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13th Zodiac Sign: Why NASA’s ‘Date’ With Astrology Has Gone All Wrong!

NASA scientists have been disparaging of astrology. In one of its earlier posts, it claimed that astrology is not a science and it is different from astronomy.

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The US space agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been caught in the eye of a storm over its claims to have discovered a new zodiac sign which, many fear, could alter the zodiac makeup which currently consists of 12 signs. The so-called new sign, Ophiuchus, is a snake bearer, and he is said to have been the first doctor. If Ophiuchus was in use as an official star sign, it would change the dates for horoscopes for the rest of the year. This means some people might find their birthday to fall under a different sign as it will push forward your current zodiac sign date by around 23 days to accommodate those born under Ophiuchus. For example, the Aries sign would now begin from April 18 as against March 21 earlier.

NASA itself clarified in its post that it didn't "create" this zodiac sign. As per the agency, “Ophiuchus is one of the 13 major constellations in the zodiac, according to ancient Babylonians. The Babylonians left it out of the zodiac because they followed the 12-month calendar and assigned the other 12 constellations, or zodiac signs, to different months. Ophiuchus didn't make the cut.”

There are two things to be noted here. Firstly, Ophiuchus is merely a star in a constellation and not a zodiac sign, hence the question of any alteration of the zodiac chart does not arise. Secondly, NASA has itself claimed that it has only discovered, not created it, and Ophiuchus existed since the times of ancient Greeks, hence there is nothing ‘new’ about it. Nor is there any urgency to force fit it in the current scheme of things.

Astrology as a pseudoscience?
NASA scientists have been disparaging of astrology.  In one of its earlier posts, it claimed that astrology is not a science and it is different from astronomy. It wrote, "No one has shown that astrology can be used to predict the future or describe what people are like based only on their birthdate. Still, like reading fantasy stories, many people enjoy reading their 'astrological forecast' or 'horoscope' in the newspaper every day."

A recent post of NASA read, “NASA doesn't study astrology. That's a pseudoscience, which means its tenets are not rooted in fact, not that that's stopped thousands of years of Earth dwellers from turning to the stars to dictate their future.”

It is doubtful that NASA scientists would have taken the pain to understand the basic tenets of Indian astrology – called Jyotisha – before generalising astrology across the globe. Historically, Indian astrology was inseparable from astronomy. Jyotisha (meaning light) was an all-encompassing term which included the study of astronomy, astrology and the science of timekeeping using the movements of astronomical bodies. It was one of the six Vedangas, or ancillary science connected with the Vedas and was dedicated to the observation of astronomical bodies in order to keep the right time for the Vedic sacrifices and rituals.

Indian astrology differed from the west in that it was not based on the movement of the Sun but that of the Moon. Similarly, Nakshatras (constellations) and not signs (called rashis) formed the backbone of Indian astrology. It was the 27 Nakshatras (sometimes 28) and not the 12 zodiac star signs that mapped the sky. Nakshatra   was   the   name   given   to   the constellations or mansions of the Moon, as the Moon resides in each of these constellations for one day.

NASA’s revelations of a 13th zodiac sign and adjusting of horoscope dates by adding around 20 days to each sign also brings out a glaring anomaly in western astrology involving fixing the point of reference to map a planet’s astronomical position in the sky (zodiac). Have you wondered why there is so much confusion with respect to your ‘actual’ zodiac sign when you check your daily or weekly astrological forecast? For example, a person born on 11th April will consider herself as Aries under the western system, but her sign is actually Pisces as per the Indian system. This is because western astrology follows the Tropical Zodiac (Sayana chakra), which relies on a temporal-seasonal model and uses the Vernal Equinox as the point of reference. The Indian Jyotisha uses the Sidereal Zodiac (Nirayana chakra), and is based on a spatial-stellar model wherein it adopts a fixed star (Chitra) as the point of reference.

The reason why both systems differ is due to a “wobble” in the rotation of the earth on its axis (a phenomenon called precession of the Vernal Equinox). Due to wobbling of the earth, the Sun does not return exactly to the same point of 0 degrees Aries each spring at the vernal equinox as observed from a fixed star. Every year it misses by around 50 seconds of arc, which does not seem to matter much, but over a period of time, it keeps adding up thereby pushing back the vernal equinox into the sign of Pisces then eventually Aquarius and so on.

While the two zodiacs were identical around 300 CE, they have since been slowly diverging. At the present time, the discrepancy between these two systems is around 23 degrees, 57 minutes. This difference between the moving vernal equinox and the exact sidereal zero Aries point is known as the ayanamsha (moving part). If one subtracts the daily specific ayanamsha from the planet's position in a Western tropical chart, we will get its location in the Vedic Sidereal Chart. Interestingly, ayanamsa is believed to have been quantified in Vedic texts at least 2,500 years before the Greek astronomer Hipparchus did so in 190 B.C.

As the stars in the constellation of Aries are quite dim, a brighter star is used as reference to point to the all-important beginning of the zodiac of 0 degrees Aries. Westerners refer to it as Spica, but it is known as Chitra (the shining jewel) in Jyotisha. Chitra is the marker star for one of the 27 nakshatras that bears the same name. The ayanamsha based on using Chitra as the reference star is known as the Chitra Paksha ayanamsha or the Lahiri ayanamsha and is most widely used in Indian astrological calculations. A Sidereal year is the time taken by earth to revolve around Sun with respect to the fixed star Chitra, and this duration is apparently 20 minutes longer than the tropical year. Based on these calculations. the horoscope that finally emerges is a snapshot of the astronomical calculations in the zodiac at the time of birth, while the place of birth is used to calculate the exact longitude and latitude.

Hence, it would be wrong to term Indian astrology as a pseudoscience. It is firmly rooted in astronomy and has a set of forecasting tools such as Dashas (planetary and sign-based time periods) and Vargas (harmonic divisions of the horoscope) which are absent in western or Greek astrology. Also, as mentioned earlier, Vedic Astrology is based on Moon sign over Sun sign. Sun changes its sign in around a month while Moon changes its sign in 2.25 days, which is why predictions based on Moon are closer and more accurate since our moods and circumstances change frequently. All of this seems to have been overlooked by the scientists. Surely, NASA ‘does not study Astrology’.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Neeraj Dhankher

The author is an Astrologer. He is Founder and CEO of Astro Zindagi. He has been practicing Indian Vedic Astrology for last 24 years. He was honoured with the title of "Jyotish Acharya" from Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan (under the aegis of Shri KN Rao) in 2004.

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