I am an Aquarius and I’m supposed to be progressive, original, independent, but runs from emotional expression, and is temperamental and uncompromising… But why? You say I am the way I am because I am born on a certain date? And I share these behaviours and personality with others who are born on the same day and time as me? And because I am an Aquarius, we are romantically incompatible? I think there is something fishy here.
The 12 Constellations
So, let us actually look back at this issue and wonder, why are these 12 constellations the zodiac anyway? They are not the biggest or the brightest. There are few famous stories surrounding them. Worst of all, they do not even appear on the night of my birthday! The 12 zodiacs are chosen because they fall in rough alignment with the path the sun moves through every year, also known as the ecliptic. Along this path and extending about 8 degrees above and below this line lies the zodiac. And as the sun moves across the sky throughout the year, it passes through 13 constellations that got slimed down to the 12 zodiac we all know.
Starting with Aries, we then have Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and finally Pisces. Why was Ophiuchus removed from the merry band? Well, the other 12 somewhat fall nicely in a 30-degree sector of the sky along the ecliptic. This 30-degree sector is the portion of sky that we see from Earth. Unfortunately, Ophiuchus is between Scorpius and Sagittarius who got their sector filled. Plus, 12 is a much better number than 13 in the eyes of the ancients and 30 degrees x 12 constellations = 360 degrees, having the Earth go full circle. Therefore, no more Ophiuchus, which is honestly a pretty cool and large constellation.
Astronomy to Astrology
So that’s our 12 main players in place, but how did I get born under Aquarius? And another question — why is Aries the first in line but dates from March 21 to April 19? First of all, these dates are set because the sun appears to be within that constellation’s sector of the sky during these dates. So, if you were to watch the sun rise during those dates, you would see the constellation of Aries at the eastern horizon just before the sun rises.
The date March 21 might already clue you in as to why this is the first of the zodiac as March 21 is also the spring equinox where the day and night are of equal length. This also marks the start of spring and start of the new agricultural year. And the rest will follow along, ending with the watery zodiac Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces that make up the winter constellations before the renewal of spring.
Now, we have explained why you would be an Aries if born on 14th April 1960. Theoretically, the sun would be in Aries’ constellation on your birthday and you would see Aries rising with the sun in the morning. But in actuality, that is not what you would observe. The sun is not in Aries, but instead in Pisces. And to be fair, the sun will only stay in Aries for a very short amount of time because the constellation is TINY compared to the 2 it is between, Pisces and Taurus. What in the cosmic world is happening here?
A Wobbly Earth Can Change Everything
As much as we humans love to make charts and categorise things neatly in place, expecting the world to abide after we have noted everything down, the world does not work by our rules. It goes along and just rips through our beautifully made charts. In astronomy, we have this thing called axial precession, or the precession of the equinox, where the whole earth wobbles on this axis. Do not fear as this happens over a rough 26,000-year cycle. We live too short to actually see any noticeable effects. But what this means for the stars is that the sun appears to move “backwards” along the ecliptic ever so slightly every year and the effects are very noticeable now given that the sun is in Pisces on the spring equinox rather than Aries. The stars are too far away to be visually affected by our tiny wobbling, but the sun is much nearer and the visual effects are evident. In fact, this was first said to be discovered by a Greek astronomer called Hipparchus who compared measurements from previous astronomers and found that some and soon all stars would appear to have moved when measured on the same day.
The actual science behind this is that this axial precession creates an interesting phenomenon. As the earth orbits the sun, the 365-day rotation does not line up perfectly. The wobbling of the whole planet makes it worse. It makes it that we are a little late every round around the sun, but at that point it is still the spring equinox as the rotation of earth still matches up. This has to do with us orbiting around the sun and rotating on our axis at a different rate, a complicated problem for another article in the future. But it makes it such that we seem to be moving backwards on our orbit every year, ever so slightly. And therefore the constellation that we see on the spring equinox changes as the sun seems to be moving “backwards” as well.
Which Part of History Do We Follow?
When the zodiac first came into written existence, the very first versions of it came from the Babylonians in roughly 1000 BC. That was when it was first written down, which is not the same as when they first started to observe the stars. They started their charts in the constellation of Taurus, near a group of stars known as the Pleiades. This would mean that when they started observing the skies, the sun was in Taurus on the spring equinox. And when the Greeks adopted the Babylonian zodiac and adapted them to their own charts and observations, the sun had moved into Aries due to axial precession. We modern man have adopted the Greek zodiac and dates into our own as we have very well-written records from the Greeks. But we did it without accounting for precession. Thus, the sun is in Pisces now and will be that way till around the year 2700 where it will be in Aquarius. Now this does not affect us much as we do not use the stars as a way to measure time or keep track of the seasons anymore, but others might beg to differ.
Before I end this off, some minor issues I have with these 12 beautiful images in the night sky.
Aries and Libra are so small compared to the others in the ecliptic, yet why are they equally important?
And finally, how did one see Pisces as two fishes tied with a rope from just these stars? I mean that is so specific!
While it sounds like I rant on the zodiac a lot, my entry into astronomy started because of them and I have been chasing them in the night sky to photograph them. As a parting gift, this is my fist photo of Scorpius with the milky way just shining brightly.
Written by Lim Meng Hwee
Illustrated by Jasreel Tan