Global panic ensued when NASA announced that the star signs changed to include a new, 13th zodiac sign called Ophiuchus. But don’t believe the new zodiac sign hype. You’re still the same astrology sign you’ve always been. Here’s why.
(original publication date: September 2016)
Constellation constipation? The world got its collective knickers in a knot several years ago when NASA published a post claiming that the star signs changed due to the Earth’s wobbling axis and shifting constellations. More recently The Wall Street Journal brought the new zodiac sign subject back to into the headlines. That crept into summer 2020 with sensational headlines about “a new star sign” all over the internet.
While the world’s skeptics and horoscope-haters rejoice, astrologers everywhere know it’s all a cosmic crock—there is not a new zodiac sign.
Here are some fast facts you can use to debunk this astrology drama—and reclaim your rightful title as a Leo, Scorpio or whatever your star sign may be!
1. The constellations have shifted. The zodiac sign dates have not.
Periodically, astronomers will announce “breaking news” that horoscopes aren’t accurate because the constellations have shifted. Or they will announce is a 13th zodiac sign, citing the constellation Ophiuchus (pronounced, “oh-FEW-kuss”) and claiming that the horoscope dates for the zodiac signs have changed.
Here’s an interesting bit of clarification between astronomy and astrology. The actual constellations in relationship to the earth HAVE shifted over the ages. But Western astrology follows a different system called the Tropical Zodiac.
This system uses “artificial” constellations—30-degree segments of a circle that are named after the constellations, but not tied to it. The zodiac dates are based on the apparent path of the Sun, called the ecliptic (pictured), as it moves through these 30-degree zones. Rather than following the movement of the visible stars, Western astrology is based on the apparent path of the Sun as seen from our vantage point on earth. Within that path, astrologers have carved out static zones, and we track the planetary movements against these. That is why there are no new zodiac signs—and the zodiac sign dates remain the same even as the heavens keep shifting.
The NASA star sign changes and new astrology signs would be accurate IF Western astrology was still tied to the position of the constellations. But it’s not.
2. There are actually three different branches of astrology, and the star sign dates change depending on which you use.
There are actually 3 “branches” of astrology, and this is also what adds to the confusion about new astrology dates:
- The Tropical Zodiac—used by Western astrologers—which is based on the seasons and the ecliptic
- The Sidereal Zodiac—used in Vedic astrology, or Jyotish, and IS tied to the constellations
- The Constellational Zodiac—a modern invention that includes the star sign Ophiuchus and the supposed new zodiac dates (the NASA zodiac sign dates)
Pro tip: Most astrologers don’t even consider the Constellation Zodiac, which the NASA star signs would fall under, to be accurate or legitimate astrology. So when you hear someone say that the zodiac signs have changed, they are referring to a whole different system…one that would be accurate if it were based on physics and astronomy.
Related reading: History of Astrology—A Timeline
3. Western astrology is based on the seasons, NOT the constellations.
The Tropical Zodiac is based on the seasons, and begins every year with the Aries pseudo-constellation—or the Aries slice of the zodiac wheel—which is based on the position of the Sun at the Spring Equinox on March 21. The Sun enters Cancer on the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It enters Libra at the Fall Equinox. And it enters Capricorn at the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year. The zodiac sign traits are inspired by the seasons as well.
Bottom line: The signs and the constellations are two entirely different things.
4. The zodiac signs are named after the constellations, but not tied to them.
Further fueling the drama and confusion, the actual zodiac signs ARE named after the constellations. However, the zodiac signs follow 12 fixed segments of the zodiac band pictured above.
In second century Alexandria, the great mathematician and astronomer/astrologer Ptolemy created the Tropical Zodiac, which is a fixed system that is not affected by changes in the constellations or the Earth’s axis. Ptolemy used the same names for the zodiac signs as he did for the constellations, which is why there is confusion around the birth date ranges.
The Tropical Zodiac is static and not affected by shifts in the Earth’s axis. It follows the procession of the Equinoxes and the seasons. The Tropical Zodiac begins every year with the Aries pseudo-constellation, which is based on the position of the Sun at the spring equinox on March 21. Western astrology follows these zodiac sign dates, which correspond to the Tropical zodiac.
In ancient Babylonian times, when the 12 zodiac signs were first named, they DID line up with the physical constellations. But Ptolemy updated this system and gave us the one we use now. So just because the constellations have shifted, the the zodiac signs haven’t.
Fun fact: The word zodiac comes from the Greek term zodiakos kuklos, which means “circle of animals,” referring to the animals that symbolize the astrology star signs in the Tropical zodiac.
Bottom line: The zodiac signs and the constellations are two entirely different things.
5. Ophiuchus has been around for over 3,000 years.
Astronomers pull this 13th/ new zodiac sign change every couple years—and through the grapevine, it gets billed as the “discovery” of a new star system. Or, as in the NASA SpacePlace post that started this latest pandemonium, they refer back to the ancient Babylonians, whose system we no longer use (but are inspired by).
According to astronomers, the Ophiuchus sign dates would fall between November 29 and December 17. In fact, we ourselves would be born during the Ophiuchus zodiac cycle (our birthday is December 2). However, since there is no Ophiuchus star sign in the Tropical zodiac, we remain proud #Sagittarians4Life.
6. Ophiuchus is only one of 88 constellations!
According to astronomy, there are actually 88 constellations that cover the southern and northern hemispheres of our sky. Thirteen of these constellations—the ones that inspired the names of our 12 zodiac signs AND Ophiuchus—cross into the ecliptic, or the Sun’s apparent path. This is why astronomers and NASA figured they were onto something with this “new horoscope” hoopla.
7. You CAN still have fun channeling the spirit of Ophiuchus (just don’t call it a zodiac sign).
We are all made of stars, so we can channel the mythology of any of the constellations and planets we want. Ophiuchus is Greek for “serpent bearer” which has a kinda sexy ring to it. One time, Refinery29 asked us to give some beauty tips based on the spirit of Ophiuchus.
Since one of us happens to be named Ophi, we’ve actually researched this years ago. The prefix “ophi-” means serpent, and Ophiology is the study of snakes. Perhaps Kim Kardashian was on to something when she used the snake emoji to symbolize Taylor Swift, whose NASA star sign would be Ophiuchus!
More reading about the myth of the new zodiac sign and Ophiucus:
Ophiuchus Traits: The Mythology Behind the “New Zodiac Sign”
Ophicus: Is There a 13th Sign?
Your Star Sign Is Still the Same: Here’s What NASA Got Wrong
Tropical, Sidereal and Constellational Zodiacs
Susan Miller Debunks the New Zodiac