Lost Ophiuchus

Picture P27Usually I try not to discuss Astrology with people who have to deal with Astronomy and find quite useless to talk about astronomical events with astrologers, amateurs or professionals, even though some of them demonstrate good astronomical skills. But from time to time various exceptions occur and one of them took place last summer when I visited a planetarium. I was going to see a film but unexpectedly met a local consultant and, that was completely surprising, our conversation somehow turned to the zodiac. As you can guess, I heard from her that the zodiac is a fiction, or maybe just a myth, and for most people it’s no longer a secret, while the zodiac consists of twelve signs, the celestial ecliptic, which served as a path for the zodiac formation, includes thirteen constellations… Despite this her monologue was rather engaging, I didn’t want to interrupt and explain the difference between the “sign” and the “constellation”. I only asked: “Anyway, I wonder why one sign was removed, do you know?” She was confused a little bit and said hesitantly: “They probably thought the thirteenth sign could bring a misfortune”. I didn’t understand if it was a joke or not… 🙂

But the question is still a topic. On the ecliptic the constellation Ophiuchus follows just behind the constellation Scorpio and in accordance with the modern boundaries (being redefined in 1930) the constellations circle looks like:

      Scorpio: 23 November – 29 November

      Ophiuchus: 30 November – 17 December

      Sagittarius: 18 December – 18 January

In the schedule the dates mean the solar stay, of course. So, if we would like to restore the correct positions in the tropical zodiac and add the sign accordingly, in the traditional form it might look like:

      Scorpio: 24 October – 1 November

      Ophiuchus: 2 November – 22 November

      Sagittarius: 23 November – 21 December

Here should be noted that we are not the first who saw the discrepancy. At least several similar attempts to change the zodiac were made in the 20th century but they led to nothing, the updated version wasn’t practically accepted. I guess it didn’t work.

Picture P28Interestingly that both tropical and sidereal zodiac ignored poor Ophiuchus. Some ancient manuscripts confirm that in the days of Hipparchus and Ptolemy astrologers were very well aware of this constellation and knew that the solar stay in Scorpio lasts only 7 days in contrast with Ophiuchus where the Sun stays almost 18 days. Taking this fact into account they preferred Scorpio for the entire period, and it’s impossible to believe that they lost Ophiuchus unintentionally or maybe by someone’s mistake, or because of superstitious motives.

Unfortunately, so far I haven’t found any realistic ideas why it happened. With all this ocean of information there is nothing which seems quite persuasive and credible. But during the search I have generated my own version, of course, it’s just a conjecture.

By default, we know how the zodiac was formed. In its initial form (approximately II millennium BC) it mainly included not constellations but stars; each star was given a sector of 10°, so the whole zodiac was based on 36 stars in total number. No doubts, at that time astrologers applied the concept of the “constellation”, but more often they considered a particular star as an independent force. This preference led them to the core principle “Less Constellations, More Stars”.

On the other hand, in this case it’s important to understand how the Sun moves through the ecliptic constellations. So called “solar stay” doesn’t only mean being within certain boundaries, it also means to pass through the allocable stars. The number of stars which “meet” the Sun varies in each constellation, 3-4 in average to 7 in Virgo. Besides that, some stars, as Regulus or Antares, had special significance for observations. On this background Ophiuchus looks like a pariah with only one unremarkable star to “touch” the Sun. Perhaps, at the time when the zodiac began the transformation “from stars to constellations”, it was more than an argument to identify Ophiuchus inoperative and unfit.

However, it’s just my own opinion… If you have your vision or any comments and find quite possible to share, it will be appreciated much… Thank you in advance!


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