If you’ve been watching television or paying attention to the chatter on Facebook or Twitter over the last couple of days, you may have heard something about your zodiac sign now being different from what you thought it was, due to a “wobble” in the Earth’s axis, known as “precession.”
The amount of attention this story has been receiving caught us, at the Farmers’ Almanac, off guard. That’s because it’s not really news to us. We’ve been printing the correct astronomical position of the Sun since 1818, when David Young, Philom., published the very first edition of the Farmers’ Almanac. In fact, our own astronomer, Joe Rao, was even interviewed for a few of the articles published this week.
Even 1818 is relatively recent, compared to how old this news actually is, though. As Joe told one interviewer this week, “The earliest known astronomer to recognize and assess the movement of precession was Aristarchus of Samos, who lived around 280 B.C.”
If you haven’t heard the story yet, here it is in a nutshell …
Astrologers first divided the sky into the 12 signs of the zodiac more than 2,000 years ago. In that time, the Earth’s axis has shifted due to a process called precession. It takes the Earth approximately 26,000 years to complete one full “wobble.”
In the time since the zodiac was conceived, the Earth has shifted enough to set each of the traditional signs off by about a month, and pull in a 13th constellation, called Ophiuchus.
The correct astronomical position of the Sun throughout the year is as follows:
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. 23-29.
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. 17.
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20
So does that mean that if you thought you were an Aquarius you’re now a Capricorn? Not really, no.
Here’s why: Astrology and astronomy are two completely different disciplines with two completely different sets of rules. As we noted in a previous article about the subject, “Astronomy is the scientific interpretation of matter in space. Astronomers don’t try to interpret the meaning of the Moon or Sun’s position in the sky, only to describe it as accurately as possible.”
Astrologers simply sliced the sky up into 12 equal sections, each of which was named after the most prominent constellation in that slice. As you can see from the timeline above, the astronomical position of the Sun can’t really be sliced up evenly. The Sun rests in each constellation anywhere from a few days (Scorpio) to a month and a half (Virgo).
In other words, astronomy maps the heavens with precision, while astrology is meant to be a more impressionistic rendering. They were never meant to follow the same rules.
So, relax! If you put any stock in astrology at all (or even just enjoy reading your horoscope), you can go ahead and keep saying you’re the same sign you’ve always been.