The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.
The Internet, TV and newspapers are abuzz with discussion on Raashee (Zodiac). One blogger wondered, “I was married to my wife because my Raashee and her Raashee matched. Now we find that our Raashees have changed and they do not match. So what should I do?” Another reader wondered, “My Raashee has changed. Does that mean that I am not anymore who I used to be?”.
This striking turn of events was instigated by an innocuous report published in a daily, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Parke Kunkle, who has been nicknamed the “Man Who Changed the Zodiac”, was quoted by the news media which was reporting that zodiac signs used until now are no longer valid. He had stated that the dates of sun-signs have changed by about a month since ancient times, and that a 13th zodiac, Ophiuchus, needs to be added to account for the motion of the Sun in celestial sphere. The sun-signs that astrologers have been using appear to be misplaced. Until now one who had thought of herself as being a Pisces, finds herself morphed into an Aquarius.
Parke Kunkle, an astronomy populariser, was giving a talk taking broadside at astrology. He was explaining that the naturally occurring wobble in the direction of the earth’s axis – technically known as a “precession” – had altered the alignment of stars overhead from their traditional star signs, which date back several millennia. Thus the actual place of the Sun in the Raashee chakra as computed by astrology is widely off mark from the astronomy (and could be verified by observation). It is not like all of a sudden scientists have discovered this fact now, or that abruptly the Sun decided to jump and change its position amongst the Raashee on one fine day. In fact, this truth that the fundamental claims of astrologers are inaccurate has been common knowledge among all astronomers for a very long time.
What is Zodiac (Raashee)?
The Sun appears to rise in the East and set in the West. In like manner the Moon and other planets also rise in the East and set in the West. On any given night the Moon can be seen near a star, say Revathi nakshatra. The next day, if we observe carefully, as the Moon revolves around the Earth it will not be near Revathi anymore. In fact it will come back to its position near Revathi after about 27 days. In other words, the Moon will complete one circle in the night sky and come back to the same position in the sky (near the same original star) after about 27 days. Observing this wonderful fact, in ancient times, the thinkers created a concept called “Nakshatras” (stars). They identified 27 bright and noticeable stars and each of these days were named after these Nakshatras. On one day the Sun will be near a star. The next day it will not be as close to it anymore. It would make a one complete rotation and comeback to the same star after one year. In like manner each planet – of the five that were visible to naked eye – was also seen to traverse in relation to these stars. Not exactly taking the same path as the Moon, but about 8-9 degrees on either side.
Figure 1: Twenty seen Nakshatras near which the Moon appears to traverse in the night sky as it revolves around Earth.
In ancient times, the Babylonians observed these phenomena and named this strip of night sky the ‘Zodiac’. If we imagine the night sky as inside of a ball- celestial sphere – with Earth placed at its centre, then the Zodiac was a belt that cut the celestial sphere into two. All the then-known Planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – along with the Sun and the Moon appeared to travel in this belt. This circular band of night sky was divided into twelve parts and each part was named ‘Rashee’ (or zodiac sign). Using their infinite artistic ability, Babylonians also imagined stars in these each Raashee to be the figure of an animal. Thus the strip traditionally divided into the 12 constellations was called zodiac belt. The name comes from the fact that most of these constellations are named for animals–Leo the lion, Aries the ram, Scorpio the scorpion, Cancer the crab, Pisces the fish, Capricorn the goat and Taurus the bull (The term Zodiac comes from the Greek word Zodiakos which means “circle of animals.”).
Figure 2: A belt of star groups – constellations – against which the Sun and Moon appear to traverse. This is the Zodiac. As the Earth revolves, the Sun, which appears against Leo one month, appears against Virgo the next.
While Sun is up in the sky we cannot see any stars (except during a Total Solar Eclipse, when, for a fleeting moment, the stars would be visible during the day). However there are stars behind the Sun, invisible to us because of the brightness of the Sun’s illumination. Thus at any time the Sun is also somewhere on the celestial sphere, that is, the Sun appears to be somewhere on the zodiac belt. The zodiac sign in which the Sun appear to be at a given point of time becomes the sun-sign of that day. This zodiac also rises with the Sun and sets in the West. However, the parts of the zodiac caught in the bright glare of the Sun are not visible to us.
Figure 3: As Earth revolves, Sun would appear to shift from one place to another amongst the background stars- The Zodiac.
As the Earth goes around the Sun, the Zodiac signs behind the Sun also change. When seen from Earth the Sun appears to move from one zodiac to another, and in one year it makes one complete revolution. Every month it covers a different constellation of the zodiac, which is the real reason why those constellations are 12 in number. Of course, during that month the correct constellation is not easily visible, because the sky near the Sun is too bright for its stars to be seen.
Though the zodiac through which the Sun passes at any given point of time is not visible, it is not difficult to determine that zodiac sign. You can do it yourself. Observe carefully the Raashee that rises just before the Sun rises, and also the first Raashee to set after sunset. Obviously, the Sun is somewhere inbetween these two Raashee. Assume that Gemini is the Raashee that is the last Raashee to rise before sunrise, and Leo is the constellation that sets first after sunset. The Raashee that is right behind the Sun is Cancer, which is inbetween Gemini and Leo. In this manner each month-long period of the year was given its “sign of the zodiac.”
Astrologers, both Indian and Western, who believe that the stars and planets mysteriously direct our lives, claim it makes a great difference “under what sign” a person was born. In Western astrology the position of the Sun is considered prime and in Indian Astrology the position of the Moon in the Zodiac is considered significant. Thus anyone born between Dec 22 to Jan 21 is assigned “Capricorn (Makara Raashee)” as the Sun sign in the Western astrology (as well as most of the Daily horoscope that are published in the newspapers). However in the Indian system the position of the Moon in the Raashee chakra is taken into consideration. The Moon revolves around the earth about once every 27 days, and hence the Moon Raashee changes almost every day. Hence, in the Indian system, the Zodiac of only those born between January 5th at 10:10 hours and January 7th at 20:32 hours would be considered Makara Rashee; while those who are born on January 4th will be Danush and January 8th will be Kumba, based on the position of the Moon in the Zodiacal belt.
Be aware, however, that the “sign” assigned to each month in the horoscopes is not the constellation where the Sun actually is that month. If you perform the simple test of watching the last Rashee to rise in the East before sunrise and the first Raashee to set after the sunset, and compare it to the standard horoscope, you will find a difference. The table 1 given below shows the sun-sigh/ Zodiac as per the Western astrologers and actual position of the Sun, taking the newly added 13th Zodiac into account.
|Constellation||Western Astrology||Actual (2011)||Days|
|Capricorn||Dec 22 – Jan 21||Jan 20 – Feb 16||28|
|Aquarius||Jan 22 – Feb 21||Feb 17 – Mar 12||24|
|Pisces||Feb 22 – Mar 21||Mar 13 – Apr 19||38|
|Aries||Mar 22 – Apr 21||Apr 20 – May 14||25|
|Taurus||Apr 22 – May 21||May 15 – June 21||38|
|Gemini||May 22 – June 21||June 22 – July 21||30|
|Cancer||June 22 – July 21||July 22 – Aug 11||21|
|Leo||July 22 – Aug 21||Aug 12 – Sep 17||37|
|Virgo||Aug 22 – Sep 21||Sep 18 – Oct 31||44|
|Libra||Sep 22 – Oct 21||Nov 1 – Nov 22||22|
|Scorpio||Oct 22 – Nov 21||Nov 23 – Nov 30||8|
|Ophiuchus||Dec 1 – Dec 18||18|
|Saggitarius||Nov 22 – Dec 21||Dec 19 – Jan 20||33|
An obvious question: Why is there such a significant difference?
In the Western system these zodiacal signs were determined by the Babylonians about 2000 years ago. At that time the sun-signs and the actual position of the stars matched each other. Slowly and steadily the Raashee and actual constellation / stars have been shifting relative to each other, creating a mismatch because of the gradual precession of the Earth.
What is precession? In addition to rotating on its axis (resulting in day and night) and orbiting the Sun (giving us our year), the Earth has another, more gradual, motion that few people know about. Our planet’s axis tips around in a circle, very much like a child’s top tends to tip around slowly as it spins. The Earth’s tipping motion – called precession – is quite slow. Our planet’s axis takes over 26,000 years to make a full circle. As a result of precession, the Earth’s axis will point in a slightly different direction as time goes on. For example today the Star Polaris (Dhruva tara) is near the north celestial pole. But in ACE 15000 the Earth’s axis will point towards the star Vega and it will be near the North Celestial Pole and not Dhruv Tara.
Figure 4: The tipping motion of the Earth axis is called precession
As the Earth’s axis tips, the point at which we see the Sun against the background of stars in a given month also changes. Thus over a long period of time, the Sun is no longer in the constellation (group of stars) it was supposed to be according to sun-signs. As the full circle of precession takes roughly 26,000 years, and the zodiac is divided into 12 signs, it follows that precession tips the Sun over by one sign every 2,000 years or so. Now it just so happens that the rules of modern astrology in the West were codified just about 2,000 years ago (by Ptolemy in his great summary work Tetrabiblos.) This means that the constellations the Sun finds itself in month after month have shifted over by one zodiac sign in the time from then till now. So there is such a mismatch between astrological (false) claims and the true astronomical position of the Sun, by about a month.
Let’s take an example; someone born on August 1st is considered by astrologers to have the Sun sign Leo. And, indeed, two thousand years ago, the Sun would have been in the constellation of Leo on August 1st. But in the 21st century, the Sun is no longer in Leo on August 1st because of precession. Instead it is in the constellation of Cancer! The astrological signs and the real constellations from which they are derived are now “out of synch.” As per the astrological cannon, the position of the Sun amongst the stars at the time of your birth, determining your sun-sign, is supposed to determine your characteristics. Leos are supposed to be Generous and warm-hearted; Creative and enthusiastic; Broad-minded and expansive; Faithful and loving, whereas Cancers are supposed to be Emotional and loving; Intuitive and imaginative; Shrewd and cautious; Protective and sympathetic. Until now if you have considered yourself a Leo and now you have come to know that you are ‘actually’ a Cancer, what does it mean? Does it mean all the predictions about you until now were wrong? Or does it mean that today somehow you have all of a sudden switched from ‘Leo’ to ‘Cancer’?
You are what you are. You cannot wake up one day and change from one personality to another. It is like that the Sun has shifted its position all of a sudden a month ago. It has been gradually moving and the sun-signs have been out-of-sync for a very long time. Yet astrologers, who are essentially people with no scientific credence trying to be astronomers, have been misapplying information gained from observations written down many thousand years ago.
The Indian system of astrology
Ancient Indian astronomers such as Vishnucandra have observed the precessional motion of the earth’s axis, and have attempted its calculation. In the Indian astronomical tradition precession was called ayanāmsa and calendars taking this into account were called Nirayana calendars. Astronomers like Manjula CE 932 correctly argued that the ayana -chalanam (Precession of equinoxes in Indian terminology) is completely circular and yearly precession is about 56.82 arcsec. There was a school of scientific astronomers in India which was free from astrological orthodoxy. Manjula also stated that the precession should be carefully observed and corrected from time to time and argued for drik-tuliya (computation and observation matching).
But the astrologers did not accept these scientific findings nor understood it. Astrologers in India rejected astronomy and still base their computations upon traditional texts and treatises, mostly following the Surya Siddhanta or treatises based on it. They use ayanāmsa according to Surya Siddhānta, in which ayanāmsa rises from 0° to +27° during 1800 years, then decreases to 0° and further to -27°, thereafter rising again, thus oscillating within a range of ±27° instead of cyclically moving in a circle as modern concept of ayanāmsa/ precession suggests. Thus according to Indian astrologers the ayanamsa will increase and reach 27°in CE 2299 and then the ayanamsa will reduce! This is indeed way off mark. Ayanamsa will continue to increase in reality and complete the whole 360° degrees.
Even when Indian astrologers base their calculations on ayanamsa (precession), it is not still accurate and does not match with the actual position of stellar objects. Indian astrologers do not base their computations on actual observations but only on one or two of ancient texts to which they owe their allegiance. For example in Indian astrology the Sun entered the Makara Raashee in 2011 at 18:38 on January 14th. But the actual fact is that the Sun entered Makara Raashee only on January 20th 2011! Therefore even the nirayana system of Indian astrology is in error in their calculation of the zodiac. Whether it is Western or Indian, astrology is bad astronomy.
Astrology is bad astronomy
The entire basis of astrology is the idea that the Sun, Moon and planets move through 12 constellations. This basic idea is in error. If we take just the Sun, we see that it actually moves through at least 13 constellations. If we look at the Moon and Planets then we need anywhere between 13 to 24 constellations to account for their movement in the celestial sphere. Also we celebrate Uttarayan on January 14/15th, but the actual equinox occurs on December 21/22th. Similarly April 14th is celebrated in many parts of the country as the day of the Sun entering Chitra, but actually this event occurs on March 21/22th. In like manner there are a number of grave and fundamental errors in the traditional computations in Indian traditional astrology.
Undaunted, defenders of astrology invoke certain natural phenomena to show how the Sun and Moon influence events on Earth. Often they cite the example of tides. We all know that during Ammavasya (New Moon day), the waves in the sea are stronger and the sea-level increases. They claim that since the human body is largely water, the Moon could influence our constitution. At the first sight the argument appears to be plausible. But examine it critically. Suppose you have a bucket filled with water to its brim. Does the water in the bucket rise influenced by Moon and drip over on Ammavasya due to tidal attraction? No. Apparently the same Moon that has visible and dramatic effect on Oceans appears to have no effect on water in bucket, river or lake. This is because the increased tidal levels during high-tide on Ammavasya are made possible by the low-tide levels of the oceans on the other side of the earth. Any student with grasp of high school physics could explain this. Thus often the arguments invoked by the astrologers are made out without any deep understanding of the science behind the claims.
If the effects of astrology can be attributed to gravity, tidal forces, or magnetism (each is invoked by a different astrological school), even a beginning physics student can make the calculations necessary to see what really affects a newborn baby. These are worked out for many different cases in Roger Culver and Philip Ianna’s book Astrology: True or False (1988). For example, the obstetrician who delivers the child turns out to have about six times the gravitational pull of Mars and about two thousand billion times its tidal force. The doctor may have a lot less mass than the red planet, but he or she is a lot closer to the baby!
Some astrologers have become smarter and cautions. They are aware of their limitation in science; and hence make an argument that astrological influence is carried by mysterious forces; unknown even to science. Does this argument plausible?
It is hotter when you are near a hot object and it becomes lesser and lesser hot as you move away. In like manner a lamp that appears bright while near it appears to be dimmer and dimmer as you move away from it. Long-range forces in the universe get weaker as objects get farther apart.
In ancient times the astrologers thought that the planets go around Earth, and hence considered them to be at the same distance at all times. However, today we know that Planets go around Sun and hence all planets will be closer at some point of time and really very far away at some other point of time. For example the distance of Mars when it is furthest (other side of the Sun) is seven times that of the distance when it is nearest (when Mars, the Earth and the Sun are in a straight line). Thus, the influence of Mars should vary from day to day depending upon the distance. Thus even if the astrological force is mysterious and unknown to science, its effect should wane as the distance increase. However astrologers are oblivious of the distance of planets and consider only the position of planets in the zodiac. An astrologer would be worried so much about the place of Mars in the Raashee chakra, but not on its distance from Earth. The importance of Mars in your horoscope, it is believed by the astrologers, is identical whether the planet is on the same side of the Sun as the Earth or seven times farther away on the other side.
Of course one could argue that this mysterious astrological force does not depend on distance. In that case, why are only the visible planets of our solar system, one star, that is the Sun, and one satellite, that is our Moon, exert this mysterious force? What about the rest of the celestial objects in our solar system? We know that there are more than 150 Moons in the solar system, and there are two additional planets (Uranus and Neptune) in the solar system, and yet astrology has no place for these. In addition, through modern astronomy we know that there are more than millions of Suns (that is other stars) in our galaxy. Some of these stars are thousands of times bigger than Sun; million times more powerful. Yet only one star, that is our Sun, is taken into account in astrology. We have now found more than 300 exo-planets – that is planets orbiting other stars. Why don’t these have any effect on us if distance is not a problem? Astrology has no answers.