Amateur astrologer discovers new constellation

By Phil Plait | January 25, 2011 1:00 pm

[This will, I hope, be my last post about astrology for a while. Until and unless, at least, some other nontroversy pops up.]

I post a link to this article without comment, except to say: well done.

But most astrologers reject Kunkle’s claims, convinced that the science of astronomy, and the methodological naturalism it uses to derive facts from detailed observation and reliable mathematical models, can’t say anything about who should marry whom or what lottery numbers they should play.

"You’re right, we can’t do that," said each and every astronomer reached for comment. "That’s not the point."

Tip o’ the equinoctial precession to Jason Goodbody.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Astronomy, Humor

Comments (42)

  1. Daniel J. Andrews

    Not being familiar with that site, I thought it was serious at first, but didn’t take too long before I realized it read like something from the Onion. Good one. I liked the pareidoliascope reference in particular.

  2. idahogie

    Congrats, Jason!

  3. Jason

    There should be a warning on this article, the snark has exceeded the EPA recommended exposure levels for the average person

  4. Sarah

    Brilliant! I love this part:

    “Using an instrument called a pareidoliascope, astrologers are able to perceive otherwise nonexistent patterns created by stars strewn apart by hundreds of light years.”

  5. Carey

    Interesting new tag there, Phil.

  6. Kyle
  7. Keith Bowden

    Bwa-hahahahhaaaa!
    Naturally I posted this on my Facebook page for all my [embarassment] friends who got hysterical over the whole Zodiac shift/Ophiuchus foofaraw. [/embarassment… maybe]

    “Chiicago Dope”? Is that an extreme Wii game? :)

  8. Maria

    Wait wait. The danged cat ate one of the fish?? Which one? This has dire consequences for all Pisces.

  9. JB of Brisbane

    @Keith Bowden #9 – so how many have de-friended you?

  10. stan9fromouterspace

    I had to read the headline a few times before I read it right & my irony subroutine kicked in. Palm to forehead moment. *SPLAT*
    Great article. My favorite bit was: “it is not uncommon for amateur astrologers to happen upon discoveries that significantly contribute to pseudoscience.”

  11. LoboLoco

    Read the article. My favorite bit is this one:

    “His competing claim is that a 13th constellation called Ophiuchus should be included in the zodiac calendar. This has left millions concerned and angry that their lives may have been guided in the wrong direction over all these years.”

    I´d love to see a lawsuit for this wrong “guiding”. :D

  12. Messier Tidy Upper
  13. Snowshoe the Canuck

    Read the article and I am still laughing. After reading a set of exams where 2 students applied the Law of Conservation of Wavelength to Compton scattering, an article designed to be funny came as very welcome.

  14. One of the funniest headlines ever. Pure Jack Benny. Great work, Phil !

  15. Dr_cy_coe

    It’s been my experience that the horoscopes at theonion.com are usually quite helpful, actually. :)

    Aries: Your plans for an exciting weekend will be spoiled when a busybody scientist decides he just has to ask you why you want all that plutonium.

  16. Nigel Depledge
  17. chris j.

    you really must click the link and read the whole thing. brilliant! i love that picture, too.

  18. strahlungsamt

    OK. I have a question for all Astrologers out there.

    In every serious Astrology book, there are long descriptions of what happens when, say, “Mars is in your Fifth House” or something like that. Then there’s conjunctions, oppositions, ascendants, descendants etc etc.

    Questions:

    1. WHO DISCOVERED ALL THIS????

    2. WHEN WAS IT DISCOVERED????

    3. WHERE ARE THE RESEARCH PAPERS????

    I want answers, names, dates, records. “The Ancients” is not an acceptable answer. No mystic babble, just facts. I mean, if this information is so vast and so accurate, somebody has to have researched it sometime.

    Anyone?

  19. Dr Gerard Hammond

    Astrology is not about stars and their influence on our daily lives. It is about female psychology. We can debunk astrology (that’s easy) but I don’t think we can so easily disparage people ( you know which gender I am talking about) to want and hope for any help in decision making.

  20. @Dr G Hammond.

    You are right in that we shouldn’t disparage people for seeking help. But they should turn to close friends or family who are familiar with their situation and might actaully care about them, or experts in their area of concern (medical, psychological, financial, etc).

    We disparage people who turn to astrology because they should know better. We remind ourselves that sometimes they don’t and then we turn our sights on the practitioners of astrology and proceed to rip them a new one.

  21. Dr_cy_coe

    @DrGerard Hammond #21: I think you forgot a smiley face in there somewhere. Or were you being serious?

    Being anxious about the future and looking to get some level of control (in this case through superstition) is not gender-specific, it’s universal – if you’ll excuse the unintentional pun.

  22. Kevin

    hee hee. A “dwarf constallation, or constelloid”. :D

  23. Stoy

    If a newly made-up constellation gives us as much valid information about the future as the ancient ones, does it really qualify as parody?

  24. Snowshoe the Canuck

    If a new (non-existant) constellation works as well as the ancient ones, it MUST show that there are Mysteries Out There That Science Cannot Explain (pat. pending).

  25. Dr. Roger Fleming? “I fear I’m afraid we’re terribly lost, I’m afraid” “Ranger Brad, I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in anything”

  26. fetchbeer

    For some reason this new constellation makes me think of taking the square root of a cat.

  27. kid cool

    I have to confess I read the article all the way through thinking it was a serious article. I thought something was a little strange with the “professional astrologers.” It was reading the related 30 year black hole on the couch that made me realize it is all a joke.

    I don’t know if this speaks poorly of me, or my opinion of astrology that I would think it was serious, but I am definitely amused.

  28. I think the Galaxy Zoo team needs to get crackin’ and make a “Zodiac Zoo” where they put up pictures of stars in the Zodiac and let Citizen Astrologers look for new constellations.

    Imagine the advances we could make in astrology if we harness the power of people on the internet!

  29. @hale-bopp
    Zodiac Zoo — That’s effin’ hilarious!

  30. flip

    As a woman, I feel it is my duty, nay, my birthright, to believe in astrology to its fullest! From now on, I will only speak to people whose suns are in Rigel and their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks!

    … Also, that’s some good satire – referring to the article of course!

  31. Your Name Here

    This little bit of satire sort of reminds me of what I found one day while flipping through my science textbook:

    ‘Using a new type of telescope, you have discovered a new constellation, which you are given the right to name.’

    I don’t think it had anything to do with astrology though.

  32. Gr8GooglyMoogly

    Yawn. I discover new constellations all the time.

  33. Astrology 101

    Strahlungsamt wrote:

    “OK. I have a question for all Astrologers out there.
    In every serious Astrology book, there are long descriptions of what happens when, say, “Mars is in your Fifth House” or something like that. Then there’s conjunctions, oppositions, ascendants, descendants etc etc.
    Questions:
    1. WHO DISCOVERED ALL THIS????
    2. WHEN WAS IT DISCOVERED????
    3. WHERE ARE THE RESEARCH PAPERS????
    I want answers, names, dates, records. “The Ancients” is not an acceptable answer. No mystic babble, just facts. I mean, if this information is so vast and so accurate, somebody has to have researched it sometime.
    Anyone?”

    Western Astrology (as opposed to Vedic or Chinese or other astrologies) was codified by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD with his work the “Tetrabiblos” (or “Quadripartitum” in Latin). Ptolemy was, of course, also the one who transmitted the astronomical knowledge of the ancients who you so decry, with his works the “Almagest”, “Optics”, “Planispherium”, and “Geography”. You see, there was really no separation between astrology and astronomy until just about the time of the Protestant Reformation and the religious challenges of humanism. This was an epic moment for separating the cultural psychology and divinatory aspects of “astrology” from the hard science of “astronomy”. Before that, they were one, and great mathematicians were well-versed in both. Even greats like Copernicus and Kepler participated in astrology. And, by the standards of their times, they were excellent astrologers. Kepler attempted to reform astrology and base it completely on aspect relationships between planets. He was also wise among astrologers by refusing to give his ruling patron (in his case, the Holy Roman Emperor in Prague) astrological predictions, for he feared what would happen in negative scenarios.
    Those who study the ancient astrological texts left by Ptolemy and Dorotheus of Sidon (which both claim to have inherited their art from an old tradition that went back to Egypt), or the further developments of classical astrology in the works of Manilius or Ibn Ezra, will see that over 1500 years ago, people were fully aware of the difference between the sidereal and solar year, and that the ancient world was meticulously mapped in terms of geographic latitude, as well as the heliacal rising and setting of stars and their declinations. They were serious people. It is no wonder that the old teachings of astrology were kept intact by the Arabian scholars after the fall of Rome, to be passed back to Europe in the Renaissance.
    There are many wonderful books about the actual history of astrology in western intellectualism, but one of the good recent one is Benson Bobrick’s.
    To go back to the roots of the split in European thinking about astrology, investigate the difference in thought between Pico della Mirandola and Philip Melanchthon.
    Many of the strongest critiques against astrology have actually been made by theologians and philosophers who are really speaking against divination in general.
    The scientific critique of astrology is somewhat weaker, because astrology makes no claim to abide by the scientific method. Astrology cannot meet the burden of proof that science establishes — just like psychology or sociology, it is a discipline that consists of methodology, not hard demonstrable fact. Also like psychology, it is often proven right, and this is sufficient to establish its relevance, even though it is sometimes wrong as well. Unlike a scientific experiment, astrology can never be repeated in a lab. It is about the divinatory potential of a given moment, and as such is un-replicable, so it can never be sufficiently studied to determine just how wrong or right it truly is.
    It is, however, older than most other intellectual methods on the planet, and should be respected for that.
    By the way, there are many many wonderful research papers and books on astrology. A good place to start looking is http://www.astroamerica.com

  34. Nigel Depledge

    Flip (32) said:

    As a woman, I feel it is my duty, nay, my birthright, to believe in astrology to its fullest! From now on, I will only speak to people whose suns are in Rigel

    Wait, but … Orion not on the ecliptic ….

    and their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks!

    Oh. Right. ;-)

  35. Tony

    Hey, I am a Pisces! Leave my stars alone! Screw up my stars and the next thing you know I won’t be able to predict the winning lottery numbers or if I should eat eggs or cereal in the morning. Of course I can’t do that now anyway, but that is not the point here! Keep your hands off of my stars!

  36. Keith Bowden

    @11. JB of Brisbane
    Surprisingly, none. (Though I wonder if anyone has removed my comments from their walls? lol)

    @35. Astrology 101
    Hahahaha! You typed that with a straight face? Hahahahaa!

  37. flip

    #35, Astrology 101

    You’re right about astrology not being science. But probably not in the way you think.
    PS. Argument from antiquity much?

    #36, Nigel

    I just couldn’t help myself. Dr Gerard’s comment above was too good not to satirise. Even if he is a Poe.

  38. Jon

    Astrology 101:
    “Unlike a scientific experiment, astrology can never be repeated in a lab. It is about the divinatory potential of a given moment, and as such is un-replicable, so it can never be sufficiently studied to determine just how wrong or right it truly is.
    It is, however, older than most other intellectual methods on the planet, and should be respected for that.”
    I have nothing to add to that. Please read your own response with detached eyes and you’ll see all this is a better argument for disproving astrology than proving it.

  39. Jon

    Also, Astrology101, the website http://www.astroamerica.com you direct people to is intent on selling books about, yep, astrology. Do you think they might have a vested interest in propogating such myths? I mean, right near the top is a request for your credit card information! You’ll forgive me if I don’t take that site too seriously as a source of freely disseminated rational information.
    The big problem with the world today is that it’s populated by too many simple, gullible people. Please read some proper science books, Astrology101. Try Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’, for one, very readable and eye-opening, and all eminently provable.

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