Anyone with a basic understanding of the definition of “astrology” watching for odd celestial news last week may have been a bit confused when it was announced that NASA had rearranged the zodiac calendar. As it turns out, NASA did not completely upend your life by telling you that you are no longer a proud Leo. That’s not really NASA’s thing, media reports noted Monday.
News outlets began reporting that NASA had changed the zodiac to include a thirteenth horoscope sign late last week, causing something of an outrage amongst those around the world who take star signs and horoscopes seriously. But for scientists, the idea was ridiculous: Zodiac signs aren't scientific.
“NASA studies astronomy, not astrology,” Dwayne Brown, a NASA spokesperson, said when Gizmodo asked about the change up.
Brown was actually repeating a similar message to a disclaimer written at the top of the NASA post — meant for children — that seems to be the source of the confusion. In that post, on NASA Space Place, the difference between the two is clearly spelled out. Astronomy is the scientific study of everything in outer space. Astrology, on the other hand, isn’t a science and instead is the remains of a 3,000 year old tradition from the ancient Babylonians who divided the year to correspond with changing constellations visible in the sky. That practice hinges on the idea that the different positions of stars and planets can be used to explain phenomenon in everyday life (and that it has an impact on your own life depending on your birthday).
The NASA post notes there are 13 constellations that the Earth can observe in a year, not 12. And, because of a wobble in the Earth’s axis, the time of year we currently associate with the various constellations isn’t spot on anymore. So, they provided a different, more accurate timeline that included the constellation Ophiuchus as No. 13.
“We didn’t change any Zodiac signs, we just did the math,” Brown told Gizmodo in an email. “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.”