No, NASA Did Not Just ‘Uncover’ the 13th Zodiac Sign

People are freaking out once again after reading reports on how they may have been following the wrong star sign for years. But here's what you really need to know about the 'new' sign.
July 15, 2020, 10:05am
sun sign astrology horoscope constellations
Photo courtesy of Anastasia Dulgier / Unsplash

We’ve all got someone—or are someone—who’ve dedicated a part of their lives to astrology and horoscopes, breaking up with their Gemini partner because how can their stubborn, grounded Taurus selves even deal with all that frenetic energy of the Gemini. They say they can figure out your personality traits just by reading you, talk endlessly about energies and vibes, know what your personal and romantic preferences are, and claim to have known 2020 was going to be fucked up before it had even started.

But, there's drama in the astrology world, and turns out it is about blog posts and news pieces talking about the discovery and insertion of a new constellation, set to shake up the zodiac as we know it.

A four-year-old post from NASA that comes to haunt us once every few months is going around on Twitter and news sites. Again. All headlines basically talk about how NASA has "uncovered a new horoscope" and "what we follow may be completely wrong". And what follows is a chart talking about the “new” zodiac, inserting Ophiuchus (pronounced oh-few-cuss), before Sagittarius—from the end of November to the middle of December.

And, honestly, it is time we stop.

Why? Because firstly, as you can already see, it is not new. It is a post from January 2016 on NASA Space Place—its science blog for kids. The blog itself is a worthwhile read that explains constellations and why we are so attached to mere arrangements of stars. But what is more worthwhile to consider is how some astrology enthusiasts got their hands on it four years ago and have since then made Ophiuchus a recurring annoyance.

Secondly, this discovery and “uncovering” is not new. And has definitely not been done by NASA. The Babylonians 3,000 years ago had already called their dibs on it. As the blog post itself says, “According to the Babylonians' own ancient stories, there were 13 constellations in the zodiac.”

Zodiacs came to be because the Babylonians divided the sky into 12 different parts (or as they say these days, pictured the sky as a cake and divided it into 12 slices). Because the Earth orbited the Sun, it would appear that the sun was passing through each of the 12 constellations. And so the constellation it would be passing through the time you were born would become your zodiac (or your sun sign). They picked 12 different constellations because it was convenient, even though they knew about the existence of the 13th one i.e. Ophiuchus. The Babylonians already had a 12-month calendar based on the phases of the moon—each month got a part of these 12 zodiacs to itself.

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In reality, though, there aren’t just 13 constellations in the sky. Some cultures, as even the blog post says, believed in the existence of as many as 24. So, why is Ophiuchus treated like a prodigal son every few months? The biggest reason is that Ophiuchus is the biggest of the ignored constellations and takes up quite a bit of celestial space—so much that the sun, in fact, spends more time in Ophiuchus than Scorpius.

And as far as the change of the zodiac is concerned, it is purely because of Earth’s wobbly axis. In simple words, it means the skies have shifted and none of the constellations are in the same place they were all those years ago. So, 3,000 years ago, a birthday between about July 23 and August 22 meant being born under the constellation Leo. Now, if you look at it astronomically, it would probably be under Cancer. Funnily enough, this astronomical bit is what the NASA post was trying to say when it said our zodiacs would've changed.

There’s no explanation why we see the astrology communities going hysterical every few months over Ophiuchus, when multiple people have already debunked it. It probably has a lot to do with our goldfish-like memories and even shorter attention spans. And the one person who keeps bringing it back. But really though, whoever is responsible, please stop trying to scare astrology nerds and make them feel like everything they’ve hinged their lives on was false.

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