Could you pick your Zodiac sign out of the night sky? While most of us know the names of the Zodiac signs, few people actually know where to find the corresponding constellations.
What Is the Zodiac in Astronomy?
In an earlier post, we explored the differences between astronomy and astrology. Although the two are very different areas of study these days, they have a common origin. The Zodiac is a ring of 12 constellations along a celestial plane called the ecliptic.
As the Earth orbits, the Sun appears to “enter” the different constellations and remains there for about a month. That’s why you’d consider yourself a Gemini, for example, if you were born between May 21-June 20.
Astronomers will be quick to point out that astrology has no basis in scientific fact!
The Constellations of the Zodiac
Interestingly, the sign you were born under would not actually be visible at night. That’s because the Sun is “in” the constellation at that time, making it appear in the sky only during daylight hours when we can’t see it.
Aries (March 21-April 19) is a relatively dim constellation that hosts several spiral galaxies and nebulae. It consists of two lines of stars perpendicular to each other.
Taurus (April 20-May 20) is one of the oldest recorded constellations. It features the red giant Aldebaran as well as the Pleiades, a well-known star cluster.
Gemini (May 21-June 20) is a constellation consisting of two parallel lines of stars. The Ancient Greeks saw it as the twins Castor and Pollux, while early Arabian astronomers identified it as a pair of peacocks.
Cancer (June 21-July 22) is the most difficult constellation to see with the naked eye because only 2 of its stars are over the fourth magnitude.
Leo (July 23-August 22) is a large, bright constellation that features the star Regulus. The “pointer stars” in the Big Dipper will lead you straight to this lion!
Virgo (August 23-September 22) is the largest constellation in the Zodiac and hosts dozens of exoplanets. The first magnitude star Spica is the brightest in Virgo.
Libra (September 23-October 22) is a relatively dim constellation that was once considered to be part of Scorpius. Astronomers think planetary system Gliese 581, located in Libra, has at least 2 habitable planets.
Scorpio (October 23-November 21) is represented by Scorpius, a long and curling constellation. In Hawaiian folklore, the constellation is called “Maui’s Fishhook” after the demigod featured in Moana.
Sagittarius (November 22-December 21) includes the Pistol Star, a bright hypergiant, as well as the Lagoon Nebula.
Capricorn (December 23-January 20) is named for the constellation Capricornus, which is roughly triangular in shape.
Aquarius (January 20-February 18) is the 1oth largest constellation in the sky. The name means “water bearer,” and the constellation includes the Helix Nebula.
Pisces (February 19-March 20) is a faint yet massive constellation that’s easiest to see in early fall if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.
The 13th Sign
You might have heard that there’s a 13th sign of the Zodiac. You’re not wrong! Both Ophiuchus and Cetus are constellations that appear along the path of the sun. Ophiucus is located between Scorpius and Sagittarius and features Barnard’s Star (the closest star to Earth, after Alpha Centauri) as well as Kepler’s Supernova.