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Posted at 4:44 PM ET, 01/19/2011

The Great Zodiac Revolution of 2011 (Follow-up post -- you had to see this coming)

By Melissa Bell
zodiac
Word clusters for the most commonly used words according to their sign, scrapped from Yahoo! horoscopes. (Research: David McCandless/Design: Matt Hancock/Scraping: Thomas Winningham/Informationisbeautiful.net)

It's been six whole days since the world shook ... the day when everyone woke up to the frightening news that their zodiac signs may have changed.

It all began when Bill Ward, a reporter for the aptly named Minnesota Star Tribune, decided to do a short story about the precession of the Earth -- the incremental movement that "wobbles" the planet on its axis -- and how it changed the Earth's relation to the constellations.

It's a topic that comes up every 10 years or so, much to astrologist's chagrin. The story goes: When astronomy was created, some two millennia ago, the Earth was positioned under the constellations everyone knows now as their star signs. Born May 5? You were born when the Earth was under the Taurus constellation. But 2,000 years later, the slow pull of precession has changed the Earth's orientation so much that astrological star signs are now about a month behind. If you are born May 5 today, the Earth would be under Aries.

Whenever the story comes up, astrologists have to rush to calm their clients' fears, telling them that there are two distinct brands of astrology: the sidereal variety that does take the position of the stars into account, and the tropical variety. It is the second type that is used by most Westerners. It uses the planets to determine the future, not the position of the stars in relation to the planet. The bottom line: Your sign doesn't change when the Earth wobbles. If you were born May 5, you're still a Taurus, whether or not the constellation Taurus was above the Earth the night of your birth.

"Astrologers, not surprisingly, say they knew this would happen," a New York Times article dryly noted Friday.

Unlike in the past, when the article would have caused a small outburst of astrological panic centered around Minnesota, thanks to the viral Web, the article spread from the newspaper to a Tumblr blog to newspaper sites, then to television shows all over the world (mine included!).

My post said in the headline that horoscopes didn't need to be changed, but most people only got as far as "new zodiac signs" before flipping out. The original article said only 31 percent of the world believed in astrology, but the reaction online and in the media seemed to suggest a lot more had a vested interest in their astrological signs. Much like seeing personality traits in where you're born, or in the color of your hair, people saw an inextricable link to a part of their identity wrapped up in the zodiac, avowed believer or not.

The mischief-maker, Parke Kunkle, who started the whole debacle by telling the Star Tribune what days the Earth are now under what constellation signs, has enjoyed the whole affair, saying, "I want people to be talking about the sky, and be thinking about the sky, and thinking about what's going on up there."

So, at the end of the day, people realized that though the Earth shifted beneath their feet literally, it did not do so astrologically. As Melody Moulton wrote on Facebook, "Remember the Facebook freak out of 2011? When everyone thought that their astrological sign was suddenly different? Man that was almost as stressful as Y2K. Seriously."

P.S.: Also, the guys over at one of my favorite blogs, Information is Beautiful, created a perfect accompaniment to go with the brohaha. Rather than worry about what new sign you are, simply combine all horoscopes and create a meta-horoscope. They analyzed over 22,000 daily horoscopes from Yahoo! Shine to find the most common terms.

Their meta-prediction for everyone of every sign (and, you know what? it's good advice):

"Ready? Sure? Whatever situation or secret moment, enjoy everything a lot. Feel able to absolutely care. Expect nothing else. Keep making love. Family and friends matter. The world is life, fun and energy. Maybe hard. Or easy. Taking exactly enough is best. Help and talk to others. Chane your mind and a better mood comes along..."

By Melissa Bell  | January 19, 2011; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Gifts to Obama: What the world gave the president (#obamagifts)
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