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The fault was never in our stars.
MATH MATTERS

All of our astrological signs are wrong, according to NASA

By Lila MacLellan

According to “the Astrotwins,” I’m due for some “upstart energy” on Friday “when the annual new moon in Libra kicks off a fresh six month earning cycle.”

But the twins, Ophira and Tali Edut, popular astrologers whose work is published by Refinery 29 and Elle.com, among others, aren’t only ignoring a general rule about hyphens in compound adjectives in their write-up of my horoscope; they’re also overlooking NASA’s recently well-publicized explanation for why the astrological calendar they rely on for their pseudoscience is thousands of years out of date.

The explanation, which is actually quite old, became headline fodder this month, thanks to some serious confusion. Here’s what happened.

A few weeks ago, a writer for Cosmopolitan’s UK edition, reported on an article found on NASA SpacePlace, a children’s website. In it, the agency explained that the Babylonians shaped the zodiac signs to suit their own calendar year:

The Babylonians lived over 3,000 years ago. They divided the zodiac into 12 equal parts—like cutting a pizza into 12 equal slices. They picked 12 constellations in the zodiac, one for each of the 12 “slices.” So, as Earth orbits the Sun, the Sun would appear to pass through each of the 12 parts of the zodiac. Since the Babylonians already had a 12-month calendar (based on the phases of the Moon), each month got a slice of the zodiac all to itself.

But even according to the Babylonians’ own ancient stories, there were 13 constellations in the zodiac. (Other cultures and traditions have recognized as many as 24 constellations in the zodiac.) So the Babylonians picked one, Ophiuchus, to leave out.

The NASA post, which was apparently updated in January, but had been published on the site sometime before that, also explained that the Earth’s axis has shifted since the Babylonians created the signs 3,000 years ago, and the dates astrologers use to determine someone’s “sign” have never been adjusted. So, for example, someone born on August 4th should actually be considered a Cancer and not a Leo, NASA explained.

This was not news, yet it was interpreted that way. The story that “NASA has changed our Zodiac signs” took off on social media and in the press. In response, NASA has since clarified that it didn’t change the zodiac signs and that the space agency studies the science of astronomy, not astrology, “which is not a science.” (A point it also made in the original article on SpacePlace.) “We just did the math,” NASA said.

Plus there was this reminder: “No one has shown that astrology can be used to predict the future or describe what people are like based on their birth dates.”

Astrologers, including the Astrotwins, have since published articles insisting that nothing has changed, which is sort of true, because the “science” of astrology was never accurate. Unfortunately, in the twins’ case, their explainer is tagged as “news” on Elle.com, which could mislead the magazine’s young readers.