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Astronomy and Astrology of the Zodiac
Since ancient times, people have looked up at the night sky and imagined they could see pictures in groups of stars, called constellations. More than four thousand years ago, the Babylonians divided part of the sky into the 12 constellations of the zodiac to show where the Sun, Moon, and planets appear to travel when seen from Earth. The Greeks spread these symbols to many other cultures.
The area in the sky marked by the zodiac is like a star-studded highway. All the planets except the dwarf planet, Pluto, are always found in or near this orbital pathway, called the ecliptic. From our viewpoint on Earth, the Sun spends close to 30 days in each zodiac constellation and takes a year to complete its apparent path through the sky. We use the term "apparent path" to describe the view we see from our perspective on Earth.
Traditionally the 12 constellations of the zodiac are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, and Pisces. You may recognize these as the same names used in astrology for horoscopes.
People often confuse astronomy and astrology, which are two different things. Astronomy is a science that focuses on studying the celestial objects found in the sky beyond Earth's atmosphere. Astronomers examine what these objects are made of and where they might come from, as well as their appearance, motion, and distance.
Founded on the zodiac constellations, astrology is the ancient belief that the positions of the stars, planets, Sun, and Moon influence character and destiny. People of ancient cultures looked at the night sky and imagined theconstellations as important symbols relating to their many gods. They thought the stars might also symbolize events in their lives.
In astrology, horoscopes are created by examining the positions of celestial objects at the exact moment of your birth, as well as throughout your life. Everyone has a zodiac sign, depending on which constellation the Sun was in at the time of birth.
Scientists do not believe that horoscopes can be used to understand people's behavior and predict the future. Although scientists think the notion of astrology is nonsense, the zodiac constellations are still recognized as important because they help us map the sky and describe the locations of the Sun, Moon, planets, and other night sky objects.
Astrology was developed in different places around the world, including India and Central America. One of the first types of astrology was developed around 3000 BC by people known as the Chaldeans of Babylonia. The Chaldeans lived in an area of the world now known as the country Iraq. The Chinese are known to have used astrology in 2000 BC. Astrology spread to Greece by 500 BC, with Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians developing a system much like the one used today by Western astrologers.
Although the Christian religion did not approve of astrology, it was widely practiced in Europe during the Middle Ages. This period of time lasted from about the years 500 to 1400. Astrology and astronomy were thought to be related sciences until the 15005, but once scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei learned more about the universe, astronomers realized that astrology was not a science.
You may be familiar with astrology through the horoscopes found in newspapers. Usually only a few short sentences, these horoscopes tell you about your personality and warn you about events that might happen to you during the day or the coming week. Horoscopes can be a lot of fun to read, but they are often written in such a general way that they will have meaning for many people. If you read the horoscope of every sign, you will probably discover something that applies to you in each one!
Astrology can be an entertaining way to explore your personality, but it is not a science. No one has ever proven that astrology can be used to predict the future or accurately describe each person's personality based on their birth date. Whatever you believe, it is important to recognize that your response to what happens in your life is really a matter of personal choice. It is not something beyond your control that happens because of the locations of objects in the sky.
The zodiac constellations are interesting for another reason. Like most of the star groups that make up the 88 official constellations, the zodiac stars are associated with myths and legends that tell the adventures of ancient gods, animals, and heroes. These stories were created to explain events that ancient cultures did not understand, such as weather and the changing seasons. Ancient stories were also used to explore and describe human emotions.
Search for the zodiac constellations by connecting the stars dot-to-dot in the sky. Imagine the stories that originated long ago, as people gazed up at the same star patterns you see today!