What’s Your Sign?

So many people have been asking about the news stories about the changing of their Sun signs and the “new” 13th sign of the zodiac.  A quick internet search on this topic reveals hundreds of thousands of articles. What to believe?

The story originated with an article by Professor Professor Parke Kunkle, a Board of Director of the Minnesota Planetarium and Space Discovery Center, located in Minneapolis.The link on the Planetarium’s website referred visitors to an article dated January 14, 2011 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Minneapolis astronomy instructor Parke Kunkle affirmed that the Earth’s “wobble” has shifted the zodiac signs. The buzz has raced across the Web like a shooting star….No matter that Kunkle, who started it all, said it was an old story — 2,000 years old, actually — and that astrologers were insisting it wouldn’t change a thing.”

The article continued, “In the article Kunkle affirmed that since the Babylonian zodiac periods were established millennia ago, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis in a process called precession. That has created about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment, meaning that “when [astrologers] say that the sun is in ­Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” said Kunkle, who teaches astronomy courses at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

This news is nothing new to Eastern, or Vedic astrologers. A little bit of astronomy is necessary to explain this phenomenon. The ecliptic is the Sun’s apparent path around the Earth. The celestial equator is a projection of the Earth’s equator into space. The Sun’s path along the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator but runs at an angle to the equator.

Western astrology used the tropical zodiac. The starting point of the tropical zodiac is the point when the celestial equator and the ecliptic intersect. This is deemed to be 0° Aries. The date that Western astrologers use is the Vernal Equinox, or March 21. This is a fixed date and point every year.

However, since the earth is not a perfect sphere and has a little bulge around the equator, the Sun and the Moon exert their gravitational forces on the earth and cause the earth to spin (somewhat like a top), upright on its orbit. This rotation, or wobble effect, is known as precession. Due to this wobbling, the Vernal equinox moves westward 50.26 seconds every year.This increment may seem minuscule but it has a cumulative effect.

Vedic astrology or Jyotish accounts for the precession of the equinox. They realize that due to anomalies in the earth’s rotation on its axis, when it returns to the vernal equinox each year, it stops a little short of where it did in the previous year. Vedic astrologers used the sidereal (“based on the stars”) zodiac. The difference between the sidereal and tropical zodiacs is 1° every 70 years. We are now at approximately a 24 °degree difference. We mark the beginning of the Sun entering Aries on April 14, not on the 1st.

Therefore, if you have the Sun located at 29° Aries in Western astrology, then you would subtract 4° and have your Sun at 5° Aries in Vedic astrology. It does not change signs. However, if your Sun were at 10 °Aries, then you would have your Sun at 16° Pisces in the Eastern system.

It is vital to note that Vedic astrology does not focus on the Sun sign but rather the Moon sign. More specific than the Moon itself is the nakshatra, or which lunar constellation, that the Moon falls into. Each of the 27 nakshatras carries with it defining personality traits and life themes as well as professional pre-dispositions. The ascendant (the sign rising on the Eastern horizon in your locality at the time of your birth) is also important. We are interested in the Sun relative to its placement to the Moon. Is the Moon new or full? With a full Moon, the Sun is opposite the Moon, where as with a new Moon, the Sun and Moon are close together. We examine the Sun closely during planetary cycles of the Sun.

The other news that has captured the public’s attention about the 13th sign of the zodiac. The Star Tribune article states, “By the reckoning of Kunkle and other astronomers, astrologers are not only a month off in their zodiac signs, but they are neglecting a 13th constellation, Ophiuchus (Ooh-FEE-yew-kus) the Serpent Bearer, for those born from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17.”

Here we must differentiate between the signs of the zodiac and the constellations. Aries through Pisces form the 12 signs of the zodiac. The word zodiac literally means “circle of little animals.” The Sun travels through these 12 signs on its path through the ecliptic, as these signs are very close to the Sun’s transit.There are 88 constellations, which include Aries through Pisces, as well as Ophiuchus.  Discussion of Ophiuchus can be traced back to the 1930s.  Astrologers didn’t feel that it warranted inclusion within the zodiac.

Astrologers utilize the 12 constellations of the zodiac as method of delineating the path of ecliptic amongst which the planets travel. The Sun stays in each sign of the zodiac for one month. While each zodiacal constellation measures 30° of celestial longitude, the constellations all vary in size, due to differences in latitude. Some signs inhabit greater pieces of the sky than others.

To summarize, if you follow Western astrology, your Sun sign does shift back in the Eastern system. Before you cry, “That doesn’t sound like me!”, please bear in mind that Vedic astrology does not use your Sun sign as your defining characteristic, but your rather your lunar constellation. We acknowledge the existence of Ophiuchus as another constellation along the ecliptic but don’t feel it warrants inclusion in the zodiac. The ancient star watchers made observations with their naked eyes over 5,000 years ago in India and its system still holds true to date.