The astronomy behind Ophiuchus: The new sign

January 13, 2011. The day astrological signs were magically re-evaluated. I read many rumors floating around Facebook status updates about this. “If you’re born after 2009, it doesn’t apply to you”, or “How could I be a stupid Ophiuchus?”, or, my personal favorite, “My world has been rocked!” A nearly 3,000-year-old practice magically changed, at least to most Americans. Ophiuchus was introduced to the everyday astrologer. However, according to director of the planetarium director Dr. Andy Puckett, “there is no ‘news’ here”.

While this may be “no ‘news’” to educated astronomers (not to be confused with astrologers – one is a serious profession while one is more of a hobby), those of us who blindly follow our horoscope could learn a few things. Puckett said that there are TWO forms of astrology: Western (Tropical) and Hindu (Sidereal).

While Sidereal astrology considers Ophiuchus, Tropical signs were pinned down to dates and ignored the sign altogether. This was done when some ancient astrologers realized that “precession was going to make their convenient approximation too complicated”, according to Puckett. Most Americans rely on the Tropical signs today.  They are the horoscopes traditionally published online, in magazines and in newspapers.

Puckett explained why Western and Sidereal horoscopes diverged from one another. When precession was discovered to complicated astrologers approximations, “they just ignored precession entirely.  So at that point, Western astrologers stopped pegging the positions of their signs to the stars, and started fixing them to dates of the year”.

“The reason for the change is called the Precession of the Equinoxes, or Axial Precession” Puckett said. He explained this process to me by comparing the rotation of the earth as ”spinning like a top, but it’s like a top that’s trying to fall over”. It turns out Earth is a top that makes one full rotation every 26,000 years.

The news revealed by a Minneapolis astronomer that shook the lives of astrology-followers nationwide has been known since 130 BCE when astronomer Hipparchus first noticed the precession. Dr. Puckett also revealed that Ophiuchus has been around since astrology’s beginnings, but was “ignored there on the Sun’s path”.

It was slightly uplifting when Dr. Puckett noted that this was nothing new. “If I’d have realized that saying it loudly on the internet could’ve gotten me national press, I would’ve done it myself a long time ago”, Puckett said.

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This is article starting to look like a Dan Brown book, delving into ancient knowledge and their symbols, and society’s angry and violent reaction to old news. While we’re in the genre, I may as well say it: Dr. Puckett also assured me that “the world will not end in 2012; the Mayans just ran out of space on their calendar.”

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