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Skywatch: See astrology’s error for yourself

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Two decades into the 21st century, it amazes me how many people still believe in horoscopes, especially since anything more than a superficial understanding of astrology lays its illogic bare.

Consider the constellation of Capricornus (called “Capricorn” by astrologers). Many astrologers refer to Capricorn as the “Gate of the Gods,” believed in antiquity to be the passageway by which souls of the dead left the underworld to ascend to heaven. This idea undoubtedly stemmed from the observation that the sun’s most southerly annual position, the Winter Solstice, fell amidst the stars of the Sea-Goat. At that time the sun seemed to be “dying,” making its lowest path across the daytime sky, spending the fewest hours above the horizon, and providing the least life-giving warmth.

But here’s the thing: The sun isn’t in Capricornus on December 21st, it’s in Sagittarius. How could the astrologers have gotten it so wrong?

The answer is “precession.” The moon’s gravitational tug makes our planet’s axis wobble over 26 thousand years, like the axle of a slowing top. The North Pole currently points near Polaris, making it the North Star, but it hasn’t always.

The rules of modern astrology (notwithstanding the oxymoron) date to around 170 AD. Back then the sun was among the stars of Capricornus on the Winter Solstice (and Polaris lay more than ten degrees from the Pole).

Some astrologers have tried to account for precession, but most essentially pretend that the sun is still in Capricorn on the Winter Solstice.

You can see the astrologers’ error for yourself. Jupiter and Saturn (the brightest objects in the south after dark) are currently in Capricornus. By December 21st they’ll be visible in the southwest, still in Capricornus, more than two hours after the sun has passed below the horizon.

Next column: Venus’ rapid changes.

Chris Anderson manages the College of Southern Idaho’s Centennial Observatory in Twin Falls. He can be reached at 208-732-6663 or


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