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If you’ve ever taken a romantic stroll up the Flatirons on a clear, cold night, you were probably able to see about 2,000 stars. If you haven’t, you should. It’s dazzling, and in my experience, chicks dig starlit blanket snuggle times.
What you couldn’t see with your unimpressive, little human eyes is that for every little pinprick of light sparkling down on you, there are 150 million more in our galaxy alone. And we are but one galaxy of billions upon billions. What it boils down to is that there are about 300 thousand billion stars in the universe.
Not one of them has ever cared about your love life.
You see, I know something about you. You check your horoscope. You probably trust it to be somewhat accurate. Statistically, two out of every five of you think that astrology is scientifically backed and just as with many superstitions throughout history, science is here to show you exactly why you’re wrong.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of schools of astrology and all of them are slightly different, but one concept that every form of astrology shares is the idea that the stars and planets have some affect on your personality or the events of your life. It’s not entirely clear how they’re supposed to change your personality, but we can all agree that for the moon, sun, stars or planets to influence you in any way, they have to be doing so despite the vast distances that separate you from them.
If horoscopes are to have any validity, there has to be some scientific explanation for how they can do that.
There are four known forces in the universe. The strong and weak nuclear forces only work on the scale of the atomic (very small) and sub-atomic (quite small indeed), so we can dismiss them immediately because something as far away as a planet could not possibly affect your body—let alone your mind—by that means.
Another force is the electromagnetic force, but that only acts on objects that are electrically charged. Big objects like planets and people (don’t confuse those two, your girlfriend will be pissed) have so many atoms in them that they stay electrically neutral; they don’t have a charge overall. When they do get off-balance and a charge builds up, they tend to get themselves back to neutral fairly quickly. If you’ve ever seen lightning or zapped your finger on a doorknob, you’ve witnessed a planet or a person neutralizing a charge buildup by the transfer of electricity.
So the only force left to bolster the case for astrology is gravity—the weakest of the four forces—and at first it seems promising. After all, everybody knows that the moon and sun cause the tides (except apparently Bill O’Reilly). We also know the human body is largely made of water, so it makes sense that the planets could have some effect on our bodies, right?
Wrong again. The Law of Universal Gravitation states that the force between two objects goes up with mass, but down exponentially with distance. That means that the gravitational effect on you of any distant object, like a planet or even the moon, is virtually undetectable. For example, the planet Mars at its closest exerts about a 20th of a micronewton of force on you. The gravitational force of the five-pound laptop sitting on your lap is pulling roughly three times that hard, so it’s safe to say the gravitational pull of the planets isn’t doing anything to you.
Now gravity is out of the picture, and that means this: There is no known force that can cause the supposed effects of astrology.
But, I hear you point out cheekily, what about unknown forces? One thing we can say for certain is that whatever that unknown force might be, it isn’t dependent on a planet’s size, otherwise Jupiter (which is more than twice as heavy as the rest of the planets combined) would dominate every horoscope.
We can also be sure that a planet doesn’t have to be close by to have an effect, or Pluto—trudging along, three billion miles away—would be ignored. But if size isn’t a factor, then what about the billions of asteroids in our own solar system? Shouldn’t they be taken into account when astrologers calculate horoscopes? And if distance isn’t a factor, then what about the estimated 50 billion other planets in our galaxy? Shouldn’t they all be taken into account?
Some astrologers will still argue that there is an undetectable force that drives astrology, but we can dismiss that idea quickly. If a force has an effect on the physical world and is consistent enough to draw predictions from, it has to be detectable. Logic can be a ruthless mistress.
That leaves only one conclusion: There is no unknown force that can cause the supposed effects of astrology.
That leaves nothing left. Astrology can’t possibly work the way astrologers say it does. Even by its own rules it shoots itself in the foot. That may be hard to hear, but it shouldn’t be.
After all, isn’t it kind of nice to think that there’s no great cosmic lottery that dooms you to being “cynically promiscuous” just because, like me, you were born in December? Aren’t you glad that you haven’t been shoehorned into a category you have no control over, just by the coincidence of your birthday?
There are a lot of mind-blowing things going on out in space, but predicting your career success is not one of them. And speaking for myself, I take comfort in knowing that I can do what I want, whether Venus is nine degrees from the Ascendant in Libra or not.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Angus Bohanon at Angus.firstname.lastname@example.org.