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The Zodiac is the ring of constellations that the Sun seems to pass through each year as the Earth orbits around it. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually 13 zodiacal constellations, if you pay attention to the way astronomers define them. In addition to

Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, and Sagittarius, the Sun also passes through Ophiuchus.

Try getting some astrologer to explain THAT one to you...

While you're at it, ask them to explain why all the "Signs of the Zodiac" are off by about one month. (hint: astrology was invented more than 2000 years ago and the precession of the Earth's pole has caused changes in the postions of the stars since then)

The path the Sun follows is called the ecliptic. The ecliptic plane is the plane defined by the Earth's orbit around the Sun. All of the planets except Pluto orbit very near the ecliptic plane, so you will usually find all of them in zodiacal constellations.

Notice that in astronomy, it is Scorpius, not Scorpio and Capricornus, not Capricorn. These are the official names for the constellations.

Aries

Translation: The Ram (in Arabic Hamal)

This is one of the 13 constellations of the Zodiac. Best seen in December (at 9:00 PM)

Aries is one of the zodiacal constellations (lies along the eclipitic), and can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere during the late winter and early spring. Aries is a small constellation which is bounded by Taurus (to the East), Pisces (to the West), and Cetus (to the South).

Aries is the Ram, and is the first sign of the zodiac. Aries is usually associated with dawn, the spring or the beginning of life.

According the Greek Mythology, the story of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the golden fleece. The fleece came from when Mercury the messenger of the gods, found that two of King Thebes children (Phrixus and Helle) were being treated badly by their stepmother Ino. Mercury sent a supernatural ram, which could speak and reason, to rescue the two children. The children escaped by clinging to the fleece on the ram as it flew (I did mention it flew didn't I?) to Colchis, unfortunately for Helle, she fell off and into the sea and drown. There is a city near Istanbul with the name of Hellespont (named for her?). When Phrixus arrived safely, at Colchis, he sacrificed the ram in a sacred grove, he hung the fleece up, where it turned to gold.

 

Taurus

Translation: The Bull (In Arabic: Eltor)

Best seen in January (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

ALDEBARAN (Alpha Tau)

ALNATH (Beta Tau)

Hyadum I (Gamma Tau)

Hyadum II (Delta 1 Tau)

Ain (Epsilon Tau)

ALCYONE (Eta Tau)

Celaeno (16 Tau)

Electra (17 Tau)

Taygeta (19 Tau)

Maia (20 Tau)

Asterope (21 Tau)

Sterope II (22 Tau)

Merope (23 Tau)

Atlas (27 Tau)

Pleione (28 Tau)

Taurus, the Bull, can be seen during the winter and the early spring in the Northern Hemisphere and from November to February from the Southern Hemisphere.

Taurus is another of the earliest known constellations, and so also probably orginated from the Babylonians.

To the Greeks, Taurus was one of the two bulls with brazen feet that were tamed by Jason of the Argonauts.

In Taurean myth, Zeus swam out to Crete as a bull and seduced Eurpopa who bore a son, Minos, father of Minotaur, a half man and half bull monster. Minotaur was locked in a Labyrinth and ate human flesh. Minotaur was killed by Theseus when he was helped by Adiadne's ball of thread.

Taurus was also referred to as being rich in maidens (the Hyades and the Pleiades, all daughters of Atlas).

 

Gemini

Translation: The Twins (In Arabic: Elgawza'a).

Best seen in February (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

CASTOR (Alpha Gem)

POLLUX (Beta Gem)

ALHENA (Gamma Gem)

Wasat (Delta Gem)

Mebsuta (Epsilon Gem)

Mekbuda (Zeta Gem)

Propus (Eta Gem)

Propus (Iota Gem)

Tejat Posterior (Mu Gem)

Alzirr (Xi Gem)

Propus (1 Gem)

Gemini, the Twins, is visible from the Northern Hemisphere in November through April and in the Southern Hemisphere from December through March.

Castor and Pollux, the "twins" of Gemini, were Greek heroes. They were among the men Jason led on his voyages on the Argo.

Gemini, the Twins were the sons of Leda who was seduced by Zeus who appeared as a swan, the result of the union was two eggs, one of which contained Helen of Troy and Pollux (the immortal twin) and the other egg were the offspring of Tyndareus, the mortal Castor and his sister Clytemnestra.

Castor a horseman and Pollux a boxer were inseparable and accompanied the Argonauts on their adventures. They calmed the seas when rough weather threatened. They can still be seen (or so sailors say) today when twin balls of lightening, or St. Elmos fire appear in the rigging of ships that sailors know foul weather is near.

 

Cancer

Translation: The Crab (in Arabic Saratan)

Best seen in March (at 9:00 PM)

Cancer is visible in the Northern Hemisphere in the spring, and visible in the Southern Hemisphere in autumn.

Cancer plays a minor role in the Twelve Labors of Hercules. While Hercules was busy fighting the multi-headed monster, Hydra, the goddess Hera, who did not like Hercules, sent the Crab to distract him. Cancer grabbed onto the hero's toe with its claws, but barely breaking the rhythm of his great battle with Hydra, Hercules crushed the crab with his foot. Hera, grateful for the little crustacean's heroic but pitiful effort, gave it a place in the sky.

Cancer is famous despite itself due to its Zodiacal origins. In fact, it is very faint with no stars brighter than 4th magnitude.

 

Leo

Translation: The Lion (in Arabic Elasad)

Best seen in April (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

REGULUS (Alpha Leo)

DENEBOLA (Beta Leo)

ALGIEBA (Gamma 1 Leo)

Zosma (Delta Leo)

Ras Elased Australis (Epsilon Leo)

Adhafera (Zeta Leo)

Chort (Theta Leo)

Al Minliar al Asad (Kappa Leo)

Alterf (Lambda Leo)

Ras Elased Borealis (Mu Leo)

Subra (Omicron Leo)

Leo, the Lion, can be found in the Northern Hemisphere in the spring and Southern Hemisphere in autumn.

You can find Leo in the sky by looking for the "sickle" starting at Regulus (Alpha Leonis) and following the backwards question mark. To find Regulus, use the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).

Leo is the Nemean Lion from the Moon who was sent by Hera to slay Hercules. As Hercules first labor, he killed the lion by strangling it with his bare hands. Hercules wore the skin, which made him invincible. When Hercules died, the lion was returned to the celestial heavens with Hercules.

Leo to the Egyptians, was the place the Sun rose after creation (near Denebola) and so was called Domicilium Solis, the badge of fire and heat, or the House of the Sun.

 

Virgo

Translation: The Maiden (In Arabic: Azra'a)

Best seen in May (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

SPICA (Alpha Vir)

Zavijah (Beta Vir)

Porrima (Gamma Vir)

Auva (Delta Vir)

VINDEMIATRIX (Epsilon Vir)

Heze (Zeta Vir)

Zaniah (Eta Vir)

Syrma (Iota Vir)

Rijl al Awwa (Mu Vir)

Virgo, the Virgin, can be seen in spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

Virgo the Goddess probably originated when the Sun was in Virgo during the spring equinox, the time of the Egyptian harvest. She is usually drawn holding a palm branch and an ear of wheat.

To the Babylonians she was the goddess Istar, Queen of the stars, and the lover of the god of corn, Tammuz. Tammuz was cut down in his prime in the autumn, and so Virgo travels the underworld to bring him back. While Virgo is in the underworld, winter reigns, when she returns with him in the spring, the season renew.

 

Libra

Translation: The Beam Balance. (in Arabic Mizan)

Best seen in June (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

Zuben Elgenubi (Alpha 2 Lib)

Zuben Elschemali (Beta Lib)

Zuben Elakrab (Gamma Lib)

Zuben Elakribi (Delta Lib)

Brachium (Sigma Lib)

Libra, the Scales, can be found between Scorpius and Virgo, Libra is the age old symbol of justice, harmony and balance.

It is interesting that to the Italians, French, Germans, Anglo-Saxons, and Romans the constellation was the scales.

The early Greeks did not recognize Libra as the scales, but included it as the claws of the scorpion. Credit is usually given to the Romans for creating this constellation as a sign of the autumnal equinox. The constellation first appeared in the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. The constellation appears again in 43 B.C. in which a comet appeared during the same year as Caesar's assassination, the writing indicates the comet took his soul to heaven, this comet may very well be the same one seen in 531, 1106 and 1680; its next apparition will be 2255.

However, the Egyptians, Hebrews, Persians and Syrians all had it on their planetspheres and called the constellation the 'weigh beam' or scale beam. The Arabs followed the greeks including it as part of the scorpions claws.

 

Scorpius

Translation: The Scorpion.   Best seen in July (at 9:00 PM).

Named Stars

ANTARES (Alpha Sco)

Graffias (Beta 1 Sco)

Dschubba (Delta Sco)

Sargas (Theta Sco)

SHAULA (Lambda Sco)

Jabbah (Nu Sco)

Grafias (Xi Sco)

Alniyat (Sigma Sco)

Alniyat (Tau Sco)

Lesath (Upsilon Sco)

Scorpius the Scorpion, can be seen in summer from the Northern Hemisphere, but is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere or southern US.

Scorpius is the slayer of Orion. Sent by a jealous Artemis, Orion was stung by the Scorpion and caused his death. Orion could not be saved even by Asclepius, the god of healing.

Scorpius was also responsible for the runaway horses of Phoebus Apollo when Phaethon tried to drive the Chariot of the Sun, he caused great havoc as he careened around the skies, drying up rivers and scorching the earth.

 

Sagittarius

Translation: The Archer.   Best seen in August (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

Rukbat (Alpha Sgr)

Arkab Prior (Beta 1 Sgr)

Arkab Posterior (Beta 2 Sgr)

Nash (Gamma 2 Sgr)

Kaus Meridionalis (Delta Sgr)

KAUS AUSTRALIS (Epsilon Sgr)

Ascella (Zeta Sgr)

Kaus Borealis (Lambda Sgr)

Ain al Rami (Nu 1 Sgr)

Albaldah (Pi Sgr)

NUNKI (Sigma Sgr)

Terebellum (Omega Sgr)

Terebellum (59 Sgr)

Terebellum (60 Sgr)

Terebellum (62 Sgr)

The center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, lies in the direction of Sagittarius. It is believed to be about 29,000 light years away from us. The Sun orbits around the Milky Way once every 200 million years at a speed of 220 kilometers per second! What is at the center of the galaxy? No one really knows yet, but it appears that there might be a giant black hole there with a mass about a million times greater that the Sun.

Sagittarius, the Archer, can be seen in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere and in winter in the Southern.

Sagittarius probably originated with the Babylonians. He stands with his bow aimed at the heart of Scorpio. Sagittarius was Babylon's god of War.

 

Capricornus

Translation: The Sea Goat (In Arabic: Hamal)

Best seen in September (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

Prima Giedi (Alpha 1 Cap)

Secunda Giedi (Alpha 2 Cap)

Dabih (Beta Cap)

Nashira (Gamma Cap)

Deneb Algedi (Delta Cap)

Alshat (Nu Cap)

Capricornus has been recognized as a goat since Babylonian and Chaldean times. Usually, it is depicted as a goat with a fish tail, which might relate to a story about the god Pan. Pan, fleeing a monster called Typhon, jumed into the river Nile. The part of him that was below water turned into a fish, while the rest of him above water, stayed as a goat.

Capricornus, the Goat-Fish, is visible in early autumn from the northern hemisphere. It reaches its highest point on September 1.

 

Aquarius

Translation: The Water Bearer

Named Stars

SADALMELIK (Alpha Aqr)

Sadalsuud (Beta Aqr)

Sadalachbia (Gamma Aqr)

Skat (Delta Aqr)

Albali (Epsilon Aqr)

Ancha (Theta Aqr)

Situla (Kappa Aqr)

Aquarius is a rather faint constellation which would not be famous if it weren't part of the Zodiac. Aquarius, as its name suggests is universally associated with water. In most cultures, it is drawn as a man pouring water from a bucket. This may arise from the fact that the Sun enters Aquarius in early winter when the rainy season begins in many parts of the world.

Aquarius is visible in the fall in the Northern Hemisphere and spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

 

Pisces

Translation: The Fishes.  Best seen in November (at 9:00 PM)

Named Stars

Alrisha (Alpha Psc)

Fum al Samakah (Beta Psc)

Torcularis Septentrionalis (Omicron Psc)

Pisces, the Fish, appears in the sky between October and December in the Northern Hemisphere, the circle of fishes lies just south of the 'Great Square' of Pegasus.

Pisces is considered the 'last' sign of the zodiac, as Aries is the first. It is a significant constellation today, in that the Vernal Equinox lies within Pisces today (so shouldn't Pisces be first?).

The original drawings of this constellation had the fish swimming together as a pair, today they are drawn facing in opposite directions tied by a cord which runs through Aries and Aquarius. The fish is an important symbol both in Christian and pagan religions. In early mythology (Babylonian) they appear pushing a giant egg out of the river Euphrates, from the egg emerged the goddess Atagartis. It is thought that she is the basis of a 'fish' cult, in which life is renewed each spring.

Aries had been the site of the vernal equinox for over 2000 years, until around 7 B.C. Pisces became the first constellation, a date co-incidentally that generally is accepted for the year that Jesus Christ was born. In that year, Jupiter and Saturn met, at the point marking the new Piscean equinox in the skies, making one exceptionally bright star which, in the winter months could have guided the Wise Men SW from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

In astrology, Pisces is the water sign and is ruled by Neptune. Pisces is considered to be the most mystically inclined of all the signs, as the last of the twelve, it represents the return to the great ocean from which all life evolved, and where all boundaries are dissolved.

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