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

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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!