Wandering through the realms of the cosmos, pondering its huge vastness

Posts tagged “ophiuchus

Ophiuchus — A New Zodiac Sign???

Hey, have you checked your daily horoscope? 😀

Well, think again because you might be surprised to learn that you are no longer a Gemini, an Aquarian or whatever you call yourself as an individual who is under one particular sign of the zodiac based on Astrology.

Please don’t get me wrong. I haven’t convinced myself to shift my interest in astronomy into studying and forecasting the future of people according to stellar and planetary movements.

Though they may sound the same, Astrology and Astronomy are pretty much different from each other. “Astronomy deals with the study of celestial objects (such as stars, planets, comets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies) and phenomena that originate outside the Earth’s atmosphere (such as the cosmic background radiation). Astrology on one hand, are set of beliefs and traditions which hold that the relative positions of celestial bodies and related details can provide information about personality, human affairs and other “earthly” matters”.” (Wikipedia)

I was just overwhelmed to see how this news about the “new zodiac sign” – which was supposedly not news anymore especially to astronomy buffs – spread like wildfire all over local television and the Internet. Below are some of the links I found which contained the topic.

Yahoo News: Earth’s rotation causes new zodiac sign assignments

Yahoo News: Horoscope Hang-Up: Earth Rotation Changes Zodiac Signs

ABS-CBN News: What’s your sign? Double-check ‘new’ zodiac before answering

A Pakistan Times: New Zodiac Signs 2011

CBS News: Zodiac: What’s Your New Sign?

NewsTube: New Zodiac sign dates: Don’t switch horoscopes yet

There are a lot more of these that you could find online. According to these news, a certain Parke Kunkle of the Minnesota Planetarium Society said that because of the moon’s gravitational pull on Earth, the alignment of the stars was pushed by about a month which prompted new consideration of a new sign — Ophiuchus —  into standard zodiacs.

“Astronomers from the Minnesota Planetarium Society have found that the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth changed our planet’s position in relation to its axis, making the original alignment of the stars, the basis for the zodiac signs, “off” by about a month. Thus, a thirteenth zodiac sign, Ophiuchus, was added to the original 12.” (Yahoo News)

Precession—the change in orientation of the Earth's rotational axis. (Source: NASA)

Read more about precession and its effects here.

If you’re gonna ask me whether this is true or not, I would definitely say yes, it is true. But here’s the catch: this truth has been established a long time ago and in fact, there’s really nothing new about it.

The constellation Ophiuchus

Ophiuchus was recognised as a part of the zodiac by the  International Astronomical Union in 1930, during the time when IAU set the official constellation boundaries. Each constellation was published as a set of specifications that reads like a surveyor’s plot of irregular parcels of land. The redrawing of the boundaries is what caused this addition of a constellation to the Zodiac.

However, the fact is that Ophiuchus was recognized as a zodiacal constellation at least 1700 years before the IAU even came into existence. Even Ptolemy’s “Almagest”, written in the 2nd century A.D., recognised Ophiuchus as a part of the zodiac.

The Zodiac, the constellations that lie on the plane of the ecliptic through which the Sun passes in the course of a year, now has 13 constellations* – not 12 – including Ophiuchus or “the Serpent Bearer”. The Sun is in front of its stars during the first half of December and as it turns out, most Sagittarians are really Ophiuchans.

*Note: The signs are named after twelve of the constellations that coincide with the ecliptic, though they no longer correspond well to them due to precession. The zodiac is a celestial coordinate system, or more specifically an ecliptic coordinate system, taking the ecliptic as the origin of latitude, and the position of the sun at vernal equinox as the origin of longitude.

Below is a list of constellations and the dates the Sun now appears in front of those stars in the 21st century.

Constellations of the Zodiac (Google Images)

SAGITTARIUS December 19 – January 20
CAPRICORNUS January 21 – February 16
AQUARIUS February 17 – March 13
PISCES March 14 – April 19
ARIES April 20 – May 15
TAURUS May 16 – June 21
GEMINI June 22 – July 21
CANCER July 22 – August 10
LEO August 11 – September 17
VIRGO September 18 – October 31
LIBRA November 1 – November 24
SCORPIUS November 25 – November 30
OPHIUCHUS December 1 – December 18

So why do we have a new astrological sign, Ophiuchus? It turns out that the answer is far less scientific.  Back in ancient times, when the dates of the astrological signs were solidified, astrologers divided the sun’s path through the stars into twelve equally-spaced segments.  Each of the twelve segments was assigned to a different constellation.  But the fact of the matter is that these constellations are not equally sized.  In fact, the “size” of a constellation isn’t even very well defined, since what is a constellation but a set of stars that’s supposed to look like something (but usually doesn’t really). As I what I have written above, It was only then in 1930 that these constellation boundaries were made specific.

Going back to those articles, I found out that Parke Kunkle is indeed a professional astronomer, a Minneapolis professor and MnPS board member. He was first interviewed by the Star Tribune regarding this topic on the additional zodiacal constellation. Here is the link to the original article. However, contrary to what it appears like, this guy is a no fanatic of Astrology.

“There is no physical connection between constellations and personality traits,” said Kunkle, who teaches astronomy at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. “Sure, we can connect harvest to the stars,” he said. “But personality? No.”

Historically, people looked at the sky to understand the world around us,” he said. “But today I don’t think people who are into astrology look at the sky very much.” (startribune.com)

I also got to find this part of a note from the Facebook Fanpage of Minnesota Planetarium Society which contained his statement about the spreading of this news:

In science we deal with a long tradition of fact based investigation. We are not in the business of interpreting  the purported relation between the positions of planets and human affairs.”

From this I could say that this particular issue must have been another product of biased reporting and sensationalism caused and spread by improper media coverage. Complex subjects and affairs like this one, are often subject to sensationalism.

Anyway, If you happen to be a proud Ophiuchan, your constellation has several astronomical splendor that actually exist in the sky. First of all it contains seven Messier globular clusters- M9, M10, M12, M14, M19, M62 and M107- making Ophiuchus pretty much a good spot for globular clusters. Also, NGC 6240, the strange remnant of a merger between two smaller galaxies, resulting in a single larger galaxy, with two distinct nuclei and a highly disturbed structure. The high proper motion star and one of the closest stars to the Sun, Barnard’s Star can be found in Ophiuchus, as well as RS Ophiuchi, a recurrent nova thought to be teetering on the brink of becoming a Type 1A supernova.

It’s fun to learn the meaning and the legends behind all the astronomical names, made up by people thousands of years ago as they looked to the sky in amazement at celestial patterns and motions they didn’t understand.  But it’s a lot more fun to observe the heavens through the eyes of a 21st century critically thinking human being, capable of understanding to a great extent, the origin, history and fate of our universe. The universe is beautiful, amazing and mysterious without the mumbo-jumbo. 😀