A New Zodiac?
By Calvin L. Chrisman
Since some news stories earlier this year, some people want to know whether their “sign” has changed. This can get a little confusing, but your zodiacal sign is something that is used in astrology and is based on the Sun’s position in the month of your birth. Astrology is a pseudo science not to be confused with the actual science of Astronomy. Both make reference to the zodiac and to the Sun’s path across the sky which leads to some fuzzy definitions and confusion. Let’s see if we can get it figured out.
Astrologers believe that the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars can affect personality and daily events; thus, the folks that check their horoscope to decide if it is safe the get out of bed. This is akin to the baseball fan who wears the same lucky tee shirt for days on end to help his or her team win the World Series. It’s not very effective but it can be fun.
Astrology has divided the sky into twelve areas of roughly thirty degrees each and assigned each the name of a constellation. This is referred to as the zodiac, which is Greek for “circle of animals.” These groupings follow the path that the Sun and, roughly, the Moon and planets take across the sky over the course of a year. This path is called the ecliptic. Theoretically, your “sign” is determined by the position of the Sun in the zodiac at the time of your birth. Actually, it had been commonly determined by where the Sun was on the date of your birth less about 2,000 years. This was about when ancient Greek astrologers/astronomers regularized the zodiac.
The recent hubbub occurred when an astronomer in Minnesota mentioned in the newspaper, that the position of the Sun in the zodiac changes slowly over the years because the Earth precesses on its axis – i.e. it slowly wobbles like a top. Over the course of about 26,000 years, it will make a complete rotation through the zodiac (the North Star will change from being Polaris to being Vega in about 12,000 years, but that’s a story for another day). This astronomer also mentioned, correctly, that there are actually thirteen constellations in the Zodiac rather than twelve and that they are not evenly spaced at thirty degrees each. Poor Ophiuchus (oh-fee-U-cuss), the Serpent Bearer, got left out entirely and the sizes of the constellations were ignored so that the signs would match with the months of the year.
This news has led to much angst and many questions: Where was the Sun really on my birthday? I was born during the first part of December – am I an Ophiuchus instead of a Sagittarius? The Sun is in Virgo for 44 days, but in Scorpius for only 8 – whose horoscope should I be reading? Where’s my lucky tee shirt?
The best way to deal with this is not to worry! Astronomers have not changed the zodiac and will not do so. This is true for Astrologers as well. If you’ve always considered yourself a Virgo or a Leo, continue to do so. More importantly, go out around 9:00 or 10:00 in the evening and take a look at both of these constellations. They will be in the east and south (Leo almost overhead). They are beautiful and Virgo is currently even more special because it is being visited by Saturn. You might ask yourself why, if Virgo is traditionally assigned to late August and early September, why you can see it now but not then. The answer is that your Zodiacal sign was determined by where the Sun was at that period. In August and September, Virgo is there, behind the Sun but the sky is too bright for you to see it. Take a good look at Virgo and Saturn this month and hold that memory for an early birthday present.