Be Patient Google, 540th Anniversary of Copernicus' Birth Not Until Next Week

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Difference between old-style dates and modern calendar means the true anniversary of Copernicus' birth falls on Feb. 28, says Austin, Texas, astrologer Donna Woodwell

Google Copernicus Logo

Google celebrates Copernicus birthday a few days early.

Copernicus revolutionized our ideas about the solar system and certainly deserves remembering. But, technically speaking, the anniversary of his birth isn't until next week.

Google cheerily greeted users Feb. 19 with birthday wishes for renowned scientist Nicolaus Copernicus – but the actually anniversary of his birth isn't until next week.

"Copernicus revolutionized our ideas about the solar system and certainly deserves remembering," says Austin, Texas, astrologer Donna Woodwell. "But Google has started the celebration a little early."

Google's confusion isn’t surprising, given that there was a major change in our modern calendar system in the 16th century.

In order to correct timekeeping errors in the Julian calendar, adopted by the Romans in 46 B.C.E., Pope Gregory XIII implemented a new calendar for the Catholic Church in 1582. By the time the Gregorian calendar was adopted by the British Empire in 1752, there were 11 days difference between the Julian "old-style" calendar and the Gregorian "new-style" calendar.

"Nicolaus Copernicus was born on Feb. 19, 1473, according to the old-style calendar, but that's Feb. 28, 1473, on the new-style calendar we use today," says Woodwell. "So, technically speaking, the 540th anniversary of his birth is not until next week."

Since keeping track of every historical date as "Old Style" or "New Style" would be tedious, most historians just default to using the date from whichever calendar was in effect at the time. This isn't usually a problem, unless precision is an issue.

"Accurate birth times mean everything to astrologers," said Woodwell, an instructor at Kepler College and board member of the International Society of Astrological Research. "To do astrology well, we need to make a map of the sky as viewed from the time and place a person is born."

"Where the sun and moon and planets actually are in the sky at a particular moment is what matters to astrologers," says Woodwell. "That's why we keep track of calendar date changes, time zone changes, daylight saving time and other things that affect our naming system. It's like trying to catch a plane; if you've got your watch set to the wrong time zone, you're going to miss your flight."

In order to create accurate birth charts, astrologers have kept extensive records for centuries about what day and time it is in locations around the world. This astrological data collection was even referenced in the creation of the standardized time zone database, which is used by all mobile phones, computers and internet server to tell the time.

Copernicus is best remembered for proposing a model of the solar system with the sun at the center instead of the Earth. Like all educated people of his time, Copernicus would have known something about astrology.

"His writings show him to have been at least somewhat astrologically motivated," writes author and astrologer Bruce Scofield, PhD. "The irony here is that, in justifying the Sun as center, the old doctrines pointed the way to their own destruction."

"Astrology has always been about understanding and living in harmony with the cycles of nature," says Woodwell. "We like science. We just don't buy into the materialist worldview that what you can see and measure is all that there is."

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Donna Woodwell, MA, owner of Four Moons Astrology, is based in Austin, Texas. She serves on the board of the International Society for Astrological Research and as an instructor at Kepler College. Her blog La Vita Luna: Living Gracefully in a Changing World is featured on Astrology.com.

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