Why the 13th zodiac sign Ophiuchus, is false

A recent social media hullabaloo has some of us believing we’ve been reading the wrong horoscope all this time. But before you panic, here’s why Ophiuchus is nothing to lose your head over. 

Most of us know there are 12 zodiac signs in the Western zodiac, but if your birthday falls between the 29th of November and the 18th of December, you may have been recently led to believe you’ve been reading the wrong horoscope the whole time; is there, in fact, a 13th zodiac?

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It all started when a four-year-old post from NASA made the rounds on Twitter again thanks to tabloid media, with reports claiming “a new horoscope” had been “uncovered”, putting Ophiuchus (pronounced ‘oh-few-shuss’) in between Scorpio and Sagittarius.

This would inevitably throw the entire calendar out of whack and with the addition of Ophiuchus, some Virgos were now Leos. Some Leos were now Libras, and so on. Queue the social media meltdown/crises of identity.

First of all, the NASA blog post cited in this frenzy is from 2016, so it’s definitely not “new”; the Ophiuchus rumour has popped its head up every so often and has been debunked many times before.

Secondly, the Babylonians, who lived 3,000 years ago, were well aware of this constellation, which is depicted as a man wrestling a serpent. They just chose to ignore it.

To the uninitiated, the zodiac calendar is based on the 12 main constellations the sun moves through throughout the year. This mapping adheres to the tropical zodiac, which is fixed to the seasons.

While the Babylonians acknowledged there are 13 constellations, they had already had a 12-month calendar (based on the phases of the moon), so it was simply easier and neater to leave Ophiuchus out of the zodiac and have an even number.

“To make a tidy match with their 12-month calendar, the Babylonians ignored the fact that the Sun actually moves through 13 constellations, not 12. Then they assigned each of those 12 constellations equal amounts of time,” the NASA blog post reads.

It’s important to note that while 12 constellations are what we generally subscribe to in Western astrology, some cultures and traditions believe there may be up to 24 constellations in the zodiac.

So therein lies the key to this whole unnecessary hullaballoo: Ophiuchus is a constellation, not a sign and there’s absolutely no need to panic.