How rumours that Nasa had changed star signs spread

Zodiac symbols in the night sky Image copyright Thinkstock

The rumour last week that 86% of us may not be the star sign we thought caused panic on some social media networks. So many people believed the story because it was said to come from Nasa. But how did one of the world's most respected aeronautics institutions get dragged into the topic of astrology - the study that claims to predict the future through the position of the stars?

Well, it started when Cosmopolitan magazine discussed a Nasa post that was aimed at children. Nasa's Space Place blog explained how the ancient Babylonians, some 3,000 years ago, believed that the movement of the constellations may have affected events on Earth. Their calendar forms the basis of the zodiac which we know today. Since Babylonian times the positions of the stars have changed, though - a fact that is well known.

But Cosmopolitan took this to mean that Nasa had changed the dates assigned to star signs. It also picked up on a few sentences discussing Ophiuchus, a 13th "forgotten" constellation in the zodiac.

Image copyright iStock
Image caption If anything were to change, the dates for Ophiuchus would be 29 Nov to 17 Dec

The magazine thought Ophiuchus was now "back in the game" and that some people were actually born under this star sign rather than the one they had always thought.

This was not the kind of news some social media users took to kindly.

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

Nasa's blog stressed that it was discussing astronomy: "The scientific study of everything in outer space... Astrology is something else. It's not science." (There's a detailed explanation about this in the BBC Stargazing Live page.)

Unsurprisingly, Nasa is keen to make it clear that telling the future is not its thing.

In a statement sent over to BBC Trending, Laurie Cantillo of the Planetary Exploration, Heliophysics department explained: "We didn't change any zodiac signs, we did the math. Nasa reported that because the Earth's axis has changed, the constellations are no longer in the same place they were thousands of years ago.

"The Space Place feature that sparked this is about how astrology is not astronomy, how it was a relic of ancient history, and pointed out the science and math that come from observations of the night sky."

Blog by Sarah McDermott

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