There's officially a lot going on in the news cycle right now (thank you, 2020) — but over the past week, you may have heard about some drama regarding the existence of a potential 13th zodiac sign called Ophiuchus. It's hard to rely on much in these tumultuous times, but if 2020 steals our zodiac signs away from us, too, we're not going down without a fight. Before you freak out about whether astrology as you know it has been turned upside down, this isn't the first time this zodiac maverick has popped up in our news feeds. Let's break down the drama and find out exactly what's up with Ophiuchus, the alleged 13th zodiac sign — and whether this theory has any real validity.
The cosmic confusion appears to originate in a NASA article written for children (last updated in 2016), which claims that the true zodiac originally included a 13th zodiac sign called Ophiuchus that was knowingly left out by ancient Babylonians in order to align the number of signs to the number of months in the year. According to the theory, Ophiuchus is nestled between Scorpio and Sagittarius in the astrological zodiac wheel, which means the rest of the zodiac would also have to shift to account for it. This also means that, if true, your zodiac sign might be entirely different than what you've thought it was your whole life.
Am I really a Virgo and not a Libra? Have we all been duped into reading horoscopes for the wrong sign? And does this essentially debunk the practice of astrology as we know it? Take a deep breath. Before you get carried away in an astrologically existential crisis, most astrologers aren't so quick to accept the Ophiuchus theory — and there's some compelling evidence to show that we may be sticking to the original 12 zodiac signs for the time being. So while astrology is certainly an ever-evolving practice, you may not need to update your Co-Star account just yet. Read on.
What Is Ophiuchus Even About?
Ophiuchus is represented by the symbol of a woman snake handler or serpent. If Ophiuchus were accepted as the 13th sign of the zodiac, it would apparently account for about 18 days worth of the Sun's cosmic residency annually — which would mean that people born between approximately November 29 to December 17 would be assigned to the sign of Ophiuchus instead of being Scorpios or Sagittarians (which are the signs that currently rule the Ophiuchan birth dates). But of course, this wouldn't just affect people born during this period: The whole zodiac would need to shift in order to make space for Ophiuchus, meaning that many people would find themselves trying to identify with an entirely new sun sign.
Because this sign squeezes its way in between Scorp and Sag's territory, the personality traits of Ophiuchus are believed to be sort of a hybrid of the two. Like Scorpio, Ophiuchans are believed to be intense and sexual, with a powerful presence and a little bit of a jealous streak. But like Sagittarius, they're also thought to be deeply passionate, energetic, and naturally blessed with good luck. Some astrologers have even made educated guesses as to which zodiac signs are compatible with Ophiuchus and what element Ophiuchus is ruled by in astrology — but at this point it's all speculation, and it's mostly based on the mythology behind Ophiuchus and the qualities of its allegedly neighboring zodiac signs.
Is Ophiuchus Really The 13th Sign?
In the currently-accepted world of western astrology, there are only 12 zodiac signs. You might think that adding a 13th wouldn't be a big deal (save for the people, including myself, who would go into full-on attack mode before being willing to change their sun sign) — but astrology is a complex system that incorporates a lot of math and categorization, so suddenly applying a 13th sign to the zodiac would realistically require a ton of consideration. Firstly, the number 12 divides the zodiac wheel into an even number of slices — and it also perfectly aligns to the 12 months of the year, the 12 houses of the zodiac, and the four seasons (with spring, summer, fall, and winter each being broken down into groups of three zodiac signs). The 12 signs are also evenly categorized into four astrological elements (with three signs assigned to each), three astrological modalities (with four signs assigned to each), and two astrological polarities (with six signs assigned to each). All this said, you can see how a potential 13th sign creates a whole mess as far as the structured base of the zodiac goes.
Ophiuchus is indeed a real constellation, so there's no way around that. But while the zodiac signs are based on real constellations, there are way more than 12 constellations on our radar — and not all of those have a zodiac sign. Astrology and astronomy both track the movement of planets and other celestial objects, but are two very different things. That said, it's not too surprising to think that Ophiuchus was left out of the astrology sign party back when the Babylonians created the zodiac by dividing the sky into 12 parts — and it certainly doesn't undermine the validity of the 12-sign system that astrologers have been following for thousands of years now.
Also, we must acknowledge that the NASA article in question, which asserts Ophiuchus as a 13th sign, has a big, bold disclaimer at the top of the page stating that it is "being kept online for historical purposes," and that it "may contain broken links or outdated information," so even the page itself notes that the information may not be accurate.
Most professional astrologers don't factor Ophiuchus into their practice as of the zodiac signs, nor do they place too much emphasis on the potential shift of the earth's axis, which could also change the dates that we currently attribute to the 12 signs. "One thing is certain: NASA really is pushing [the Ophiuchus] idea onto others — [but] there’s no element that Ophiuchus has been assigned to, so not sure if it fits into the world of astrology as we know it," astrologer Lisa Stardust tells Bustle. "The constellation may exist, but being that we’re not ready to embrace this yet [in astrology], we need to give the idea of the serpent time to settle in."
Why Does The Ophiuchus Rumor Keep Resurfacing?
This may not be the first time you're seeing confusion around the accuracy of the current zodiac sign dates or the potential existence of a 13th sign, because as mentioned, the Ophiuchus theory has continued to pop up in the news cycles and cause astro-panic every so often since the original article was posted years back. While many astrologers (and even non-astrologers) have worked to debunk Ophiuchus in astrology, the story still makes its rounds as if it's brand new — and rightfully cause some people to have a mini identity crisis.
It's interesting to note that the Ophiuchus drama tends to resurface during a Mercury retrograde cycle (we're in the post-retrograde shadow period of Mercury retrograde summer 2020 as this article is being updated), and that's no coincidence. Mercury is the planet of communication and information-sharing, so when it retrogrades, it's much easier for misinformation to spread and for written words to be interpreted incorrectly. These cosmically-fueled periods of informational mix-ups and bouts of confusion might help to explain why this story keeps floating to the top of our feeds at least once a year.
A lot of people are confused by and even distressed over this possible change to the zodiac — but how do you feel? Astrology is all about interpretation, so if you feel strongly aligned to the alleged Ophiuchus personality traits (or the traits of another zodiacal sign switch), then do you. Regardless of what astrology tells you, remember this: You are who you choose to be! So just keep being your cool, authentic self.