tropical says extroverted, there’s a problem.”

    But actually that point is made nowhere by the astronomer in question nor in any of the news articles at all. In fact it isn’t a point being made – it certainly has nothing to do with Ophiuchus either. So actually none of those things are the point.
    The argument that astrologers disagree indicates that astrology is wrong is illogical, after all science disagrees on a whole host of things (string theory vs other theories etc). In any event, that idea is not in question either by the astronomer nor by the news articles running the piece.

  144. Number 6

    I don’t know if astrology will ever be killed off….Trying to do so is like stompin’ out a fire with gasoline-soaked shoes. It’s been part of the culture for a long, long time and will continue to be.

    There might be a part of many people that likes the idea of control outside of oneself…be it fate…or…the horror-scope. Hey, then we don’t have to take total responsibility when we screw up. Now, you do have to ignore Shakespeare’s line when you take this tack — “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”

    My question is this: Don’t you think the vast majority of people view the daily horoscope in the newspaper as mild entertainment and do not view it as an accurate predictor of the future?

  145. Matt B.

    @16 Dan, precession of the equinoxes has not altered the number of constellations that lie on the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the ecliptic. What changed is that astronomers made official borders for the constellations.

    @77 Dang, I lasted 3 seconds.

    @89 Rob Brazsny, “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.” Yeah, and they totally didn’t mean for people to actually associate the stars with the signs. Since they go strictly by the seasons, why didn’t they name them things like “the first third of summer”? Besides, they call it astrology. Western astrologers don’t currently work with stars, because they know the association has disappeared. They’ve revised history.

    Dude, why are there so many Matts here?

  146. Tony

    CSICOP proved years ago that Astrology works by refusing to publish the data that showed Astrology could predict people’s athletic ability (look it up). To say it’s 100% BS is an expression of ignorance, not understanding. But keep trying! We all wake up eventually.

    Please note I am not talking about daily horoscopes, which are BS.

  147. I’ve been looking forward to your blog ever since I started seeing tweets about the “new” zodiac. I think it’s hilarious, seeing as this is hardly new news! In any case, it’s a good excuse to talk about astronomy with people who probably don’t know anything about it. It’s fun to open up a program like StarSeek Pro and look at where the sun, moon, and planets were on your birthday.

    I liked the Time.com newsfeed of this item because it’s just a wee bit snarky: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/13/horoscope-hang-up-earth-rotation-changes-zodiac-signs/

    “It turns out that astrology has had issues from its inception. (Aside from the fact that it tries to link personality traits with positions of the stars.)”

  148. Skiznot

    Astronomers have real science to do and shouldn’t waste a nano-second on astrology unless it’s in the historical context of astronomical observations. Who cares whether or not they get the math or charts or details wrong for this nonsense. It’s like trying to work out the math for breeding an elf and a unicorn.

    Astrology may be quaint and mostly harmless superstition in the US but it can be much more detrimental in other countries. I know of a woman in India who no one wanted to marry because her astrology bode I’ll for the potential grooms mother. In Thailand I think, women get C-sections to give their children better astrologies.

  149. un malpaso

    Don’t forget, we also had at LEAST one president (Reagan) whose calendar of events was largely determined by his wife’s court astrologer. And this was 20th century America, remember, not 2000 BC Mesopotamia.

    And people say the Dark Ages are over…

  150. gia

    @Skiznot And how do you know the Indian woman didn’t just use the horoscope as a reason to back out of a marriage she didn’t want? Besides, India, specifically, has so many religious problems that astrology doesn’t really hold a candle to that. Also, women get c-sections for all kinds of reasons, including to avoid damage to their sex organs that makes sex very unpleasurable afterwards. You want to control female reproduction now?

  151. Intermediate Astrologer

    Astrologers don’t talk about astronomy. Why do real scientist waste their time talking about astrology? One simplistic answer might be that astronomers don’t get near as much attention in that astrologers get attention every day in most major newspaper’s entertainment section.

    Someone being a bit insecure maybe?

    I guess I should be grateful for the attention in that I have already had deal with two confused people since this story has broken. This brings to mind two major differences between the science and the pseudo-science: I can tell people all about themselves, and then I can take their money for doing so. Astronomers cannot.

    Thanks

  152. Mary

    I went to one of the blogs today where this was being discussed and called ‘herasy’ and posted a comment. The –thank you for your comment, it is awaiting review–screen was shown. I guess my comment did not pass ‘review’ as it has not been posted on the page and that was considerable time ago. It is shocking how some people gladly post their ignorance of basic science. Ophiuchus, to one, sounds like a genital fungus which perhaps this scientist has and that’s the problem. Wow. It makes one wonder if there is any hope. Yet, this time last year, a Canadian magazine tried to introduce an astrology component. The response was definitive. Enough of us from all across the country threatened to cancel our subscriptions if this was included. So, in the next issue, the editor said that as the idea was not well received, astrology would not be included. Mistress Zaza would have to find something else to do with her time. So, I guess there is hope that reality and reasonableness will shine through.

  153. Talon

    I really think “Spock” is the only one with some common sense, or at least the only one really able to think past the ” Hey look i’m so smart because i claim anything not yet proven, or even looked at by science at large is stupid and outdated” Learn from the past and REMEMBER it or be doomed to repeat it’s mistakes. Then again that would ask stuck up morons to bother getting over their own arrogance for longer then a few miliseconds… Not something i’d expect from most “Enlightened Atheists”.

  154. MattF

    Really?: They’re not trying to force science to amend itself to their ways, so why rain on their parade?

    Because we understand there are more than two groups of people (believers and non-believers), and because we want to educate as many about the truth as we can. And because belief in it does harm, and we believe in helping people before they get hurt whenever possible.

    http://www.whatstheharm.net/astrology.html

    An attitude that is content to allow people to wallow in harmful delusion, and feels no compulsion to try to help as it watches others deceived into joining the delusion, betrays a profound lack of compassion for one’s fellow human beings.

  155. mike burkhart

    I know what the constellations look like , and can identify them in the sky ,but I still use star charts ,planeshper , astronomy softwere, to plan my ovservations also only the cricumpolar cosellations are in the sky all night the rest rise and set like the Sun and Moon .

  156. Martha

    It sounds like if they had their way some astrologers would shut up those who debunk their ersatz profession. I think good scientists are open to people suggesting they “mend their ways,” but to imply that science not examine the claims of astrologers is very lame. Since they are not going to silence skeptics astrologers should attempt to engage in discussions and defend their beliefs. We are not going to treat astrology or any other form of woo as sacrosanct. If you really believe astrology is a science then you need to accept that it can be freely challenged.

  157. Mike

    http://bluntcard.com/launch/753.php

    If there are any rude people out there who haven’t spent an hour or two giggling at bluntcard.com, you’re welcome. If you’re a nice person who wouldn’t want to insult a good friend for the fun of it, then move along, nothing to see there.

  158. TheBlackCat

    @ Paul Astrologer: So it is just a total coincidence that the forces that control peoples’ lives just happen to precisely line up with periods when the sun was in a particular constellation when astrology was founded?

  159. David

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsD2Nku6Zqo

    I think this video explains the precession decently although if you ignore the religious aspect of it.

  160. A friend of mine is deeply into this crap. For a time, she was single and desperately looking for a partner, using dating sites and similar services. One of her criteria for a suitable match was “compatible zodiac signs”. It always amazed me that she would willingly choose to reduce her chances of finding a mate purely on the basis of their birth date.

  161. Joseph G

    In other news, spilling any food with a monosodium component is essentially the same as spilling salt, so be sure to chuck some of that chicken soup over your shoulder. Also, cats with recessive genes for blackness now count as black cats, and “path” now includes any space you’ve occupied within the last 12 hours.
    Have fun panicking :)

  162. Joseph G

    Can we come up with a new constellation to fill the gap? Instead of Ophiucus, the Serpent Bearer, might I suggest Philplait, the Skepticism Bearer? :D

  163. Martha

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/01/15/statement-regarding-zodiac-signs-by-the-washington-state-astrological-association

    The above link is to the Stranger newspaper in Seattle. It is quite encouraging to see that so many of the comments are from people who know that astrology is rubbish.

  164. WeirdLisa1105

    Bravo to “Mitch”-post 137.
    Really very eloquent and spot-on!
    Thank you, Mitch!

  165. Joseph G

    @#137 Mitch: It’s true that we should pay our respects to those who first began the process of collecting data and trying to understand the universe – truly, astronomy and astrology were once one and the same. But I don’t think that has much to do with questioning astrology NOW.

    I could draw a parallel between astrology/astronomy and alchemy/chemistry. Alchemy, though often practiced with impossible goals based on fundamental misconceptions, was inarguably the foundation of the science that grew to become chemistry. Certainly, we shouldn’t fail to give credit to those early alchemists who took an interest in discovering the nature of substances; however, at the same time, it’d be mighty silly of us to waste our time, today, in the year 2011, attempting to turn lead into gold*.
    No one today takes alchemy seriously, yet millions of people still make decisions, major decisions, based on an obsolete “science,” that, let’s face it, is even less valuable then alchemy. At least alchemy could give you the same predictable result twice in a row!

    *Yes, I know you can probably turn a tiny amount of lead into a tiny amount of gold by bombarding it (and whatever products come from the initial fission or neutron capture) with the right number of protons and neutrons. But it sure as hell wouldn’t be enough to be profitable. Also, a number of isotopes of gold are radioactive enough to be “interesting”, yet have half-lives long enough to make them inconvenient to deal with (186 days in the case of 195AU)

  166. Paul Astrologer

    @ Black Cat (#182)
    “@ Paul Astrologer: So it is just a total coincidence that the forces that control peoples’ lives just happen to precisely line up with periods when the sun was in a particular constellation when astrology was founded?”

    I’m not discussing or arguing how astrology might work, what’s under discussion here is the poor science and basic poor astronomy that underpins the fallacious logic used in these articles regarding precession and ophiuchus. Firstly precession does not in any way relate to Ophiuchus, secondly Ophiuchus is not new, thirdly unless a circle has expanded to 390 degrees there can be no other zodiac signs, and lastly precession has been known about to astrologers since before the birth of christ.

    Conclusion: these articles are embarrassingly inaccurate and nothing new whatsoever. It seems like a cheap publicity trick on the part of the astronomer. As I keep saying, actually research how the tropical zodiac is calculated. It has nothing to do with constellations – hence the bad astronomy. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It’s simple. Even wikipedia would help you.

    Constellations are not equal length, zodiac signs are – this should have been a big clue that constellations are irrelevant to the calculation of the zodiac which is a purely mathematical model based upon the intersection of the ecliptic with the celestial equator. Do astronomers not realise that?

  167. @ Paul Astrologer “Do astronomers not realise that?”

    Of course not, all astronomers are stupid. Do you not realise that? I mean, fancy studying the stars and galaxies, trying to learn their natures and advance our knowledge of what makes the universe tick, instead of burying their heads in medieval pseudoscience and cheap tricks to fool the desperate, the dispossessed and the gullible into parting with their cash. I know which of the two my money’s on.

  168. Gonçalo Aguiar

    I made a vid about this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=072VV7o971o

    Astrology has to die in the fire. period.

  169. TheBlackCat

    Firstly precession does not in any way relate to Ophiuchus,

    No, and neither Phil nor the article ever claimed it did. Precession and Ophiuchus are two entirely independent issues. Before blaming others for not having done sufficient research on astrology, it is probably a good idea to at least read what they wrote.

    secondly Ophiuchus is not new,

    Once again, no one every claimed it was. On the contrary, both the article and Phil pointed out the same thing. Once again, it is a good idea to read what others write before accusing them of not doing sufficient research on the subject.

    thirdly unless a circle has expanded to 390 degrees there can be no other zodiac signs,

    Circles could easily be 390 degrees. The decision to divide circles into 360 degrees was an arbitrary decision based on the base-60 numbering system used by the Babylonions, and perhaps having some relation to the length of the year. Babylonian influence is also the reason for having 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour.

    In fact, in science and engineering we don’t use 360-degree circles, we divide circles into fractions of 2*pi. The decision to divide the zodiac into 12 instead of 13 sections was also just as arbitrary. That is the whole point of bringing up Ophiuchus in the first place, to point out how arbitrary the decisions are.

    and lastly precession has been known about to astrologers since before the birth of christ.

    Once again, where did anyone claim otherwise?

    Conclusion: these articles are embarrassingly inaccurate and nothing new whatsoever.

    It might be good to actually, you know, read them before saying this.

    It has nothing to do with constellations – hence the bad astronomy.

    You are missing my whole point, it does have to do with the constellations. You no longer use them in the analysis, but the sections you break the sky into for doing the analysis are derived from the locations of constellations thousands of years ago. You may no longer use them, but in order for that to work the entire system would need to, just by shear coincidence, exactly line up with how the constellations just happened to be when the system was being formulated. So despite the fact that you ignore them now, the system is still derived from the location of the constellations.

  170. ND

    KeplersDream++
    TheBlackCat++

    That is all.

  171. jono

    Astrology is baloney made from ancient leftover stuff that can be poetic when not ridiculous. However I am still a scorpio.

    As my mother olehasholem said to me as young boychik when I asked why the Irish kids I played with believed in the FatherSonAnd HolyGhost: “Jonny, there’s only one god– and that’s the one we don’t believe in!”

    So in the same vein, astrology is still baloney and I’m still a scorpio . . .

  172. Paul - Astrologer

    Interestingly the posts I make here where I disagree with Phil Plait et al are not included. It seems there’s some weird moderation going on where posts which make the author look bad are removed. Interesting that I need to be censored that way. I tried responding to Kepler’s Dreams but it wasn’t included. I’m going to repost the same message:

    @Kepler’s Dreams (#196):
    “I mean, fancy studying the stars and galaxies, trying to learn their natures and advance our knowledge of what makes the universe tick, instead of burying their heads in medieval pseudoscience and cheap tricks to fool the desperate, the dispossessed and the gullible into parting with their cash.”

    Yup imagine that. All that time spent studying the stars and they STILL got it wrong. Dont’ believe me? Check how the tropical zodiac is calculated. You don’t need to take my word for it.

    @The Black Cat
    “No, and neither Phil nor the article ever claimed it did”

    My apologies, I should have been more clear, I mean the articles on the newspapers etc that Phil Plait was referencing with this blog. There’ve been many and most seem to make out that precession has caused the sun to now move through ophiuchus etc. Even the one that Phil Plait references is not quite accurate. It says ““when [astrologers] say that the sun is in ­Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,”, when of course it still is in Pisces, just not the constellation Pisces.

    “Once again, it is a good idea to read what others write before accusing them of not doing sufficient research on the subject.”

    Again, I’m not referring to this blog, which I don’t consider an article, I’m referring to the actual newspaper articles found carrying this story.

    “Circles could easily be 390 degrees.”

    And squares could have 5 sides. But they don’t. The zodiac signs are just a division of the circle by 12, each being assigned 1/12th of the longitudinal arc of that circle.

    “That is the whole point of bringing up Ophiuchus in the first place, to point out how arbitrary the decisions are”

    LOL, again, look into how the zodiac is calculated first.

    “Once again, where did anyone claim otherwise?”

    No but the point is that astrologers would have known all about it and worked it into their calculations. Why? Because astronomers were the astrologers then.

    “It might be good to actually, you know, read them before saying this.”

    I did, again, I refer to a blog as a blog and a newspaper article as an article. When I say article I don’t mean this blog, that’s hardly a piece of journalism. But newspapers should be.

    “You are missing my whole point, it does have to do with the constellations”

    Explain how constellations have anthign whatsoever to do with how an astrologer’s zodiac is calculated.

    “You no longer use them in the analysis, but the sections you break the sky into for doing the analysis are derived from the locations of constellations thousands of years ago.”

    Nopes. The calculation of tropical astrology is and has always been, based upon nothing more than the mathematical points at which the celestial equator intersects the ecliptic. That is all. The constellatinos in the background were then used as mnemonics.

    “So despite the fact that you ignore them now, the system is still derived from the location of the constellations”

    You’re confusing two zodiacs – the sidereal and the tropical. Tropical astrologers NEVER EVER EVER used the constellations to calculate the zodiac. If they had then the zodiac would change every 72 years. They didn’t though. The zodiac is and always has been a mathematical model based upon the solar system and in particular the earth’s relationship to the sun. ALWAYS. (Sidereal on the other hand, which you’re talking about here, DOES utilise precession and always has done).

  173. Christian Treczoks

    When I walked through the city I saw this story being the big (Letters>5cm) title story of Germanys top tabloid paper (BILD).
    Well, I’ll take that as a sign that nothing really important happened in the world.

  174. TheBlackCat

    Interestingly the posts I make here where I disagree with Phil Plait et al are not included.

    Did it include links? Anything with links is automatically put in moderation. You’ve made plenty of posts that disagree with Phil without problem. I have too, actually.

    My apologies, I should have been more clear, I mean the articles on the newspapers etc that Phil Plait was referencing with this blog. There’ve been many and most seem to make out that precession has caused the sun to now move through ophiuchus etc.

    Then you once again didn’t actually read what Phil or the original article wrote, since both made it clear that these were separate issues. The whole point of Phil’s article was to point out how later articles grossly misrepresented what the original article actually said. You can’t blame the astronomer in the original article for the mistakes of articles he had no part in.

    So you can criticize journalists for not understanding astrology, but the astronomer you keep criticizing was right in this regard. You would know this if you actually bothered to read Phil’s article and the original article.

    Seriously, the fact that you keep repeating this claim even though it is directly refuted by the original articles means you still haven’t bothered to read them, even after I pointed out the hypocrisy of not doing so.

    Once again, it is good to read what others say before criticizing them for not doing sufficient research.

    And squares could have 5 sides. But they don’t.

    No, a square couldn’t have 5 side, otherwise it wouldn’t be a square anymore. By definition, a square is a 4-sided 2D object with equal side lengths and equal angles. Having 4 sides is part of the definition.

    That is not the case of a circle, which is simply defined as a 2D object where all points are an equal distance from the center. There is nothing inherent in the definition of a circle that requires it have 360 degrees, the decision to divide it into 360 degrees was arbitrary.

    (both definitions assume Euclidian geometry)

    The zodiac signs are just a division of the circle by 12, each being assigned 1/12th of the longitudinal arc of that circle.

    As I explained already, the point with Ophiuchus is that this division is arbitrary, just as dividing it into 360 degrees is arbitrary.

    No but the point is that astrologers would have known all about it and worked it into their calculations. Why? Because astronomers were the astrologers then.

    No, the point is that astrologers knew all about it but didn’t work it into their calculations because they are arbitrary and inconsistent rather than scientific. Scientists don’t get to just ignore inconvenient details, while astrologers do.

    Nopes. The calculation of tropical astrology is and has always been, based upon nothing more than the mathematical points at which the celestial equator intersects the ecliptic. That is all. The constellatinos in the background were then used as mnemonics.

    No, they were used as delineaters. If you look at the layout of the zodiac and the divisions, it is clear that it was laid out to minimize cuts between adjacent constellations. If these were simply mnemonics then this would not have happened, the divisions between adjacent sections would be independent of the location of the constellations, which it clearly isn’t. That means the location of the constellations had to have been taken into account when setting up the divisions.

    You can claim all you want that the constellations don’t matter, but the very layout of the divisions you put so much faith in proves otherwise.

  175. Skeptic Teen

    I think there’s validity in the mathematical aspect of astrology — you know, the houses, planet alignments, etc. I s’pose if you read enough about it, you could calculate it yourself. However, as soon as you get that far, I have no idea how anyone can believe that planets — giant balls of matter (insert immature snicker) orbiting a star — could have any effect on the personality traits of a human. I believe that people act like they do as a product of how they were raised by people who actually interact with them, not as huge planets millions (or billions) of miles away.

    Yes, if you think about it, even arguing about astrology is invalid, because most people (where I live, anyway) wouldn’t base an enormous life decision about it. Even so, it’s the misconception that some stupid scientists put a new constellation on the ecliptic that we’re arguing over. We want to prove that they didn’t, because, well, they didn’t. It’s been there, and the only reason they don’t know about it is because they didn’t care enough to look. Honestly, too; why would you believe that a constellation would be included into the zodiac because of some obvious, already somewhat not believed rubbish like astrology?

    I’ve even gone so far as to publicly (well, as far as publicly can go on the Internet) debunk it on Facebook, even to risk that stupid thing all us teenagers hold dear called “popularity.” It doesn’t matter much, this popularity, but at this age it’s ridiculously important, apparently.

    …I frakking love skepticism.

  176. AA

    I think your post makes a great point, and it’s important to explain to people why astrology should not be taken seriously. However I think your tone is a little self-destructive. It is fine for preaching to the converted, but I assume you’d like to get the point across to people who already believe or might consider believing in astrology too?

    “Astrology is 100% utter and complete nonsense.
    Got it? Good”

    and the graphic at the end?

    I think writing in this fairly aggressive way just reinforces the perception that all scientists are arrogant and unwilling to open their eyes to other’s points of view. It would make someone who did believe in astrology feel like you are calling them stupid: they are no more stupid than anyone else. And as a consequence it will not end up educating as many people as it could, because no one wants to learn from a teacher they feel might be ridiculing them.

  177. Richard Woods

    @Spock #22

    Almost all of your post is just fine, but you might want to reconsider “high carbohydrates in a woman’s diet may influence her genes to favor male offspring”, or clarify what you meant there.

    Were you actually suggesting that high carbohydrates in a woman’s diet can change the X chromosome in one or more of her eggs to a Y chromosome? From what source would the genes of such a Y chromosome be created/taken/assembled/substituted? Mightn’t that Y interfere with the normal functioning of the egg?

    Or were you suggesting a different mechanism, such as that a high-carbohydrate diet somehow changes the genes in some other type of cell in her reproductive tract, so that her reproductive tract’s chemistry becomes more friendly (than it ordinarily is) to sperm with a Y chromosome than to sperm with an X chromosome?

    Or (most probably) did you simply forget that the Y chromosome is in half the sperm, but not any of the eggs? :-)

    (I’m slightly surprised that no one else seems to have commented on this yet. :-) )

  178. Paul - Astrologer

    @Black Cat
    “Did it include links? Anything with links is automatically put in moderation. You’ve made plenty of posts that disagree with Phil without problem. I have too, actually. ”

    No, I’m not sure what the criteria are for moderation though. But only two didn’t go through and they were two were I explicitly critiqued something of Phil Plait. May well just be coincidence though.

    “You can’t blame the astronomer in the original article for the mistakes of articles he had no part in.”

    No but I can criticise the astronomer for deliberately misrepresenting how astrology works, after all astronomers have no real interest in the signs of the zodiac, their interest lies in the constellations. They do not refer to Scorpius as a sign, they call in a constellation (which it is). Therefore it seemed to be willingly engaging with astrological ‘confusion’ by suggesting the signs may be wrong. We’re only left with two conclusions, the astronomer genuniely does not know or understand how the zodiac is calculated (unlikely) or deliberately played to the astrological angle to garner attention (which it did, so was successful). Because ultimately a news story about astrology being wrong all this time is more intersting than a story about constellations and the sun’s orbit. But notice, nobody knew this guy’s name last week, now everyone does. I believe it to be a publicity stunt. I’m not criticising Phil Plait, nor that particular article he just happened to link to, but the newspaper articles GENERALLY that were being referred to.

    “So you can criticize journalists for not understanding astrology, but the astronomer you keep criticizing was right in this regard.”

    Well I criticise the journalists for not doing their homework, they should have consulted actual astrologers and given equal time to their rebuttals, instead they all ran tables with the ‘new’ zodiac signs. However I still criticise the astronomer who almost certainly was aware of how the tropical zodiac is calculated (its comparitvely easy and straight forward) and yet still ran with the idea that when astrologers tell people the sun was in sign of pisces it was actually in the sign of aquarius – this is incorrect. Signs are not constellations. Does the astronomer know this? My guess is yes he does. Phil Plait himself has previously made similar mistakes regarding Ophiuchus – to his credit he’s noted and corrected them at a later date. He himself however contradicts himself in other blogs (prior to this post) and is perhaps equally as guilty as this latest astronomer. For example:
    http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/zodiac.html

    In one sentance he says “there are more than 12 constellations, although in astrological terms there are only 12 signs to the zodiac. As Bad Reader Paul Schylter pointed out to me, the signs originated from the constellations, but are not the same thing.”
    Perfect. In this he is totally correct. Well done Phil. Why then, only a couple of paragraphs later does he say this:
    “Also, note that the dates the Sun is in a given constellation do not line up with the astrological dates of the constellation. ..This is because the astrological zodiacal signs were invented about 2000 years ago, and since then, the precession of the Earth’s axis .. has shifted the constellations over. How come astrologers don’t take that into account? ”

    But he said it himself why in the previous paragraph, because as he points out himself, they are not the same. So it’s non-sequitor. To be fair to him, Phil Plait is not the only astronomer guilty of this, as we can see with this latest regurgitation of ophiuchus and precession which springs up every couple of years with the same tired misunderstandings.

    “As I explained already, the point with Ophiuchus is that this division is arbitrary, just as dividing it into 360 degrees is arbitrary. ”

    The point is that Ophiuchus should not be suddenly included in the zodiac, because the zodiac is a division by 4 subdivided equally by three. It would therefore need to be consistent with that mathematical thinking, 13 would not be possible.

    “No, the point is that astrologers knew all about it but didn’t work it into their calculations because they are arbitrary and inconsistent rather than scientific. Scientists don’t get to just ignore inconvenient details, while astrologers do.”

    There’s nothing inconvenient about it. Astrologers don’t use it because it’s irrelevant. Take the intersections of ecliptic and equator, call them Signs 1 and 2, take the solstices as well and we get Signs 3 & 4. Four quarters, subdivided again for further accuracy, into 3 signs. Each sign is further divided into 30 degrees and 3 decanates. It’s just an equal division of a circle – in that sense it is indeed arbitrary. But the presence of some constellation is irrelevant to that. Ophiuchus adds nothing to the argument of arbitrariness and informs us not at all about the subject – it is irrelevant to it.

    “If you look at the layout of the zodiac and the divisions, it is clear that it was laid out to minimize cuts between adjacent constellations.”

    Again, the zodiac has nothing to do with the constellations. Even in its inception Virgo and Scorpius were of widely differing longitudinal arc lengths, and yet the signs virgo and scorpio were equal 30 degrees. The background stars served as nothing more than mnemonic aids, a background picture to help in identifying those portions of the ecliptic divided equally by 12.

    “That means the location of the constellations had to have been taken into account when setting up the divisions.”

    What divisions are we talking about? I still reckon you’re confusing non-physical mathematical divisions of a circle (aka zodiac signs) with actual observable constellations and their divisions. Remember, divisions of one constellation with another is often arbitrarily defined such as in the example of libra, scorpius, ophiuchus and sagittarius where there is great overlap and you can draw the division practically anywhere you like. In fact Ophiuchus is only so large because modern astronomers redefined the boundaries. It’s happened before and parts of scorpio were ‘given’ to libra. They’re just stars. There’s no ACTUAL divisions or boundaries anywhere.

  179. Matt T

    Lordy, this is still going on? Of course it is… Alrighty, then

    @Paul
    You seemed to have missed some bits I wrote: “it’s hard to determine what that is, thanks to it being mangled” and “Here’s the crux of the argument, in my words“. OK, but, on re-reading, I guess I have inadvertently put my words in Parke Kunkle’s mouth. My apologies. To clarify: as far as I can determine from the original article, he was pointing out a problem with astrology. My summary was intended to show that the problem remains even if you come back with the old “but that’s not true with tropical astrology” riposte.

    So, to the point I was making (whether or not Kunkle* was making it, too)… seriously, you’re going to make an equivalence between the difference in sidereal and tropical astrology and cutting-edge science, like string theory? Oh dear. Please give an example of a scientific theory where two ideas, both making testable predictions, have coexisted for over a millennium, even after the data was in. Of course scientists argue about string theory and black holes and the details of avian evolution and a host of other things that are (pay attention here) the latest, farthest cutting-edge of human knowledge. But they don’t argue about why planets orbit stars, or why there are so many species of animals, or whether stuff is made up of small blobs called atoms. Those discussions have been settled. How? By testing the competing hypotheses against observations! Wahey! Remember that whole heliocentric/geocentric thing? That lasted a while. Right up until we had the tools to measure the predictions that had been made (the phases of Venus, for example). Once the observations were in, the argument ended (among scientists, at least).

    So here’s a thought. Why not test both tropical and sidereal astrology against observations? Soon sort that out, right? Hmmm. Apparently not. So, care to answer this rather key question (that you happily skipped over before, casually dismissing it as “illogical”): why is one not self-evidently right, and the other self-evidently wrong? If being a Capricorn is supposed to make me a type-A go-getter (or whatever), why not just round up a bunch of people, and see which variant of astrology gives the better fit to the data? Heck, why even bother with a formal experiment? Shouldn’t people have noticed by now? After, y’know, centuries of observations? If tropical astrology is the dog’s bollix, why hasn’t sidereal astrology died a natural death for failing to make decent predictions? Or is it just possible that confirmation bias might have an effect here….? Just sayin’.

    And before you even start: yes, actually, I do know a fair bit about astrology** — the mechanics, at least — including the house systems and aspects and such like. I know it’s not all sun signs and horoscopes in the daily paper. But any book I’ve seen on it starts with sun signs and states that this is still the 800lb gorilla of horoscopy, so the tropical vs sidereal question should still have been settled by now by the brute force of statistics.

    Side note: “it certainly has nothing to do with Ophiuchus either”. Um, sorry, here you’re just plain wrong. Ophiuchus doesn’t have anything to do with precessional motion, but it does have something to do with astrology and its validity. Some astrologers consider Oph. to be a sign, some do not (tropical, for starters).

    *I don’t give a rat’s arse about the subsequent reporting. As BlackCat and I have both made clear, it’s s—.

    **I know scientists can come across as condescending, but most do actually know what they’re talking about. And in either case, a condescending “well you don’t really understand how the signs are determined” in reply isn’t going to go over well either. Just because we don’t accept it doesn’t mean we don’t understand it. I think you’ll find that BlackCat knows her stuff. As it happens, I recently wrote code to calculate Placidus house cusps. Y’know, for fun. And because temporal trisection of semidiurnal arcs is a funky piece of math (which, in my book, is what makes it fun).

  180. Paul - Astrologer

    Matt T

    “My summary was intended to show that the problem remains even if you come back with the old “but that’s not true with tropical astrology” riposte.”

    I have no problem with people making criticisms of astrology based on what astrology is. However I do have a problem with people making criticisms of astrology based on what it is not. If you want to criticise astrology go for it, but don’t invent straw men to attack. This Ophiuchus argument is just one such straw man because it does not relate to astrology, not because astrologers didn’t know about it, don’t like it, precession – none of that. It’s just not mathematically relevant to dividing the ecliptic by 12. Therefore if astronomers or anyone else wants to attack astrology they shouldn’t even need to use straw men like this one.

    “seriously, you’re going to make an equivalence between the difference in sidereal and tropical astrology and cutting-edge science, like string theory? Oh dear.”

    The point being that astrologers disagreeing amongst themselves is hardly anything new – every field of study has people within it with competing viewpoints and theories. So the argument that has appeared both on this forum and others regarding this issue that astrologers can’t even agree on what they believe in, ergo, astrology is nonsense, is not logical. If that was the case then we can apply that reasoning to science too. What’s good for the goose….Does this make science nonesense because not every scientist agrees with another?

    “Why not test both tropical and sidereal astrology against observations? Soon sort that out, right? Hmmm. Apparently not.”

    We can only do this ourselves, as in I can test with my own empirical observation which is the more accurate – I have and stick to Tropical. Others claim to have and stick to Sidereal.

    “Why is one not self-evidently right, and the other self-evidently wrong?”

    I haven’t said this anywhere – so why bring it up in address to me? What I have said is that the inclusion of a 13th sign of the zodiac is simply NOT right. What I haven’t said is that precession is wrong, but the zodiac, whether tropical or sidereal, is a division of the ecliptic by 12. I’m not defending the sidereal zodiac here, I’ll let sidereal astrologers do that for you, but tropical. Sidereal astrology is not what the astronomer was discussing so neither am I. It’s tropical astrology, which does not use 13 signs. It can’t. It’s not mathematically possible given the formulae that are used to define the tropical zodiac, which, as I repeat ad nauseum but nobody seems to care or listen to, NEVER utilises the constellations (whether their current or ancient position) in its calculation. That there are links between the two is obvious, but tropical astrologers do not ever use the constellations.

    “If tropical astrology is the dog’s bollix, why hasn’t sidereal astrology died a natural death for failing to make decent predictions?”

    And why hasn’t Intelligent Design died a death? It’s the same, there’s always someone who has another theory.
    Another reason is because contrary to popular belief, the signs are actually a tiny tiny piece of the puzzle. The biggies are the aspects which remain true regardless of zodiac. Therefore even if you don’t use a zodiac at all (some astrologers don’t btw) there’ll still be a great deal that’s similar between the two.

    “Or is it just possible that confirmation bias might have an effect here….? Just sayin’.”

    What’s this got to do with Ophiuchus? Nothing.
    But of course confirmation bias is very very possible. That it is possible doesn’t necessarily mean it is what is happening – but, notice, all these are ‘attacks’ on astrology itself, but Ophiuchus is irrelevant to that argument. That’s what I meant above. Ophiuchus offers nothing new to the argument and offers nothing new to any counter arguments – it’s just utterly irrelevant in every way, and yet time and again this comes up with ‘sudden’ breakthroughs that there are new signs.

    “But any book I’ve seen on it starts with sun signs”

    Keep reading and move away from natal astrology. Plus bear in mind that most books start with the easiest pieces – definitely the signs.

    “Some astrologers consider Oph. to be a sign, some do not (tropical, for starters).”

    Some scientists believe in God but that doesn’t mean that the notion of God is relevant to science as a whole. Similarly some astrologers wave incense in the air – what can you do? But Oph is not a zodiac sign recognised by the majority of astrologers, unfortunately there is no magisterium or ‘official body’ for astrology worldwide, but there are for individual countries. None of those that I’m aware of recognise Oph as a sign. Unfortunately anyone who believes celestial motions have an effect on mankind can call themselves an astrologer (you don’t training or accreditation which is a big con) so bare in mind that that includes people never actually educated on the subject. If Mary down the road reads sun signs and ‘knows’ that taurus is an earth sign, she can call herself an astrologer. Imagine if anyone who knew that steam comes from water could call themselves a scientist – how easily ridiculed science would be.

    “Just because we don’t accept it doesn’t mean we don’t understand it.”

    Well that’s actually my whole point – they DO understand it, so why are they deliberately getting it wrong? When there’s talk of astrologers writing sun sign columns and using the constellations it’s just plain wrong. It’s not an opinion, it’s just not true. Sun sign columnists are tropical astrologers and tropical astrology does not care about the constellations in that way – so to state otherwise means that either you don’t understand how it works, or you’re deliberately misinforming (e.g. for a straw man).

    “As it happens, I recently wrote code to calculate Placidus house cusps. Y’know, for fun. And because temporal trisection of semidiurnal arcs is a funky piece of math (which, in my book, is what makes it fun).”

    Me too.And Koch. And Regiomontanus. And Meridian. And a whole host of other house systems, because I also enjoy that kind of thing. Then I went and calculated the positions of every planet (taking into consideration influences of gravity) including the sun and moon right out to planet(oid) pluto. I’m hoping to create an astrology app you see. But if you know all this then why are you arguing with me about Ophiuchus, you would KNOW that Ophiuchus is irrelevant to the tropical zodiac, and therefore know that Ophiuchus and precession are irrelevant to the point about your sun sign moving from Pisces to Aquarius.

    That’s all my arguing against here. This doesn’t mean that astrology is therefore right, or prevent any other criticism of astrology, but it does mean that this “Your sign is different than the sun sign columns say” thing is just nonsense. They know it, you know it, I know it. That’s what I’m arguing against. If one is going to argue against astrology don’t invent straw men – surely you don’t have to.

  181. TheBlackCat

    No but I can criticise the astronomer for deliberately misrepresenting how astrology works, after all astronomers have no real interest in the signs of the zodiac, their interest lies in the constellations.

    You criticized him for saying that Ophiuchus was related to precession, when he never said anything remotely similar to that. Then, when I pointed this out, you tried to claim that all the articles that cited him said this. But they all misrepresented what he said.

    Now you are trying to pretend this was only ever about sidereal and tropical astrology, when you clearly laid out other complaints, complaints that you would not have made if you had actually bothered to read the original post and the article that started this all.

    But notice, nobody knew this guy’s name last week, now everyone does. I believe it to be a publicity stunt.

    Did you miss the part where the newspaper approached him to ask about astrology? He gave them the same answer pretty much every other astronomer gives, that astrology is nonsense, and gave a couple of examples why. There is no indication he expected anything other than the local newspaper he spoke to quote him. It is hardly surprising that a local science teacher answers some science questions for a local newspaper. How that could possible be considered a “publicity stunt” is beyond me, it is actually very common. I am in university, there are dozens of such articles hanging around the halls.

    What was unusual was that this was picked up by lots of other newspapers, but grossly misrepresented in almost all of them. I don’t see any reason the astronomer should have expected this, it is not normally how newspapers react to such an ordinary article.

    I’m not criticising Phil Plait, nor that particular article he just happened to link to, but the newspaper articles GENERALLY that were being referred to.

    But those articles where misrepresenting the original article, yet you clearly blamed the astronomer for those articles even though he had no hand in them.

    The point is that Ophiuchus should not be suddenly included in the zodiac, because the zodiac is a division by 4 subdivided equally by three. It would therefore need to be consistent with that mathematical thinking, 13 would not be possible.

    No, you aren’t listening. The whole point is that the “4 subdivided equally by three” thing is totally arbitrary. There is nothing inherent in divisions of a circle that could lead to such a conclusion. It is just an arbitrary decision. That is the whole point of bring up Ophiuchus, to point out how the whole thing is totally and completely arbitrary.

    There’s nothing inconvenient about it. Astrologers don’t use it because it’s irrelevant. Take the intersections of ecliptic and equator, call them Signs 1 and 2, take the solstices as well and we get Signs 3 & 4. Four quarters, subdivided again for further accuracy, into 3 signs. Each sign is further divided into 30 degrees and 3 decanates. It’s just an equal division of a circle – in that sense it is indeed arbitrary. But the presence of some constellation is irrelevant to that. Ophiuchus adds nothing to the argument of arbitrariness and informs us not at all about the subject – it is irrelevant to it.

    This is only true if we buy your argument that the constellations are only mnemonics, but I think the location of the 12 divisions you put such weight in shows that they are not, thee constellations were used for determining where the divisions should go.

    “If you look at the layout of the zodiac and the divisions, it is clear that it was laid out to minimize cuts between adjacent constellations.”

    Again, the zodiac has nothing to do with the constellations. Even in its inception Virgo and Scorpius were of widely differing longitudinal arc lengths, and yet the signs virgo and scorpio were equal 30 degrees. The background stars served as nothing more than mnemonic aids, a background picture to help in identifying those portions of the ecliptic divided equally by 12.

    You completely ignored my argument. If it is just divisions of a circle and has nothing to do with the constellations, why are the cuts so clean between the constellations? The reason, of course, is because the divisions were designed to be between the constellations wherever possible. So the constellations are critical to the layout of the zodiac.

    “That means the location of the constellations had to have been taken into account when setting up the divisions.”

    What divisions are we talking about? I still reckon you’re confusing non-physical mathematical divisions of a circle (aka zodiac signs) with actual observable constellations and their divisions.

    No, I am not, I am saying the 12 regular divisions of the circle were set to avoid cutting up the constellations. This means that the constellations were used not as mnemonics for divisions set through other means, but are instead the guides used in determining where the divisions should go, and thus are of critical importance.

  182. Paul - Astrologer

    Black Cat

    “Did you miss the part where the newspaper approached him to ask about astrology? ”

    To which he should have replied “I know nothing about astrology to comment”, now if they asked him about astronomy, then your science teacher analogy would stand. He clearly does not understand astrology.

    “But those articles where misrepresenting the original article, yet you clearly blamed the astronomer for those articles even though he had no hand in them.”

    Quote me please where I said that. I blame the astronomer for misleading how the zodiac is calculated and what it means, in particular, the notion that your sun signs are now wrong due to precession – incorrect and worthy of the criticism I’ve placed to him.

    “The whole point is that the “4 subdivided equally by three” thing is totally arbitrary.”

    Which is not related to precession nor to Ophiuchus.

    “That is the whole point of bring up Ophiuchus, to point out how the whole thing is totally and completely arbitrary.”

    Even though Ophiuchus is not one of the divisions of the zodiac used? Right, it shows how it’s stupidly arbitrary by not having any relationship to astrology whatsoever. Great example you used then.

    “This is only true if we buy your argument that the constellations are only mnemonics, but I think the location of the 12 divisions you put such weight in shows that they are not, thee constellations were used for determining where the divisions should go.”

    What divisions are you referring to though? I’m not clear. Do you mean the cusps between the signs? If so you are still talking about sidereal astrology. Do me a favour and look up how to calculate both and you’ll see that your argument here refers ONLY to sidereal astrology – which does not use sun signs like the astronomers and the articles referred to.

    “If it is just divisions of a circle and has nothing to do with the constellations, why are the cuts so clean between the constellations? The reason, of course, is because the divisions were designed to be between the constellations wherever possible. So the constellations are critical to the layout of the zodiac.”

    See above. I’ve not ignored your comment, I’ve refuted it so many times that after a while I bore myself repeating myself. In nearly every post I’ve made here I’ve explained HOW the constellations are irrelevant. Look it up. You seem to think that the ‘divisions’ are ‘clean’ and so close to them etc. When actually they’re nothing of the sort. For example the sun is in virgo the constellation for 6 weeks, Scorpio for less than a week. One is roughly 6 times larger than the other. On the other hand tropical signs ALL last roughly 4 weeks. How can you actually argue that they’re clean and similar when one 6 times longer than another?

    “I am saying the 12 regular divisions of the circle were set to avoid cutting up the constellations”

    In which case I’m right, you ARE confusing them.

    “but are instead the guides used in determining where the divisions should go”

    So explain to me what formulae or methods are employed which directly utilise them in the formation of the tropical zodiac that the articles and the astronomer were referring to? Tell me what the formula or logic is? Ooops that’s right, it’s nothing related whatsoever. Am I wrong? Prove me wrong.

  183. TheBlackCat

    “Did you miss the part where the newspaper approached him to ask about astrology? ”

    To which he should have replied “I know nothing about astrology to comment”, now if they asked him about astronomy, then your science teacher analogy would stand. He clearly does not understand astrology.

    This was in response to your accusation that this was a publicity stunt on the part of the astronomer.

    “But those articles where misrepresenting the original article, yet you clearly blamed the astronomer for those articles even though he had no hand in them.”

    Quote me please where I said that.

    How about here:

    I’m not discussing or arguing how astrology might work, what’s under discussion here is the poor science and basic poor astronomy that underpins the fallacious logic used in these articles regarding precession and ophiuchus. Firstly precession does not in any way relate to Ophiuchus, secondly Ophiuchus is not new, thirdly unless a circle has expanded to 390 degrees there can be no other zodiac signs, and lastly precession has been known about to astrologers since before the birth of christ.

    Conclusion: these articles are embarrassingly inaccurate and nothing new whatsoever. It seems like a cheap publicity trick on the part of the astronomer.

    You are clearly holding the astronomer responsible for the articles.

    “That is the whole point of bring up Ophiuchus, to point out how the whole thing is totally and completely arbitrary.”

    Even though Ophiuchus is not one of the divisions of the zodiac used? Right, it shows how it’s stupidly arbitrary by not having any relationship to astrology whatsoever. Great example you used then.

    My point is that the decision to not make a division for Ophiuchus is arbitrary.

    You are making it seem like the 12 divisions is based on some invariant law of nature. The whole point is that it isn’t, it is a totally arbitrary decision.

    “This is only true if we buy your argument that the constellations are only mnemonics, but I think the location of the 12 divisions you put such weight in shows that they are not, thee constellations were used for determining where the divisions should go.”

    What divisions are you referring to though? I’m not clear.

    The divisions you were talking about in the quote directly above that sentence. Usually, when I quote something and then put text directly below the quote, the text is intended to address the quote. You only mention one sort of division in the section I quoted.

    “but are instead the guides used in determining where the divisions should go”

    So explain to me what formulae or methods are employed which directly utilise them in the formation of the tropical zodiac that the articles and the astronomer were referring to? Tell me what the formula or logic is? Ooops that’s right, it’s nothing related whatsoever. Am I wrong? Prove me wrong.

    Logic, it is just a matter of rotating the circle to minimize the places where a constellation is divided into pieces. It is not that hard. Just look at a map of where the divisions were and where the constellations were at the time, the divisions fall between constellations in almost all cases, including cases where the constellations are extremely close to each other.

  184. Martha

    Paul, it really seems to stick in your craw that when a reporter had a question about space he went to an astronomer. Well when reporter has a question about people coming down with the flu the reporter does not go to a homeopath, but instead goes to a real doctor.

    There has been a information about Ohpiuchus for some time including a Youtube video by Bill Nye.

    Another approach that Paul may want to think about before you try to dismiss this recent news story is that some astrologers are going to cash-in and offer to make new charts for people using 13 zodiac signs. I already saw one advertisement for that this morning. I know, I know you will say that these are not “real” astrologers, but is hard to say there can be real astrologers since astrology itself is not real

  185. Matt T

    You know, Paul, it’s pretty galling to be told that we’re not listening and making strawman arguments… by someone who isn’t listening and making strawman arguments. I don’t see how I could have been much clearer about why it’s not valid to compare disagreements in science to the schism in astrology. And in reply, you offer nothing new, or even show any indication that you actually read anything I wrote. All you’ve done is repeat your rhetoric. Let’s try again: it’s. a. false. e. quiv. a. lence. And, again, here’s why: astrology has had centuries to test which variant gives better explanation of observations. And we’re not talking fine details here — for many years the two systems have been an entire sign off. Given how different adjacent signs are supposed to be, either that’s something that should be noticed, or astrology simply doesn’t provide predictive power worth talking about. Arguments in science, on the other hand, take place at the very fringes of our knowledge. There is no argument about, for example, Lamarckian vs Darwinian evolution. There was for a short time, but one made more sense and explained the data better, so the other fell by the wayside. Lord Rutherford’s experiment with gold foil and alpha particles killed the “plum pudding” model of the atom. Astrology, on the other hand, can have two different versions, apparently without anyone being able to notice that one’s right and the other’s wrong.

    “but the zodiac, whether tropical or sidereal, is a division of the ecliptic by 12″
    Ah. So those sidereal astrologers that follow the constellations are not True Scotsmen, I guess. Walter Berg is, apparently, on par with Mary down the road. Out of interest, how is it that you know that constellation-based sidereal astrology is wrong, but you apparently are OK with sidereal astrology (for some people, if not you) as long as it uses 12 30-degree signs?

    “I haven’t said this anywhere – so why bring it up in address to me?”
    Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize we’re following the George W Bush rules of discussion. Perhaps you’d be so kind as to post the list of allowed questions, so we know what we can ask. But under the usual rules of discussion, you’re defending astrology so I’m asking what I consider to be a pertinent question. And, for the record, I never claimed you said it anywhere. This was my question. I’ve raised it twice now, you’ve answered it zero times. So for the third time: doesn’t it suggest a problem if tropical astrology says I’ll meet a tall dark stranger tomorrow, but sidereal doesn’t? (This, BTW, is precisely how disagreements in science are settled.) The fact that this hasn’t been settled casts doubt, in my mind, on both variants. The obvious answer seems to be confirmation bias. Something that your claim “We can only do this ourselves, … I have and stick to Tropical. Others claim to have and stick to Sidereal” only supports.

    “Keep reading”
    I did. That’s why I said “start with”. Seriously, do you actually read what people write? Did you miss the bit about the authors emphasizing the importance of the sun sign? Or does that just prove that the books I’ve read weren’t written by True Astrologers(TM).

    “you would KNOW that Ophiuchus is irrelevant to the tropical zodiac”
    “don’t invent straw men”
    Oh the irony. Please show where I said that Oph. was relevant to the tropical zodiac. What I’ve argued all along is that some use constellations (some of whom include Oph.), some use signs, but despite this utterly fundamental difference nobody seems able to show that one is better than the other.

    I think you’ll also find that BlackCat is not creating a strawman either. She just isn’t buying your argument that the zodiac was *never* about the constellations. For the record, neither am I. For starters, it at least deserves a classic wikipedian “[citation needed]“. More than that, why didn’t other things — say, the houses — get a “mnemonic” also? Presumably because the signs just happened to align very nicely with the constellations… how convenient. I’m certainly willing to accept that tropical astrology has subsequently divorced the signs and constellations, but it seems highly likely that this is a later development. I could be quite wrong about that, but I’d like to see some evidence first. (Funny, that seems to be a bit of a pattern for me.)

  186. Paul - Astrologer

    Matt T

    “t’s pretty galling to be told that we’re not listening and making strawman arguments… by someone who isn’t listening and making strawman arguments.”

    Well I certainly haven’t made any straw man arguments. Who would I have made them against? And I’ve read all your responses to me.

    “And, again, here’s why: astrology has had centuries to test which variant gives better explanation of observations.”

    But I’m not talking about that here. That’s what I was saying earlier, I have no problem with criticisms of astrology: there are many and you are right to make them. The point I’m demonstrating here is that Ophiuchus and precession is not one of them.

    “Given how different adjacent signs are supposed to be, either that’s something that should be noticed, or astrology simply doesn’t provide predictive power worth talking about.”

    That’s something that should be noticed? What do you mean? Are you implying astrologers haven’t noticed the difference or are not aware of it?

    “Astrology, on the other hand, can have two different versions, apparently without anyone being able to notice that one’s right and the other’s wrong.”

    Who doesn’t notice? The astrologers certainly do. But this argument is true of many topics including every single religion and competing theory on the planet. Why the special exception for astrology?

    “So those sidereal astrologers that follow the constellations are not True Scotsmen, I guess. ”

    You must have missed the point. EVEN the sidereal astrologers divide their zodiac by 12.

    “Perhaps you’d be so kind as to post the list of allowed questions”

    Easy the ones relevant to the topic. It’s not difficult. In any debate you don’t just bring up any random point that comes to mind. I’m not discussing anything other than ophiuchus, precession and the content etc of the articles. That you want to discuss other things is fine, maybe someone else will talk about those things with you, but that’s not why I’m posting here. It’s purely to address the Ophiuchus issue.

    “I did. That’s why I said “start with”. Seriously, do you actually read what people write?”

    Excellent, then you’ll be aware of all the branches that show how the signs are primarily descriptive rather than predicitive.

    “Did you miss the bit about the authors emphasizing the importance of the sun sign?”

    Which authors please? Because none of the ones that go deeper into the subject do which is why I said to keep reading. Have you read Ptolemy’s tetrabiblos for example? Or the work of firmicus? Or Bonatti? Or Lilly? Or even the moderns like Greene or Sasportas? Which of these authors emphasises sun signs?

    “Please show where I said that Oph. was relevant to the tropical zodiac.”

    My bad, it might have been another Matt that said it.

    “She just isn’t buying your argument that the zodiac was *never* about the constellations.”

    Nor shoudl she. It isn’t of course what I said. The key word missing is the calculation of TROPICAL astrology is not about the constellations.

    “Presumably because the signs just happened to align very nicely with the constellations… how convenient.”

    Would be convenient if they did. See my response to BlackCat where I demonstrate that they do anything but, one sign is 6 times larger than another for example and absolutely do not line up anywhere near nicely with the constellations.

    “I’m certainly willing to accept that tropical astrology has subsequently divorced the signs and constellations, but it seems highly likely that this is a later development.”

    Well the houses are a later development too, the point I was making was that the “your sign is wrong” stuff is clearly not true, because those astrologers who those comments are aimed toward are using a zodiac that is millennia old that is not affected by precession and ophiuchus and therefore the comment is erroneous. I’m not saying Ophiuchus doesn’t exist as a constellation, just that astrology since at least the hellenistic era makes it irrelevant and the babylonians which preceded them also were aware of ophiuchus and did not use it (perhaps because not all planets would pass through that portion of the ecliptic, which is necessary for a zodiac sign).

  187. Paul - Astrologer

    Martha

    “Paul, it really seems to stick in your craw that when a reporter had a question about space he went to an astronomer.”

    Not at all, if I had a question about space that’s exactly who I would go to. However, if I had a question about astrology I’d go to an astrologer. The astronomer introduced argumetns about astrology that were, in the end, erroneous. It might stick in your craw if a journalist wanted to know about black holes and went to an astrologer.

    “Another approach that Paul may want to think about before you try to dismiss this recent news story is that some astrologers are going to cash-in and offer to make new charts for people using 13 zodiac signs.”

    Which means what? That there are charlatans out there ready to make a quick buck? Is this news worthy? Are we surprised?

    Black Cat

    “You are clearly holding the astronomer responsible for the articles.”

    I hold the astronomer responsible for the fallacious description of the signs and wonder about why an astronomer might do that – a publicity stunt was the first thing that springs to mind. Ultimately we’ll never know.

    “You are making it seem like the 12 divisions is based on some invariant law of nature”

    Actually I’m saying the opposite. I’m accepting the argument that this might be arbitrary. The point is that, for whatever reason, that’s what astrologers do and have always done. Ophiuchus is therefore utterly irrelevant to that.

    “Usually, when I quote something and then put text directly below the quote, the text is intended to address the quote. You only mention one sort of division in the section I quoted.”

    So you might understand my confusion then because the divisions are anything but what you were saying, so I assumed you were talking about some other divisions.

    “Logic, it is just a matter of rotating the circle to minimize the places where a constellation is divided into pieces. It is not that hard. Just look at a map of where the divisions were and where the constellations were at the time, the divisions fall between constellations in almost all cases, including cases where the constellations are extremely close to each other.”

    Please list the constellations that this occurs with. Because actually a great deal of them do not. Some of course do, but then just as many do not. Also how will rotating an equally divided circle improve on anything?
    Again, let’s take Virgo and Leo, Libra and Scorpius, look at the constellations and really tell me that they roughly line up with the signs of the same name. Actually try it. YOu’ll see they’re MILES off.

  188. PY Dude

    Somebody makes a mistake in a geometry proof, and it goes viral that “geometry is bogus.” That is what happened with Western astrology. It never changed for 2000 years and did not factor in the precession of the earth’s axis. But astrology is not Western astrology, any more than geometry is a mistaken proof.
    Most people who use astrology use sidereal astrology. It is based on the scripture of the Vedas, where the language of God was communicated in the stars and planets to describe the life. It is called Vedic astrology and it always has and still does account for the precession.
    The argument agains Vedic astrology is an argument by atheists against religion. Is it possible for people to intuit the true message of God and write the bible? Is it possible for other people to intuit the true message of God and write an astronomically correct system to tell the full story of each individual life? Yes it is, unless you are an atheist, or unless you are prejuduced against a particular religion, namely Hinduism.

  189. Lorena

    I completely understand you. But astrology is fun and sagittarius rules! :D Weird thing: my 3 best friends and I, are all from fire signs: leo, aries and sagittarius. Coincidence?? :D :D :D

  190. Merle

    John Paradox wrote: I remember years ago, I read an astrology book that insisted that there should be 14 (?) signs, adding both Ophiuchus and Cetus, The Whale.

    Don’t tell anybody… but yes. according to the Starry Night planetarium software I use, the Sun grazes Cetus for about 13.5 hours on March 27th – 28th each year. The Sun is also VERY close to Orion on June 19-21 (less than the moons diameter). According to the software, by 4300AD the Sun will begin grazing Orion and around 6500AD the Sun will be “officially” within the constellation Orion between Aug. 18 – 21. Now, by that time, Polaris would have long since vacated the north celestial pole and will reside nearly 24 degrees from it’s current prominent position. I’d love to be around when the 15 signs of the zodiac are “announced” ;-)

    Now, from the “devil’s advocate” position… simply change the constellation boundaries and it will be 12 zodiac constellations forever :-)

    Clear Skies,
    Merle

  191. Ema Nymton

    Wow, Paul-Astrologer, thanks for clearing things up for me.

    I’ve always just kinda assumed that Astrologers were morons. Now, being able to read posts from a real one, I have proof that they are.

  192. Skiznot

    @Gia – I know the woman personally. She was told at a young age by people around her that she was un-marriageable because no man would want to put his mother at risk. Yes India has lots of religion related problems. This is one example of an Astrology related problem. If you think there’s no h arm in it, go tell a teen girl that it is written in the stars that she will never marry.

    I know that women get C – sections for lots of reasons. I was speaking specifically of a rise in c-sections for the sole purpose of improving their child’s Astrology. That is not a good reason in my book. Saying I want control reproductive rights is attacking me for something I did not suggest in any way. I only mean that getting surgery to decide the day of your child’s birth seems irresponsible and dangerous to me. Maybe C-sections are totally safe and should be the way to go for everyone if they are so safe; I’m not a Doctor so I can’t speak to that. My point again: It’s mostly harmless nonsense but CAN be harmful.

  193. Mike

    Any chance we could get that on a t-shirt? :)

  194. Anonymous

    It is true that astrology has a lot of nonsense (I also do not believe astrology; you must remember this when reading this message). The other “Bad Astronomy” article about astrology says it much better than this. However, the constellations not lining up is not a good reason. The twelve signs of the zodiac are simply a way to measure the angles of ecliplic longitude; they are named after twelve constellations but have nothing to do with them. Instead of 0 degrees it is called “Aries” and instead of 180 degrees it is called “Libra”. Instead of having 360 degrees they have 12 signs (meaning each sign is 30 degrees, since that goes into 360). It has nothing to do with constellations. If they say the Sun or Moon is a “planet”, it just means that they mean something else by the word “planet” than by what it is in astronomy. In fact, from plotting a horoscope there are a few things you can determine correctly: solar and lunar eclipses, phase of moon, date of Chinese New Year, time of solar noon, equinoxes and solstices, etc. There are proper ways to call astrology bad and stupid (and I would agree with you if you did it properly); but saying the constellations don’t match is the wrong way to do so.

  195. ClaudeA

    While it is true that Astrology is a hoax, it is also true that the likes of Tim Farley, and James Randi, and one, Stephen Barrett, who purport to render Truth and nothing but Truth on their respective places of venue, are filled to overflowing with twisted, purposefully misleading information.

    One thing we know about those who desire to wrest our separate governments out of citizens’ hands and control to form a global order, is that they use tactics to appear to be at odds with other groups in their global organization, using these contrived disagreements to foment discord, and ensuing weakness and inattention, which then they use to swoop in and take control away from legitimate government authorities.

    Well, they will have a short-lived “success.” Earth will have a short-lived global control body. But, pawns like the “Dr. Barrett”s and “Tim Farley”s will find themselves cast out and down as used expendables when their services to deceive and mis-dis-inform result in the global coup.

    What we who use the Internet must do is look directly at that “Little Man” behind the silly curtain, and determine what and who “he” is puppet-stringed to, and who is pulling what strings that each puppet, like the defunct u.s. president in current office, appears to be interested in.

    Stupid zombies we have become as these persons carry out their camouflaged agendas to confuse, defuse, and eradicate our freedom from our lives, by lumping control of all media under their control, including the Internet.

    They programmed “We the Sheeple” to believe their media could not ell a lie, even as it is now nothing but lies, and they are now engaged to do the very same thing with their Internet.

    What will they contaminate next? Or, will it be unnecessary, because it is too late to see the Truth?

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