Q: How much of a direct effect do planets and stars have on us? Is astrology reasonable or plausable?

Physicist: Of the four forces: gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear-strong, and nuclear-weak, only the first two, gravity and EM, affect things over distances (at least, over distances larger than an atomic nucleus).  So, if the planets and stars have any direct influence on us it should be by way of one or both of those forces.

Clearly, it’s a good time to be a Leo.  Sucks for you, Aquarius.

The Moon’s gravity famously causes the tides, but the Moon’s electric field is effectively zero (but very interestingly, not exactly zero), and its magnetic field is random, scattered, and nearly non-existent.

The effect of gravity is much, much stronger than the effect of magnetic fields, and even the effect of gravity between planets is tiny. The bulk of those tiny forces is off-set by the fact that the Earth is free to move and fall through space (during free-fall is the only time you don’t feel gravity). This leaves only the much weaker secondary “tidal effects“, so called because they’re responsible for the tides which, although seemingly impressive, require very little force (specifically, the difference in the strength of the Earth’s gravity over the half-dozen feet of the tides).

The Moon’s gravity causes tides, but effectively nothing else. The Sun’s gravity has about 40% of the Moon’s influence and Jupiter, which completely dwarfs the effects of all of the other planets combined, has about 1 two-hundred-thousandth of the Moon’s tidal effect.

More than that, the gravity and electromagnetic influence of planets isn’t terribly surgical. Either will just pull on you in a very uniform way. They don’t grab a few cells at a time and re-write you love life or change your mood. Probably. Point is, our understanding of the known forces of the universe preclude the idea of the planets and stars having any direct influence on people.

Now to be fair, not being able to fit something into the current model doesn’t immediately exclude it from the realm of possibility.  For example, way back in the day the science fluid dynamics was really good at explaining how things like air and water move, but also “proved” that nothing should be able to fly.  Another beautiful example was a conundrum faced by geologists around 1900.  They had buckets of evidence that the Earth was at least hundreds of millions of years old (the ones who turned out to be right thought that the Earth was substantially older), and yet a back-of-the-envelope calculation showed that during that time the interior of the Earth should have cooled so much that volcanoes and other geothermal nonsense should be absolutely impossible.

But of course a quick look around shows a world full of birds and volcanoes.  So if there’s something around (birds and volcanoes), it really makes no difference what the prevailing scientific theory says one way or the other. Because reality wins.  It’s even written into the science charter, line one: “reality wins”.
By the way, the “flying issue” was later solved by taking into account rotational flows and viscosity, and the “warm Earth problem” is resolved by taking into account radioactive decay (which hadn’t been discovered yet).

So the better question isn’t “can so-called ‘science’ explain astrological effects?” but instead “are there astrological effects?”. There has been a lot of research into astrological phenomena, but so far all of the results have been negative or unrepeatable (science talk for “this isn’t a thing”).  Since the 18th or 19th century the scientific community has pretty much stopped looking, but they were at it for a very long time. There aren’t many scientific papers that seriously investigate this sort of thing, partly because the results are well-known, and partly because the experiments involved are easy enough that they tend to show up in middle-school science fairs relatively often (this is also why there are no articles in Nature about baking soda and vinegar volcanoes).

For example, just take all of the astrological predictions out of a newspaper (pardon: website) and read them in a random order to someone else (this is called a “blind experiment”) and see which one is closest to being accurate. You’ll find that the “correct one” is selected about once out of every 12 trials.

Long story short; whatever affect other planets and stars may have on us individually is completely drowned out by local “noise” (like the gravity and EM field of a passing truck), and worse there doesn’t seem to be an effect that needs explaining.

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19 Responses to Q: How much of a direct effect do planets and stars have on us? Is astrology reasonable or plausable?

  1. One interesting aspect (for me) of what passes for Astrology nowadays is that, most of the time, it seems astrologers follow a very mechanical process: take a few numbers as input, cross reference some tables, provide some lines of text as output, done. And when it comes to newspaper astrological columns then, many times it seems not even that much work went into it, as the text has all appearances of having been random generated. So, yep, it appears even them have mostly given up.

    That said, I’d like to provide some point on what I see as a flawed take on the subject. You see, my formation is as a Philosopher, and when studying Classic, Medieval and Renascence philosophies, there’s no working around the need to obtain at least some theoretical understanding of Astrology, as those older thinkers used to take it into account or at least talk about it. And in so doing, one of the most interesting realizations at which one arrives is that the actual theoretical basis for Astrology had almost nothing to do with Physics. In fact, Physics entered the picture (and the discussion) more or less at the time it began showing its many awesome results, circa 17th century or so. Before that, however, nope, it’s nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, due to Physics not being part of it, it also wasn’t thought that the planets influenced people directly, and much less that such direct influence happened by way of some kind of energy field, force or the like, concepts that simply didn’t exist back then.

    So, what did Astrology (and astrologers) actually believe? In something called “analogy” (not to be confused with the literary concept). The notion was more or less this: given that the universe and you form a single whole, it comes that “you” equals “universe minus everything that isn’t you”, or, put another way, that there’s a correlation between whatever happens with you and whatever happens to everything else. So, if you could find a regularity “out there”, that would correspond to a regularity “in here”. And what are the only absolute regularities we find in a world otherwise completely random? The planetary movements. Thus, by studying the planetary movements then correlating the “analogous” internal movements they revealed with a person’s specific, individual characteristics, you’d be able to get some insights on her past and current standing, as well as on where she was going. It should be noted, in addition, that this study of a person’s individuality should be made in person, not by merely figuring where and when she was born, because any number of life facts, up to and including what you did in the morning, influenced how you were to interpreted the analogy. Furthermore, the kind of question Astrology was supposed to answer was quite concrete, on the level of “help me find my lost keys”, and the astrologer answering, after hearing the person’s problem and doing a few calculations, “hmm… this indicates it should be near something very humid – have you looked throughout your bathroom, or perhaps in your garden?”.

    IMHO, given that one’s forced to draw two conclusions:

    First, that astrologers of old would neither do nor think valid newspaper columns, as those most definitely aren’t individualized. They’d wholeheartedly agree that there’s too much noise for those to be valid, although not in terms of the physics of the thing, but on the huge amount of everything that happened to everyone everywhere since they’ve been born, rendering any such generalization null and void.

    Second, that even if astrology has merit (I’m agnostic on this), it’s hardly something that could be double blinded. At least, I cannot imagine how one would go about developing a test to deal with such a high level of non-mechanicity.

    In any case, for anyone studying historical aspects of anything before the Enlightenment, it’s a subject worth knowing about at least a little, as grasping its central concepts makes understanding the Middle Ages and earlier periods just that much easier. :)

  2. LarryD says:

    Actually, the quick answer is ‘yes, the Moon, Stars, the Sun etc’ do have an effect on us the point is the Interpretation that one gives.
    Take for example, two compatible people are sitting on a bench looking up the ‘wonderful’ starry sky. They look at each other and slowly their heads move toward each other. Well, it sure ‘ain’t’ the gravitaional pull of their heads that is doing the moving! Now, put the same two people on the same night on a bench on a busy sidewalk…would the same thing happen? I doubt it.
    Another example goes back to the Roman Emperor Constantine. He laid the foundations for Modern Day Christianity in the West yet this was all based on a falling object (maybe a meteorite) and HOW the Christian scribes, travelling with his army, persuaded the emperor to interpret the event.
    We have a ‘biological clock’ that works fine when undisturbed but taking a holiday in another country requires a little time for adjustment. Other things can affect this too, happiness, fear, worry and so on but ancients put special interpretations on those feelings when they occurred at certain times, Full Moon etc.
    As for a personal view, I am a Sagittarian (part man, part four legged animal, archer) and some of my traits are those suggested by astrology but others differ very much. Having said that, according to Buddhist I was born on the day relating to a horse and in the year of the horse and need to be free. My wife certainly didn’t like that interpretation…but we’re still married!

  3. Paul Czerner says:

    Until we can mathematically quantify emotions, will, and personality, we would have no way to measure and confirm or deny such celestial effects on living beings.

  4. Xerenarcy says:

    mmm no. have to agree with the article.

    as far as i am aware astrology (as opposed to numerology) relies on the position of celestial bodies at the time of your birth to establish links between said bodies and how they will influence you when they change positions as you age. that is objectively ludicrous to a physicist.

    humoring the notion, however, in a sense yes what you see in the sky can influence your decisions. but this is not a situation exclusive to astrology, but rather superstition in general – that things / events you observe with no conceivable proof of influence on you, will somehow influence your fortune (or others’) regardless because of the event itself is being brought to your (or someone’s) attention.

    to make my point clear, not all the planets, and their orbits, were known when astrology was formed (and re-invented many times in many cultures since). therefore if this was a physical effect, it would have seemed incomplete or inconsistent (relative to today’s astrology) until all the nearby celestial bodies were identified and studied.

    however, if the symbolical significance of the planet is what causes influence attributed to astrology, then it is back to superstition and culture that influences how we interpret what we see, that causes us to make conclusions which may or may not be consistent or correct. arguably because celestial bodies vary in composition, distance, time dilation and the solar system being a dynamic, evolving system in itself, there is no conceivable way it would have a varying effect on individual people that is consistent through the ages.

    TL;DR

    try making waves on a beach or shining a laser / torch into the water; any beach leading to the oceans will do… try to influence one specific fish in the ocean somewhere with your actions, creature, anything. that is basically the scale of influence the article argues against being significant enough to be noticeable. under the circumstances to claim success would be textbook attribution bias.

  5. aaron says:

    Not looking for an astrological connection myself, I would have to say that in terms of celestial bodies having an influence on us I would have to point out that the tidal forces caused by the Moon’s (albeit weak) gravity have been cited as having been fundamental in the formation of early life in the Earth’s seas, and Jupiter’s gravity has meant that we have avoided much bombardment by meteors etc that could have had a devastating impact upon Earthlife (although a few may slip through the net – e.g. the K-T event).

  6. vernon vouga says:

    what about the direct connection between planet alignment and effects on broadcast electromagnetic waves?
    planets, at 0, 90, and 180 degrees of alignment to the plane of the solar system regularly affect broadcast signals… why?

  7. vernon vouga says:

    i also want to point out that we are walking talking examples of electromagnetic theory (not to mention quantum) to presume that the ancients had no idea what they were talking about, when they had calendars as well developed if not more developed than our own… is foolhardy and un-inquisitive, and un scientific. you look at all information, not just the bits that fit into a worldview you are comfortable contemplating.

  8. trin says:

    It’s solar radiation that affects the earth and each living thing on it, not the gravity of the sun – the entire approach of planetary gravity as proof against astrology is flawed. Now, obviously solar radiation extends as far as it is capable of doing without being impeded, the sun is a the center of our system and thus emits radiation in all directions which reaches and surrounds every planet, bounces around and becomes colored with some other energy in this way.

  9. Speaking of numbers, I was looking for actual calculations and this description gave none…it’s based more on opinion and not facts or numbers. Could you precisely measure the gravitational effects of the planets and stars on us on Earth? I tried once and I’m not sure of my calculations were actually correct. Remember that there are still many unknowns in the universe.

    For example NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale, is two-year mission sending four spacecrafts in a tetrahedron formation to understand/measure electron diffusion regions or X-points. Apparently, X-points could be detrimental to disrupting satellites or power grids. Although they have some clue what they are based on sensors from past space missions, there are many unknowns. Although NASA has some clues, they don’t really know where electron diffusion regions are, how to find them, when they open and close and much more. This mission is designed to figure out what is really going on.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/science/space/nasa-mission-to-measure-earths-magnetic-collisions.html?_r=1

  10. Paul T. says:

    When the moon hits your eye like a biggah pizza pie, that’s amor’e…

  11. Learning about the stars are cool.

  12. Kaol says:

    There is nothing irrational about the possibility that there are relationships between patterns in the Cosmos and patterns of life on Earth, you’d have to have little understanding of modern science to think that there wouldn’t be links, since we know from quantum physics that everything in the cosmos is connected.

    Personally, as someone who has studied astrology for 20 years, I can testify to its accuracy. I’m not talking about horoscopes in western newspapers. instead I’m talking about Indian (Jyotish) astrology, which was formulated over three thousand years ago. According to this (Indian) method, the main 7 planets, including the sun and the moon, bounce our past actions back to us at a set time, which may be weeks, months or years in coming. These influences are said to be transmitted back to us in the form of light.

    Using Indian astrology I have accurately predicted the birth of my brother’s daughter in May 1997, three years before that birth happened, and despite the medical profession telling my brother that he would never be a father due to medical reasons.

    In addition I’ve predicted deaths of relatives, and two house fires, all accurately to within a few weeks of the predicted date.

    Naturally many in the west are sceptical about the efficacy of astrology, but it may be worth keeping in mind that it is still used widely in eastern countries, including India, especially in the business sector. It might also be worth keeping in mind that Newton himself was an astrologer; and that the same ancient Indian (Vedic) culture that devised astrology thousands of years ago, also correctly estimated the beginning of the universe way back then. It’s only recently that they were proven correct by modern science.

  13. With the “Geocentric Solar System”, “Lunar Geoatmospheric Tides” are known to exist. This is a Cyclic change in the “Isoelectric Field” & its “Voltage Gradient”. This also cause a “Doppler Shift” in the “Schumann Resonance” which according to the work of Robert Becker influences the Analogue Semiconductive flow in the Perineurium. A main point it seems to me is are there any “Planetary Geoatmospheric Tides”? “The Gauquelin Effect” if true would seem to support them. With the “Heliocentric Solar System”, when Astronomers try to detect Extrasolar Planets by measuring changes in a particular Star’s Oscillations, they accept that a Planet can influence Oscillations of that Star, but when it comes to our own Sun there is hardly any research on the subject, why? I think 1.) Because we already known the Planets of our Solar System. “. 2.) Because it smacks to close to a mechanism of our Planets influencing the Sun, which in turn could influence Biological Systems on Earth i.e. Astrology although I vastly prefer the term Cosmobiology (Basically the influence of Celestial Systems on Biological Functioning) Is it conceivable that those Solar Tides caused by the Planets could be transferring their Pulsations to the Energetic Particle Emissions which in turn transfer them to the Geomagnetosphere?

  14. Just to add in Biophysics there’s something called “The Adey Window” or “Biological Window” after Ross Adey who found that Cells that were unaffected by some high amplitude signals could be affected by low ones, as they were nearer to the levels taking place within the Cell. The analogue might be, it takes a lot of energy to kick open a door but very little to use a key.

  15. A further thought, with Planets that have magnetic fields there seems to be “Magnetic Portals” joining the Planets to the Sun, that have a concentration of energetic particles, a Plasma ending with a bulb like Magnetosphere. Plasmas can behave like antennas, giving a picture of Spiral (as they might follow the Parker Spiral) Antenna of different lengths maybe both transmitting & receiving Electromagnetic Radiations.

  16. james newton says:

    I am using the analysis of a four forces and attempting to link biorhythms corrections to calculated the quantum realities like in a statistical analysis. Not to rectify on a global system as in a Chaos study of the data, but look for a shape function where the image of matter is created by reality versus a man made image that is produced by the holographic effect in a Chaos/Order system. Like in the statement about the function that it takes only the energy of a butterfly flapping it’s wings to change the initial conditions of the weather. Well this function is in the shape of a butterfly. This analogy is it gets more and more entangle will loose the function the more and more these two analogy items (the shape of the butterfly and the changing weather conditions with the butterflies energy). A shape function quantum tunneling relativistic statement analogy! The input on both sides of this analogy is to use the shapes to defining a function and vice versus. This may be a way to observe underlying dark matter and energy forces that govern isomers with the right-left spin of their likenesses and differences and with other tools of doing and analysis (cause and effect, … etc,…).

  17. Paul Wright says:

    If all the stars and planets are stationary, and it’s the dark matter moving, what does the maths say then?

  18. mand says:

    No serious astrologer would take a horoscopes column seriously! Astrology does not say that the sign the sun was in at your birth determines everything for you and the other 1/12 people who have that in common. To investigate the validity of a practice’s claims, it is necessary to find out what those claims are.

    I’m still in the process of learning enough about what astrology’s claims are – I started learning about it in order to see if it held water. So far it hasn’t shown itself to be logically or empirically nonsense.

    But I’m still a beginner, relatively. I have seen a lot of astrologers’ About pages explaining that they started from a position of utter scorn and took up the study to prove it was absurd… and twenty or however many years later, hadn’t found that proof yet. I’m not so arrogant as to think my don’t-know is more reliable than their know-quite-a-lot-by-now, nor to think my ability to observe, reason and approach the question scientifically and impartially is better than theirs (the ones I remember were from a background of strict, Western-trained science).

    Using newspaper horoscopes as “evidence” that astrology can’t work is like giving aspirin (and nothing else) for a broken leg and claiming the outcome shows that medicine is based on superstition. Either admit you’re judging without evidence, or use methods worth their salt.

    Maybe astrology is a load of tosh. Maybe it’s a source of information that we could get a lot of value from if we (as a society) didn’t dismiss it without trial. I don’t know… some people need to step back far enough from preconception to admit they don’t know either.

  19. I belong to the people, who don’t need an explanatory model, instead I focus on the results available. For some years I have conducted research in longevity in relation to individual horoscopes and the results are remarkable. I have published my research in English here: http://www.exploratoryastrology.dk/412065090

    Preconditions for this research:
    – The birth time is extremely important. You can have two non-identical twins with almost the same planetary positions (which are determined by the birth date alone) – but their lives and fates are totally different.
    – You cannot trust the given birth times to be accurate. The only way to determine the exact birth time is by chart rectification – I use the rectification method developed by Swiss astrologer Heinrich Kündig.
    – You cannot rely on Sun signs alone. Instead I have developed a method to synthesize a chart and thereby determine the 2 most dominant planets in the chart.

    Problem:
    Research results are only scientific, if they can be repeated by other scientists. The problem in this case is that it takes some time to learn all the astrological techniques described here. Scientists and skeptics are not willing to learn astrology at a professional level.

    Solution:
    The only solution I can see, is if the scientists / skeptics make a blind test. With my research results I can determine the length of a life in 3 categories:
    – Short life: Less than 30 years
    – Long life: More than 80 years
    – Medium length life: Between 30 and 80 years.
    The accuracy is 19 correct categorisations out of 20 possible.

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