Sunday, 30 April 2017

Z is for Zodiac

This isn't about telling your horoscope, but knowing where the Sun is at any particular time of the year. (Those born under the sign of Ophiuchus the Snake-bearer know that Astrology is not a science because nobody has been able to prove its reasoning through the scientific method.)

In Astronomy, there are thirteen constellations that reside along the ecliptic (the path the Sun takes through the sky year-round). This means as the Sun moves through the sky from month to month, it will be found within the boundaries of certain constellations.

Astrologically, the sky is divided into twelve "houses" of 30° each. In astronomy, the constellations of the astronomical zodiac is not so evenly divided, and we've thrown in one more constellation because the Sun does spend some time in one corner of it. The planets and the Moon also move within the ecliptic.

Because the Earth is tilted, the ecliptic doesn't match up with the equator except on equinoxes twice a year.

The red line is the path the Sun takes. The green line is the equator.

When it comes to measuring where stuff is in the sky, there's two axes of celestial coordinates: declination (DEC) and right ascension (RA).

Declination measures north/south in degrees: North (90°) to Equator (0°) to South (-90°).
Right ascension measures eastward from a point of origin (the vernal/spring equinox) in hours, with there being 24 hours in a full circle, due to the rotation of the Earth. This is because astronomers measure right ascension by timing when an object passes through the highest point in the sky, or the meridian. Each hour is about 15° in width.

Anything anywhere in the sky can be given a set of coordinates.

Looking at the star of Betelgeuse:  DEC +07° 24′, RA 05h 55m

This means Betelgeuse sits about seven degrees north of the equator, and on the spring equinox (21 March), it takes about five hours and fifty-five minutes before it reaches the meridian of the sky.

Let's look at the Zodiac astronomically.

Here's the actual map:

As you can see, the constellations take up different areas of real estate. Sometimes the Sun will spend as little as a few days in some constellations and several weeks in others.

Right ascension starts on the spring equinox and is also called the "First Point in Aries"... however, due to precession, the spring equinox actually lies in Pisces today!  Here's how much it's shifted over the past seven thousand years:

(A brief word about something called precession: the Earth wobbles on a long-term cycle of about 26,000 years, where her north pole points to different parts of the sky. (Polaris isn't always going to be the North Star.) Because of this, the constellations have shifted from where they were originally observed a few thousand years ago, and don't line up with the calendar we know and love today. Your astrological zodiac sign no longer corresponds with the constellation of the same name. Sorry.)

We'll start on the vernal equinox and have a look at all the Zodiac constellations.

Constellation:Coordinates:Sun enters/exits:Time in constellation:
Pisces RA: 1h DEC: 5°12 March – 18 April38 days
Aries RA: 2h DEC: 15° 19 April - 13 May25 days
Taurus RA: 4h DEC: 15° 14 May - 19 June37 days
Gemini RA: 7h DEC: 20° 20 June - 20 July31 days
Cancer RA: 9h DEC: 20° 21 July - 9 Aug20 days
Leo RA: 11h DEC: 15° 10 Aug - 15 Sept37 days
Virgo RA:13h DEC:0° 16 Sept - 30 Oct45 days
Libra RA: 15h DEC: -15° 31 Oct - 22 Nov23 days
Scorpio RA: 17h DEC: -30° 23 Nov - 29 Nov7 days
Ophiuchus RA: 17h DEC:-30° 30 Nov - 17 Dec18 days
Sagittarius RA: 19h DEC: -25° 18 Dec - 18 Jan32 days
Capricorn RA: 21h DEC: -20° 19 Jan - 15 Feb28 days
Aquarius RA: 22h DEC: -10° 16 Feb - 11 March24 days

Which is your favourite zodiac constellation?

What is your astrological zodiac sign, and what is your astronomical zodiac constellation (based on your birthday)?

Her Grace is fond of Scorpius, because it really does look like a scorpion.

If you wish to explore more Astrological applications of the Zodiac, check out Chris Votey's "Madness of a Modern writer" A to Z challenge where he's been combining the Greek and Chinese Zodiacs to create character profiles.  It's been fun for me, from a writer's point of view.


sage said...

NOT FAIR! Being on the other side of the dateline you get to post your Zodiac post before mine! Just kidding, great post. I'll catch up tomorrow.

Sara C. Snider said...

I am a Libra, but my astronomical zodiac constellation is (apparently) Virgo. Crazy! I had no idea. Good stuff.

Congrats on surviving the A to Z! :D

A to Z 2017: Magical and Medicinal Herbs

Preethi Venugopala said...

Oh, I am a Libra now! Intriguing.
Great post!

lissa said...

base on the revised chart, I'm a capricorn which is kind of odd because I alway believe to be an aquarius. then again, it didn't really matter to me because I don't really believe the signs all the much

have a lovely day.

~ my Z post - Zodiac ~

Karnika Kapoor said...

This is quite an informative post! I am Aries but technically born under Pises. I don't have a favorite zodiac constellation, yet. Will have to consider before picking one ...
Congrats on finishing the challenge!
Thanks for sharing :)
Best wishes!

Sandra Williamson said...

This reminds me of the Ahhh Ahh moment in a science fiction novel where they suddenly realise that they haven't allowed for movement in the planets that has taken place since an old interstellar was originally made. They adjust their calculations and they can get back to earth or where ever they need to be.
Have really enjoyed your posts during the A to Z Challenge.

Dropping by from the A to Z Challenge.
Sandra, Aspiring family historian, fellow participant in the #AtoZchallenge - Sandra's Ancestral Research Journal