MINNEAPOLIS—A Minneapolis astronomy professor said Friday that he's stunned by the attention he's getting for suggesting the signs of the zodiac are all wrong.
Parke Kunkle told a newspaper interviewer that the Earth's wobbly orbit means it's no longer aligned to the stars in the same way as when the signs of the zodiac were first conceived.
That means when astrologers say the sun is in Pisces, it's really in Aquarius, and so on, Kunkle said.
The story was published in Sunday editions of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and quickly went viral, with thousands of people fretting on social networks that their sign might change.
Among them was Heather McGowan, 26, a student from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who got a red Aries symbol in a black maple leaf tattooed between her shoulders when she was 19.
"Go figure seven years later there's a possibility that I am no longer an Aries," she said, though she remains skeptical enough that she hasn't considered changing tattoos.
Kunkle, who teaches at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, said Friday that all the hubbub is based on "2,000-year-old information." He can't understand why his explanation of how a well-known wobble in the earth's orbit throws off astrology charts turned into an Internet sensation.
"Astronomers have known about this since about 130 BC," Kunkle said while sitting in his office, where the phone rang constantly, as he said it had been since the article came out.
"This is not new news. I have no idea why it went viral this time," Kunkel said. "Almost every astronomy class talks about it."
Shelley Ackerman, an astrologer and spokeswoman for American Federation of Astrologers, said she's been swamped with e-mails from worried clients whose signs would change under the new system. Ackerman said she advises the clients not to overreact.
"This doesn't change your chart at all. I'm not about to use it," she said. "I've told all of them not to worry about it. Every few years a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it'll go away as quickly as it came."
Ackerman said there are an infinite number of ways to divide the constellations, and that scientists are continually discovering new stars and solar systems. Astrologers don't change their systems for every new change, she said.
"Just as in medicine when there are new discoveries you don't change the entire system, you just work with it to see if and where it fits into existing system," she said.
Kate Agliata, 36, a freelance writer and mother of two in Birmingham, Ala., says she'll stay true to her original sign, even though she may now be a Pisces.
"Let's just say I won't be swapping out my Aries coffee mug anytime soon," she said, though she allowed it might make for heavier horoscope reading. "I have a feeling that from here on out, I'll feel inclined to read Pisces as well."
Kunkle said he's gotten a few angry calls, including one from someone who said, "Please give me my sign back."
But he said he was having fun with it, patiently answering phone calls from journalists all over the world.
Maybe it will make people more interested in the science of astronomy, he said: "I hope people go out and look more at the stars."
Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee and Erin Vanderberg in Philadelphia contributed to this report.