In the night sky: Orion
In the night sky: Orion

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.2.4 Signs of the Zodiac

An illustration showing the consellation of Leo in relation to the Sun and Earth.
Figure 9 ‘The Sun is in Leo’.

The apparent movement of the Sun across the sky throughout the year tracks the circular path or ‘belt’ that is known as the zodiac, and the constellations that lie on this belt are the ‘signs of the zodiac’. There are 13 of these constellations – the 12 that are also used in astrology as the ‘star signs’, plus the constellation of Ophiuchus.

Figure 9 shows how the phrase ‘the Sun is in Leo’ comes about. Imagine that you could see the constellations when the Sun was up (i.e., during the day). Then looking towards the Sun, it appears to be set against the background constellation of, in this case, Leo.

Because, of course, we cannot see the constellations during the day, the constellations we see in the night sky are the ones diametrically opposite to it, again, in this case, Leo, which is opposite Aquarius. If you know your star sign, you might have wondered why the constellation with which it is associated is not visible in the night sky during the month of your birthday. This illustration should have explained why that is the case.

The annual cycle of the zodiac was used by ancient cultures to determine the time of year and helped to mark the passage of time between planting and harvesting. From these beginnings, the idea eventually came that the passage of stars across the heavens could be linked to predictions of a good harvest or a cold winter, etc. This developed into modern day astrology, but there is no science to suggest that the position of the stars has any effect to what happens in our lives.

Astronomy is the scientific study of stars, planets and other celestial objects. For more on the differences between astronomy and astrology, watch Phillipa’s explanation video [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

In the next section, you will create your own constellation!

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371