Astrological sign shift causes some debate

Saturday, January 15, 2011 | 6:38 p.m. CST; updated 11:34 a.m. CST, Monday, January 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — A belief that astrological signs changed recently has caused some confusion. The tropical zodiac has remained the same; however, the sidereal zodiac is speculated to have changed.

Twitter bursts began Thursday speculating about the addition of a 13th zodiac sign, Ophiuchus, which is only relevant to the sidereal zodiac because it's based on the position of the stars. While there is a 13th constellation, it remains unclear if this addition to the zodiac is official.

The uncertainty comes from an important distinction, Carmen Turner Schott, an astrological counselor and licensed clinical social worker, said.

“There are two types of astrology, tropical and sidereal,” she said.

Schott, who lives and works in St. Louis, said that Western civilization uses the tropical zodiac, which is defined by the seasons and is not subject to change.  This is the zodiac that most people have always known and identified with, she said.

Four cardinal signs make up the tropical zodiac, Schott said. Aries corresponds with spring, Cancer with summer, Libra with fall and Capricorn with winter, she said.

The Eastern sidereal zodiac, determined by constellations and other astronomical arrangements, is constantly shifting, however. This is where the misleading information that signs had been altered came from, Schott said. 

“Our signs have not changed based on the tropical zodiac,” she said.

However, Angela Speck, director of astronomy at MU, said the idea that signs based on the tropical zodiac have not changed does not make sense.

Speck said the term tropical zodiac is an oxymoron because the Western tropical calendar, which determines our seasons and months, is based on the spring equinox and has nothing to do with stars or the position of constellations. She said the Western tradition of looking at the stars is sidereal.

“I wonder why this is news now,” Speck said.

There is nothing different this year from previous years as far as this change is concerned, she said.

Speck said this constant change in position is explained in every introductory textbook of astronomy.

With the difference between the calendar year and the actual time it takes for the earth to go around the sun, a constellation is not in the same position on a person's birthday every year. If signs were based on constellation positions, signs would change every year, Speck said.

Signs based on the tropical zodiac do not change because there has to be some consistency in order for people to have a sign to identify with, she said.

There is no real connection between when a constellation is directly behind the sun in a particular month and a person's astrological sign, which is based on the person's day and month of birth, she said.

Speck said she doesn’t understand why so many people believe in astrology and use it to explain personalities or predict the future.

“I also don’t understand why people watch 'American Idol' and the Kardashians, but that’s human nature, we latch onto things" she said. "It’s not actually reality."

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david smith January 16, 2011 | 9:28 a.m.

Who cares

(Report Comment)
robert link January 16, 2011 | 9:40 a.m.

it remains unclear if this addition to the zodiac is official.

Official? Really? What body or agency regulates this?

(Report Comment)
Daniel Jordan Jordan January 16, 2011 | 12:34 p.m.

"Official? Really? What body or agency regulates this?"

I think a division of NASA does that--the same agency that licenses astrologers.


(Report Comment)
Lucy Parker January 16, 2011 | 2:13 p.m.

I believe the astrologist explained quite clearly why the astronomist's area of expertise is irrelevant to this discussion. Why is the article about a different branch of astrology than we follow in the west? Research next time instead of just grabbing a random academic?

(Report Comment)
David Sautner January 16, 2011 | 3:45 p.m.

It is easy to corroborate planetary positions in relation to constellations by simply using a telescope or even better Google Sky. If you do this you will notice that the planet Mars currently is in the constellation Aquarius as it is also amidst a number of other constellations as well. But since Aquarius has been traditionally the point of reference most likely because it is the easiest to discern with the naked eye on a clear night the other constellations are disregarded. The same can be said of the rest of the planets and the constellations.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 16, 2011 | 3:59 p.m.

Send the constellation to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)
Claudius Ptolemy January 16, 2011 | 6:23 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Holly McGee January 18, 2011 | 4:40 p.m.

i was told this new thing only applied to the eastern countries not us.

(Report Comment)

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