This Just In: Astrology Still Bull$#*+

Exciting news has rocked the world of astrology today.  This is sure to be the biggest thing to happen to astrology since, like, it was discovered that the earth orbits the sun.


There's a new zodiac sign, folks.  It's Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer (or snake charmer, depending on whom you ask).


You see, when the original zodiac was calculated by the International Astrological Union in ages past, it was mistaken.  For one thing, it's gotten a bit off since the earth has wobbled on its axis a skosh.  This sort of thing happens over a period of thousands of years, and the good guys at Hayden Planetarium assure us that it's nothing to worry about.  But in addition to the original charts-by-date being mistaken, the Babylonians (who were obviously Griffindors) refused to include Ophiuchus (obviously a Slytherin).  You see, it doesn't make for a nice mathematically creamy number to have 13 signs.  So they threw Ophiuchus out like yesterday's garbage and blazed forward without him, making such brilliant strides in the empirical science that is astrology.


In fact this news is nothing new either!  Astronomers have actually known about this for decades, perhaps longer!  But it's on the intertubes now, and the news outlets having such a slow news day (what with a funeral for a victim of a shooting that was attended by the President, another victim of the same shooting coming out of a coma, horrendous flooding in Australia and Brazil... there's just nothing to report!) caught wind of this and decided to really mess with John Q. Public's head by announcing the shocking, whirlwind report that astrology just might be arbitrary.


My personal favorite reaction comes from the comments at this report by the Christian Science Monitor.


That's right.  It's meaningless now.


Think you're the only atheist in Maine?  Think again! or follow @CMEAA on Twitter.  Central Maine Atheist Alliance: Wicked good without god since 2010. 



Views: 160

Comment by Lindsey on January 13, 2011 at 11:53pm
Though I never thought I would be saying this, I suddenly feel the urge to defend the CSM author from the morons who commented on the article. Leave it to New Agers to make me take the Christians' side.
Comment by Jon Heim on January 14, 2011 at 12:33am
I'm so NOT surprised by the shock and amazement i've seen regarding people's reactions to this. Its so very hopeless.
Comment by Becca on January 14, 2011 at 12:57am
You just made my day... seriously funny!
Comment by Jon Heim on January 14, 2011 at 1:53am
no doone. unfortunately, everyone I've been talking to about this who actually buys in to this shit still follows it. not only that...but are apparently really freaking shocked and worried over the whole thing. really...people are making a huge deal out of it.
Comment by Kenneth Montville D.D. on January 14, 2011 at 9:04am


Unfortunately, the zodiac the astronomers are referring to is not the tropical zodiac but the sidereal zodiac. The tropical zodiac has little to do with the position of various constellations with relation to the earth and is much more fixed.


However, astrology is still stupid either way.

Comment by Rob Tyler on January 14, 2011 at 10:15am

MILLIONS of people who believe in astrology have been labouring under the wrong star sign, according to the Royal Astronomical Society. Not only are there 13 signs of the zodiac rather than 12, but the dates governing each star are wrong, the heavens having shifted considerably since the zodiac was written more than 2,000 years ago.

Dr Jacqueline Mitton, press officer of the RAS, will put the cat among the astrological pigeons in the third programme of a new series on popular astronomy by the BBC, Heavenly Bodies. In fact, as she freely acknowledges, there is nothing new in the claims. Nor does it make the slightest difference to the credibility of astrology, which she derides.

"Astrology is a load of nonsense, it's hocus-pocus, we don't believe in it," she said yesterday. "I agreed to appear on Heavenly Bodies simply to point out that the signs of the zodiac used by astrologers don't even correspond with reality."

As astrology is not a science, this hardly matters. Astrologers could divide the sky into as many or as few signs as they wanted without affecting the issue. The conventional number is 12, roughly corresponding to 12 groups of stars visible to the naked eye and known as constellations. Those which have given their names to the signs of the zodiac lie on the ecliptic, the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. This means that the path of the Sun across the sky, which follows the plane of the ecliptic, passes through the 12 constellations in turn.

There are many other constellations, 29 between the ecliptic and the north celestial pole, and 46 between the ecliptic and the south celestial pole. In addition, there is a 13th constellation on the ecliptic, Ophiuchus, which is not one of the zodiac signs.

Not surprisingly, Doris Chase Doane, president of the American Federation of Astrologers Inc, rejects the RSA findings. "I don't believe it," she said. "There are 12 signs in the zodiac. Ophiuchus might have to do with the constellations, but it has nothing to do with the zodiac. There's an entirely different viewpoint between the astronomical and the astrological."

The names of the zodiac signs are ancient. The Babylonian zodiac had 18 signs, but it is easier to divide the 360 degree circle into 12 divisions, and these were certainly established by about 500 BC. At the beginning, the dates for each sign were chosen to be the period during which the Sun appeared in the different constellations, but since then the direction of the Earth's axis has shifted.

This has caused the stars' position to shift in relation to our calendar, so that the dates attributed to each star sign are no longer correct. Again, there is nothing new in this: textbooks of astrology make it clear that the process, called the precession of the equinoxes, has detached the constellations from the dates conventionally attached to them.

To astrologers this makes no difference. Their horoscopes are cast on the basis of the relevant segment of the sky, not the constellations that are supposed to appear within them. But people who follow newspaper horoscopes may be surprised to discover that their birth dates do not correspond to the actual position of the "star sign" in the sky.


The above taken from The Times (of London), January 21, 1995. Back in the days before the web took off,  when something could be all over the British newspapers (and seriously, this was HUGE "news" in all the papers, even the serious ones - like The Times) without making the slightest ripple anywhere else. I wish I could say I'm surprised this non-stpry has rolled round again but the sad truth is that I've been expecting it for ages, so low is my opinion of the general public. Anyway, here's a bit more, an extract from an article in The Guardian, 16 February 1996:


Orchestrated by Pluto, the BBC, and the glorious planet Sol, that debate began three weeks ago, in pre-publicity for a television programme called Heavenly Bodies. In one programme, an astronomer, Dr Jacqueline Mitton, explains the phenomenon of precession with the fact that our ancient astrological signs, which once corresponded to the constellations behind the sun, have all slipped round by one complete sign. Anyone born in Aries, for example, might like to know that the Sun is actually in Pisces on her birthday.

"It was a throwaway joke line really," says Dr Mitton. "It was drawing on people's familiarity with the zodiac signs and relating that to the real sky and the real constellations." She was aware that precession is hardly a world exclusive: the phenomenon caused its first sensation around 2,000 years ago. But Hendrik Ball, producer of Heavenly Bodies, realised that the public might still be flustered by its implications. He asked Mitton to work out detailed dates for the "new", revised star signs including Ophiuchus, a constellation omitted from the conventional, stylised Zodiac. Her findings were presented to Roger Highfield, science editor of the Daily Telegraph, who duly reminded his readers that astrology was nonsense, bunkum and claptrap.

The ensuing public dismay far exceeded the BBC's expectations. Until January horoscope readers had evidently shared Ulysses' conviction that the heavens themselves observe degree, priority and place. "But when the planets In evil mixture to disorder wander, What plagues and portents, what mutiny, What raging of the sea, shaking of earth, Commmotion in the Winds!". When the gullible are torn from their star signs, what turbulence in the tabloids! What conniptions on Kilroy!

Professional astrologers were besieged by calls from anxious clients demanding to know if they had been misled and asking what their "real" sign was. "This is just so crass," sighs Christeen Skinner, a full-time astrologer who says she's sick to death of explaining it. "The less intelligent people were really desperately confused."


The jokes write themselves. Last clipping from The Times again, this time the letters page from January 24 1995:


From Dr PatrickMoore, FRAS

Sir, May I put the astrological record straight, please. I cannot understand why we are hearing all this nonsense about a new zodiacal sign (report, January 21).

The facts have been known for many centuries, and there is nothing new in this. The constellation patterns are meaningless, since a constellation is made up of chance alignments of stars at very different distances from us; there is no real connection between them.

We happen to use the patterns given by the Greeks. If we had followed, say, the Egyptian patterns we would have had a Cat and a Hippopotamus instead of a Ram and a Bull. We can make up what patterns we like; they mean nothing.

The ecliptic the projection of the Earth's orbit on the sky passes through 13 of the constellations accepted by the International Astronomical Union: the 12 usually regarded as zodiacal, and Ophiuchus, which spreads down across the ecliptic between Scorpius and Sagittarius. But again, this is merely because we have made up these patterns, and in any case the maps of the sky we now use have been unchanged for a very long time.

So I repeat that this is "old hat"; nothing new in it, and of course astrology is in any case the most obvious rubbish.

Yours faithfully, PATRICK MOORE, Selsey, Sussex.

Comment by Rob Tyler on January 14, 2011 at 10:16am
Sorry, that second date should also have been 1995.
Comment by Lisa on January 14, 2011 at 4:28pm
Good news for the tattoo removal business.
Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on January 14, 2011 at 6:08pm

Thanks - I will have so much fun with this. Many moons ago I read out peoples horoscopes in work from the newspaper. Everybody agreed that they were extremely accurate. When I told them I wrote them 10 minutes earlier and read them out randomly I was not believed especially as I hardly knew any of them. Then I showed them my typed up sheet of paper. Only one person saw the funny side. Maybe I was born under a bad sign.

Comment by Rob Tyler on January 14, 2011 at 6:11pm
This has also reminded me of Professor Brian Cox talking about how one of his science programmes offended a bunch of astrological woo-merchants (from about 8.00 to 11.00 in this video):


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