NASA Updates Star Calendar, Upsets Astrologers with New Zodiac Sign

NASA's updated celestial observations have forced astrology enthusiasts to revise the 3,000 year-old zodiac calendar – but let it be known that NASA does not care.

A constellation is a largely vacuous concept. NASA defines it as “a group of stars that forms a particular shape in the sky and has been given a name.” In other words, a group of stars is a constellation merely because some people say it is. The members of the constellation need not share anything else in common.


Recently, NASA has unwittingly come under criticism yet again by aficionados of astrology for ostensibly claiming that the zodiac calendar needs to be revised according to how the corresponding constellations are arranged. Under these revisions, people upset with NASA bemoan that the administration has restructured the zodiac calendar so that different signs correspond to different parts of the year by incorporating a 13th constellation with a 13th sign. For example of the outrage, a writer at Yahoo! wrote this in September:

We don’t want to be dramatic, but NASA just ruined our lives. For the first time in 3,000 years, they’ve decided to update the astrological signs. This means that the majority of us are about to experience a total identity crisis. Apparently, these changes are due to the fact that the constellations are not in the same position in the sky that they once were, and the star signs are about a month off now, as a result.

The writer may not want to be dramatic, but that may be difficult to avoid when fretting over “a total identity crisis” whose factual foundation is demonstrably flimsy.

Moreover, such aspersions about how the traditional zodiac calendar is being altered may be reasonably frustrating to NASA workers, who never were making claims about astrology to begin with. Rather, they were doing what astronomers do: observing the stars and analyzing describing what they saw.

Indeed, the article from NASA in question (which was aimed primarily at children) gives an account of how humans have observed the stars across history.

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. Even then, some of the chosen 12 didn't fit neatly into their assigned slice of the pie and slopped over into the next one.

People in Babylon saw stars, grouped them together according to imagined patterns, and forced a one-to-one correspondence to the 12 months of the year to generate the zodiac calendar by leaving out the constellation Ophiuchus (pronounced 'oh-fee-yoo-ki'), photographed below by the Rosetta spacecraft from 3 million miles away.

Merely pointing out and acknowledging the existence of an additional constellation observed by ancient stargazers is not the same as making an astrological argument. Rather, NASA was acknowledging a group of stars visible both to the Babylonians and astronomers now, maybe with an added touch of a little historical narrative.

Indeed, the movement of the constellations – including the new zodiac sign, Ophiuchus – is essential to the conception of the zodiac calendar, yet NASA describes that the movement is merely perceived based on the movement of the Earth (and the enormous distances across light from the stars must travel), as visualized below.

Ultimately, NASA is in the enterprise of science and not in the astrology business, so complaints against it about changes to the zodiac calendar could not be more misdirected. As NASA posted on Tumblr:

Did you recently hear that NASA changed the zodiac signs? Nope, we definitely didn’t… Here at NASA, we study astronomy, not astrology. We didn’t change any zodiac signs, we just did the math.

NASA records and analyzes data, and shouldn't be held accountable for ruining a pastime, even if it has spanned millennia. Zodiac enthusiasts who aren't resistant to change may well choose to apply NASA’s observations to how they configure and interpret the narratives they ascribe to the stars. 

If you're curious, you can find out if your star sign has shifted over at Inverse

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.