Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ophiuchus - The Thirteenth Sign of Zodiac

Kepler's drawing of Ophiuchus from his book "De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii" indicating the location of the 1604 supernova

"Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." - William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar

Parke Kunkle, an astronomy professor at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a board member of the Minnesota Planetary Society, caused more commotion than he could ever imagine when he recently told a Star Tribune of Minneapolis journalist that Earth's wobbly orbit caused a shift in the alignment of our planet with the stars. This means that the Earth is no longer aligned with the stars in the same way as when the signs of the zodiac were first conceived by the Babylonians some three thousand years ago. 

This message stirred the entire astrological community. But the astronomers were aware of the wobble in the Earth's orbit already around 130 B.C. and Kunkle wonders about the whole hype: "This is not new news. I have no idea why it went viral this time. Almost every astronomy class talks about it." 

"When (astrologers) say that the sun is in Pisces, it's really not in Pisces," he said. This phenomenon occurs as a result of something called “precession”. Precession is caused by the wobble of the Earth which affects how we see the distinctive patterns in the night sky.

Since the astrological sign is determined by the position of the sun on the day one was born,  this would mean that everything we thought we knew about our horoscopes was incorrect. And while some of us couldn't care less, many people who decided to order their affairs around the astrological predictions find this very problematic. 

Shelley Ackerman, an astrologer and spokeswoman for American Federation of Astrologers, said she's been swamped with e-mails from worried clients whose signs would change under the new system. She advises her clients not to overreact.

"This doesn't change your chart at all. I'm not about to use it," she said. "I've told all of them not to worry about it. Every few years a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it'll go away as quickly as it came."

Ms. Ackerman said there are an infinite number of ways to divide the constellations, and that scientists are continually discovering new stars or a new solar system. Astrologers don't change their systems for every new change, she said.

"Just as in medicine when there are new discoveries you don't change the entire system, you just work with it to see if and where it fits into existing system," she said.

Many people may be unaware of the fact that a similar "shift" already occurred once, namely, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in place of the Julian one. The Gregorian calendar was first proposed by the Pope Gregory XIII who issued a papal bull in 1582. The previously used Julian calendar became more and more inaccurate. Because the calendar was incorrectly determining the date of the Easter, Pope Gregory XIII decided to reform the calendar in such a way that the Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurred around the Vernal Equinox. Due to this adjustment the Sun would enter let say the Gemini constellation in July - a month normally dedicated to Cancer. The astrologers did not make any adjustments there.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kunkle enjoys answering all the phone calls he now receives from journalists all over the world. He hopes that maybe this would spark interest in the science of astronomy. This may happen, but right now millions of people are concerned about their fate. There is no mass hysteria yet, but many people seem to be either angry or confused, because their sign has shifted and a thirteenth sign of the Zodiac has been added to the astrological calendar.

According to the current astrological principles, the Sun travels directly from the constellation Scorpius to the constellation of Sagittarius. But in reality, the Sun enters the star constellation Ophiuchus before entering Sagittarius. This fact creates the astrological necessity of a new sign in the Zodiac - the sign of Ophiuchus the Serpent Holder. The astronomically correct astrologers were probably aware of this necessity long ago, but used the traditional twelve-signs system for the sake of symmetry or convenience.

In astronomy and astrology the Zodiac is defined as the belt of starry constellations through which the Sun, the Moon and the planets seem to travel. But the number of constellations that were defined under that very ancient scheme was not twelve. It was actually thirteen.

Ophiuchus did not appear out of nowhere. It is and has always been the thirteenth constellation on the Zodiac belt, but nobody has ever wanted to include it in the astrological manuals. The reason for it may have lied in the simple fact that there were only twelve months in the year, but probably also in a deep rooted superstition against the number thirteen. Thirteen is a feminine number associated with the Moon in the occult work. Its dark symbolism can be traced to the Norse myth in which an honorary banquet was held in Valhalla for Baldur, the God of Nobility, Redemption and Admirable Strength. The twelve Norse gods were paid an unexpected visit by Loki The Trickster who came to the banquet as an uninvited thirteenth guest.

The omission of Ophiuchus throws some light on the whole unscientific process of devising horoscopes by the astrologers who assure their clients that not only their fate, but also their psychological traits depend on the configuration of the stars and the planets in the sky. What if you were born under Ophiuchus, but you wrongly believed that you were Sagittarius? Would this new knowledge suddenly change who you are? Would you suddenly discover personality traits you never knew you had?

Ophiuchus is a large constellation located around the celestial equator and is traditionally represented by a man grasping a serpent. The name "Ophiuchus" derives from two Greek words: ophis - serpent and ekhein - to hold, have, keep.

Ophiuchus was one of the forty eight constellations listed by the second-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the eighty eight constellations known to us today. It was formerly called Serpentarius - a Latin word with the same meaning as Ophiuchus.

The Ophiuchus constellation is located between Aquila, Serpens and Hercules, northwest of the center of the Milky Way. The southern part lies between Scorpius to the west and Sagittarius to the east. It is best visible in the Northern sky during Summer when it appears opposite to Orion. The constellation Serpens is divided into two parts - the Serpens Caput and the Serpens Cauda.

As every other constellation known to the Greeks, Ophiuchus received its share of drama. It took its storyline directly from the Greek myth about the healer Aesclepius who was trying to revive Orion The Hunter and who was struck and killed in the process by a thunderbolt hurled at him by Zeus. Hades, the God of the Underworld, was alarmed that Aesclepius' ability to revive the dead would soon put him out of business. He prevailed upon his brother Zeus to intervene in the matter. Zeus who also was afraid that Aesclepius was capable of making the whole human race immortal, complied with his brother's request and delivered the deadly blow. Later on Zeus placed the image of Aesclepius in the heavens to honor the healers good deeds. Aesclepius was venerated by the Greeks as the God of Healing and Medicine.

Scientists decided to restore the Zodiac to its correct form and include the constellation of Ophiuchus. Astrologers will now have to adapt their charts to the new system. The astrological signs will shift accordingly. Moreover, the astrologists will have to develop the whole new set of traits, fortunes and misfortunes for the people who were born under the sign of Ophiuchus.

Here is where the real signs of the Zodiac should fall:

Aries = April 19th - May 13th
Taurus = May 14th - June 19th
Gemini = June 20th - July 20th
Cancer = July 21st - August 9th
Leo = August 10th - September 15th
Virgo = September 16th - October 30th
Libra = October 31st - November 22nd
Scorpio = November 23rd - November 29th
Ophiuchus = November 30th - December 17th
Sagittarius = December 18th - January 18th
Capricorn = January 19th - February 15th
Aquarius = February 16th - March 11th
Pisces = March 12th - April 18th

For many people life will never be the same. The whole existing astrological literature became obsolete not because it is unscientific, but because the whole system does not reflect the real picture in the sky. For the sake of simple convenience, it actually never did.

By Dominique Allmon ©2011