Pasachoff, Jay M. Hopkins Observatory, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Last reviewed:May 2019
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The band of sky through which the Sun, Moon, and planets apparently move in the course of the year. The Babylonians, about 2500 years ago, divided the zodiac into 12 parts, which were then associated with constellations. Constellations are arbitrary "pictures" drawn on the heavens by human observers, using bright stars and, in some instances, other luminous celestial phenomena such as nebulae or star clusters. The 12 zodiacal constellations, in order around the sky, recognized today are Aries, the Ram; Taurus, the Bull; Gemini, the Twins; Cancer, the Crab; Leo, the Lion; Virgo, the Virgin; Libra, the Scales; Scorpius, the Scorpion; Sagittarius, the Archer, Capricornus, the Sea Goat; Aquarius, the Water Carrier; and Pisces, the Fish; these constellation names and shapes are drawn from Greek mythology. The Sun actually passes through parts of 13 constellations, including Ophiuchus (Illustration), but the Babylonians left out this thirteenth constellation in order to fit the zodiac constellations to their 12-month calendar. If the zodiac were to be more broadly defined as the sky region within latitudes ±8° to accommodate the eight planets through Neptune, which was not discovered until 1846 CE, the "modern" zodiac contains all or part of 24 constellations. See also: Aquarius; Aries; Cancer (constellation); Capricornus; Constellation; Earth; Gemini; Libra; Leo; Moon; Nebula; Pisces (constellation); Planet; Sagittarius; Scorpius; Star; Sun; Taurus; Virgo
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