Did NASA really introduce the thirteenth zodiac sign?

The Ukrainian news agencies and social media have been abuzz with sensational news: NASA has introduced the thirteenth zodiac sign — Ophiuchus. This has supposedly changed the signs for 80% of people. Let’s clarify what’s really going on with this news.

Тринадцятий знак зодіаку — Змієносець
The thirteenth zodiac sign is Ophiuchus. Source: lovethenightsky.com

The Difference between Astronomy and Astrology

On the evening of September 5th, social media in Ukraine started spreading reports that NASA had introduced a 13th zodiac sign — Ophiuchus. Consequently, this change presumably affected the fate of majority of people.

This was caused by an article on the spaceplace.nasa.gov website that explained constellations to children. In this article, there was a diagram illustrating how the Sun moves from one constellation to another over the course of a year. It showed the Ophiuchus constellation and the dates when our Sun is in it. It also explained the difference between astronomy and astrology.

Astronomy is the scientific study of everything in outer space. Astronomers and other scientists study stars and galaxies, most of which are located at distances of many light-years. The study of the scientific properties of these celestial objects helps us understand how the universe came into being, what else might exist in it, and how we fit into it. As a science, astronomy follows the scientific process, which involves evidence and data.

Зображення з сайту spaceplace.nasa.gov, через яке здійнявся галас
Image from the spaceplace.nasa.gov website, which caused a commotion

Astrology, on the other hand, is not the same as astronomy. It is based on the belief that the positions of certain stars and planets in the sky can predict the future or describe a person’s character. Although astrology is important to some cultural traditions, its claims are not based on scientific evidence.

NASA is a scientific organization that deals exclusively with astronomy and has no connection to astrology. Therefore, everything related to the Ophiuchus constellation is described solely from the perspective of the Sun’s and the stars’ movement in the sky. However, for some reason, people decided that NASA is now engaged in fortunetelling.

A Zodiac Sign and a Constellation

The main problem here is that people confuse the concepts of “zodiac sign” and “zodiacal constellation.” The former exists only in astrology, while the latter is used by both astrologers and astronomers. Meanwhile the astrologers equate them. They claim that the time of year a person is born affects their destiny. However, their calculations cannot accurately determine whether the Sun was actually in that constellation at that time, nor do they seem to care about that.

The detailed explanation for why this happened can be found in these informational cards. In short, astrologers’ calculations were too approximate and outdated to accurately predict the real positions of celestial bodies.

Stellar map showing the path of the ecliptic through the constellation Ophiuchus. Source: Wikipedia.

As for Ophiuchus as a zodiac sign, its inclusion or exclusion is a matter that concerns only astrologers and those who believe in astrology. Discussions about it have been ongoing since the 1970s, and it even has its own symbol. Some astrological schools support this idea, while others do not. Science cannot influence this matter in any way.

Where Did Ophiuchus Come From?

The answer to the question of where Ophiuchus came from is paradoxical for those unfamiliar with astronomy. This constellation has always existed. At least, it was already known to Claudius Ptolemy, who compiled one of the first star atlases two thousand years ago. The ancient Greeks saw in this celestial figure the god of healing, Asclepius. It is from his staff, that the symbol of snakes has “crawled” onto the emblems of doctors worldwide.

Змієносець в атласі Яна Гевелія (XVII століття)
Ophiuchus in Johannes Hevelius’s star atlas (17th century)

As for the fact that the Sun’s path crosses through Ophiuchus, people have known this for centuries. Since 1922, after internationally recognized boundaries for constellations in the sky were established, Ophiuchus can rightfully be considered part of the zodiac from an astronomical point of view. So, NASA didn’t really announce anything that hasn’t been known for decades, and certainly didn’t introduce any “new signs.”