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NASA isn't messing with your zodiac sign. Everybody calm down

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

The fault in our stars - presented by NASA and misrepresented by most of global media. That practically sums up the recent fiasco around how NASA allegedly tried to tinker with zodiac signs - in the process spreading a wave of fear among staunch believers of astrology. But as things soon came to light, NASA isn't really keen what zodiac you are from. It was simply a(nother) case of non-news getting picked up without basic cross-checking of facts.

It started with news last week that NASA had decided to update the astrological signs for the first time in 2,000 years. Panic followed because people assumed, based on the re-arranged zodiacs, that 86 percent of us would henceforth have a different star sign. The list of rearranged star signs was duly carried too:

Capricorn: Jan 20 - Feb 16

Aquarius: Feb 16 - March 11

Pisces: March 11 - April 18

Aries: April 18 - May 13

Taurus: May 13 - June 21

Gemini: June 21 - July 20

Cancer: July 20 - Aug 10

Leo: Aug 10 - Sept 16

Virgo: Sept 16 - Oct 30

Libra: Oct 30 - Nov 23

Scorpio: Nov 23 - Nov 29

Ophiuchus: Nov 29 - Dec 17

Sagittarius: Dec 17 - Jan 20

File Photo

Rumour has it

One of the original news sources for the hoax, Cosmopolitan UK, also reported that, "NASA sneakily added a 13th zodiac sign a while back, like it's no big thing. WELL. IT. IS." The piece also offers a more detailed explanation:

"If you want to get all technical about it, the reason for this radical change is down to the fact that the sky today is extremely different to how it was thousands of years ago, which makes sense. And because Earth's axis no longer points in the same direction, our astrological signs are about a month out."

Soon, Yahoo, AOL and others carried the alarmist piece as well. Most of these publications used one particular source - the NASA web page no less, to establish their claims. Yahoo chose to quote this particular paragraph from the NASA page:

"The constellations are different sizes and shapes, so the Sun spends different lengths of time lined up with each one... The line from Earth through the Sun points to Virgo for 45 days, but it points to Scorpius for only seven days. To make a tidy match with their 12-month calendar, the Babylonians ignored the fact that the Sun actually moves through 13 constellations, not 12. Then they assigned each of those 12 constellations equal amounts of time. Besides the 12 familiar constellations of the zodiac, the Sun is also aligned with Ophiuchus for about 18 days each year."

The 'source'

However, here's what most publications failed to consider: the website they're quoting from, called "The Space Place", is an educational site where kids can chill with a cartoon Curiosity rover or find out sun spot cookie recipes!

Not just that. The website specifically states - again, through a cartoon - that "Astrology is NOT science!" Under yet another banner headline, there's a banner saying "First Things First: Astrology Is Not Astronomy!"

To really hammer home NASA's stance, here's a paragraph which appears right on top of the page that's served as the 'source' -

Astronomy is the scientific study of everything in outer space. Astronomers and other scientists know that stars many light years away have no effect on the ordinary activities of humans on Earth.

Astrology is something else. It's not science. No one has shown that astrology can be used to predict the future or describe what people are like based only on their birth date.

Myth debunked

As far as the "sneaky" addition of Ophiuchus, the 13th sign is concerned, this Huffington Post article, debunks claims of any secretive agenda pushing for zodiacs, clarifying how Ophiuchus doesn't quite fit the label of a proper zodiac sign to begin with:

Ophiuchus, the so-called 13th sign, was not adopted into Astrology because the sun barely touches the constellation during its path through the Zodiac. It also doesn't fit into the Babylonians' sexagesimal system that is based on 60 and 12 (the same system that gave us 60 minutes in an hour and two sets of 12 hours in a day).

Oh and just so you know, the Huffington Post article was written in 2011 -- so the Ophiuchus angle has cropped up before as well!

Evidently, NASA has no real affinity with astrology and it doesn't seem likely they would be keen on pushing around the zodiac signs just for kicks.

NASA spokesperson Dwayne Brown clarified to Gizmodo that, "NASA studies astronomy not astrology... We didn't change any Zodiac signs, we just did the math. The Space Place article was about how astrology is not astronomy, how it was a relic of ancient history, and pointed out the science and math that did come from observations of the night sky."

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First published: 20 September 2016, 12:45 IST