When you hear Zodiac constellations, it’s likely that the first things that come to your mind are the astrological horoscopes. So, let’s define the difference between astronomy and astrology first.
Astronomy is the study of the universe, which means the stars, the planets, the galaxies, in a word the outer space. Astronomers study the celestial objects, their movements, positions and properties.
Astrology on the other hand attempts to explain how these movements and positions affect people and other events on Earth. It’s regarded as a pseudoscience or a divinatory art.
Astrology started in Babylonia over two millennia ago where they believed that the motions of the celestial objects and the earth affected the fortunes of the kings and kingdoms and so they used this information to guide their rulers. This spread to the Greeks and eventually to the western world.
What’s a Zodiac?
The word zodiac originates from the Greek word “zoidiakos” that means the “circle of animals”. A zodiac is a band of “animal” constellations throughout the sky on either of the ecliptic sides where the Sun, the moon and the planets seem to hover through.
So, the Babylonians observed the Sun’s “movement” and divided the ecliptic into twelve equally sectors of 30 degrees. And assigned each to one of the twelve “signs” or constellations that traversed it. Initially they were thirteen but they considered this as an unlucky digit and therefore they dropped one of the constellations. The Ophiuchus constellation was merged into Scorpio and Sagittarius.
What Are the Constellations of the Zodiac?
A constellation is a group of stars in the sky that are clustered in a particular pattern and have been given a name.
With astrology out of the way, here is an astronomical view of the constellations of the zodiac.
How Many Zodiac Constellations Are There?
Due to the origin of the word, zodiac signs constellations are represented by animals or mythical creatures and there are 12 of them. These are Virgo, Aquarius, Leo, Pisces, Sagittarius, Taurus, Libra, Gemini, Cancer, Scorpion, Aries and Capricorn.
Here they are the details and the time of the year each zodiac constellation is most prominent:
This is the largest of the zodiac constellations and 2nd largest overall. The name Virgo means virgin in Latin. It’s prominent or visible from the northern hemisphere between March and July while in the Southern hemisphere it can be viewed during the autumn and winter months and appears upside down.
Virgo’s location is one of the two positions in the sky where the celestial equator crosses with the ecliptic. Spica is its brightest star. It’s highly populated with several galaxy clusters and the famous stunning Sombrero Galaxy, which is one of the brightest galaxies known. And visible even through an amateur telescope or simple binoculars.
But if you can’t reach the Northern or Southern hemispheres to view this zodiac constellation, it has been captured beautifully by Galaxy Lamp’s Galaxy Projector. They have used authentic NASA imagery to capture this constellation among other galaxy images, so you get to project and view them from the comfort of your home. This device is voice controlled and pairs with Alexa and Google assistant to ensure maximum comfort as you gaze upon these galaxies.
This is the second largest of the 12 zodiac constellations. It lies in a region in the sky often referred to as the Sea, since it surrounds a number of other water associated constellations such as Pisces which means “the fish”, Eridanus which means the river and Cetus meaning the whale among many others.
Aquarius can be viewed in the Southern hemisphere during spring and in the Northern hemisphere during fall. It has a number of planetary nebulae including the brightest, NGC 7009, also referred to as the Saturn Nebula since it has a ring that looks like that of Saturn. It also has 3 meteor showers. It features Ganymede, the cupbearer of the gods.
Leo is the third largest zodiac constellation. It contains a number of very bright stars and this makes it very easily recognizable. It’s visible in the Northern hemisphere from January to June while in the Southern hemisphere it’s visible between the summer and autumn months and appears upside down.
Its brightest star is the Regulus. Leo means “lion” in Latin and this is why it takes the symbol of a lion.
It’s the fourth largest of the 12 zodiac constellations but quite faint because it has no bright stars. It can only be seen where there is zero light pollution. It can be visible from both hemispheres. In the Northern hemisphere it can be seen between August to January while in the Southern hemisphere it can be seen during the months of spring and also appear upside down.
Pisces has no notable sky objects except a spiral galaxy that can only be visible through a telescope. Its name comes from the Latin word meaning fishes, and this is also its symbol.
This constellation of the zodiac is the fifth largest and lies near the galactic center of the Milky Way. It’s the home to the huge star forming an area known as the Omega Nebula. Within this constellation is located the humongous black hole that exists at the center of our galaxy.
This zodiac constellation can be seen mainly in the Southern hemisphere between the months of June to November. In the Northern hemisphere, it can be seen just around the horizon between August and October.
Sagittarius is a Latin word meaning archer and its symbol is a teapot shaped asterism.
It’s the sixth largest of the 12 zodiac constellations and can easily be seen in the night sky. Ancient cave paintings suggest that the Stone Age man recognized it and depicted it as a bull. It’s visible in both hemispheres. In the Northern hemisphere it can be seen in the autumn and winter months while it can be seen in the Southern hemisphere from late spring to summer, appearing upside down.
Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation and the Crab Nebula is also within this constellation. Taurids meteor shower named after this constellation also appears mid-autumn. Its symbol is a bull.
It’s the seventh in size; it’s a dim zodiac constellation and has no major bright stars. It neighbors Scorpius to the west and this is the easiest way to find it.
It’s visible from both hemispheres. In the Northern hemisphere, it’s visible between the months of April to July. While you can see it in the months of autumn and winter in the Southern hemisphere. It’s among the few constellations that depict an inanimate object. Libra means scales in Latin and represents balance.
This is one of the smaller zodiac constellations. It can be recognized from both hemispheres. In the Northern hemisphere it can be seen during the winter months all the way to spring. While in the Southern hemisphere, it will be seen during the months of summer, upside down.
The name Gemini is the Latin version for twins, even though the characters were based on Greek mythology. The two large stars in this constellation represent the heads of Pollux and Castor of Greek mythology, and they are also the two brightest stars in this constellation. These two represent the Yin and the Yang in Chinese philosophy.
The fourth smallest of the twelve zodiac constellations, Cancer is another dim constellation thanks to its faint stars. With this said, it can still be visible in both hemispheres, from late autumn months to spring in the Northern hemisphere and in the autumn and summer months down the Southern hemisphere, appearing upside down.
The Tropic of Cancer which is the latitude that marks the most northern point that sun can be seen overhead is named after this constellation. Cancer is Latin for crab and that’s its symbol.
This constellation can be visible mostly from the Southern hemisphere and is the third smallest. It’s bright and easily visible. In the Southern hemisphere it can be seen between March and October while in the Northern hemisphere it can be seen between July and August.
This zodiac constellation lies at the center of the Milky Way and its brightest star, Antares lies in the middle of it.
Antares together with other bright stars are called Scorpius- Centaurus Association and formed from the same area of a dark nebula cloud. When this is tough to capture with your naked eyes, this Galaxy Lamp will give you an approximative vision because it’s been meticulously crafted using real NASA images and printed in superior 3D technology to give it that same galactic look. And when you light it, the entire galaxy and the entire nebulas glow in the warmth of your room.
Scorpius is from the Latin word meaning Scorpion and is the symbol for this constellation.
Aries is the second smallest zodiac constellation and also quite dim with very few stars that can be seen with the naked eyes. The easiest way to locate it is by finding Taurus to the East and Pisces to the West since it lies between these two. It’s visible in the Northern hemisphere between winter and autumn months. Some of its most visible stars are Alpha, Beta and Gamma Arietis. In the Southern hemisphere it can be seen slightly in the month of December since most of it is lost in the rays of the sun.
There are five meteor showers in this constellation and its name means ram in Latin, hence its Symbol.
The smallest of the twelve zodiac constellations, Capricorn is visible from both hemispheres. Between July and November in the Northern hemisphere and the months of winter to spring for the Southern hemisphere are the best time to view it. In the Northern hemisphere, it will show low in the southern horizon or you can easily miss it. Look out for a bright triangle that makes for the head of the horned goat, which is its symbol.
Capricornus is Latin for horned goat.
There you have it, you don’t need to wonder when or what are zodiac constellations any more, and you now have a better understanding of all them including the symbols. Thus, you can now wax lyrical about the wonders of your sign when talking to your friends.