Most of us, even those who are not so familiar with astronomy or astrology, know about the 12 zodiac constellations and the 12 corresponding zodiac signs. But some sources claim there are 13 of them or even more. This article explains why there is such inconsistency in numbers and how the zodiac signs differ from the zodiac constellations.
- History of the zodiac
- What are the zodiac signs?
- What are the zodiac constellations?
- How many constellations are there in the zodiac?
- 12 zodiac constellations
- 13 ecliptic constellations
- 25 constellations in the zodiac belt
- What is the difference between a zodiac sign and a zodiac constellation?
- Telling fortunes vs. finding planets
- Equal sections vs. different sizes
- Fixed ancient dates vs. real astronomical dates
- Where was the Sun when you were born?
- Do astronomy apps show the zodiac constellations accurately?
- Which zodiac constellation is the largest?
- Where are the zodiac constellations located?
- How many constellations are on the ecliptic?
- What is zodiacal light?
History of the zodiac
The word zodiac derives from a Greek phrase meaning “animal circle,” but it’s initially the Babylonian concept, created in the 5th century B.C. Babylonian astronomers divided the band of the sky where the Sun, Moon, and planets move into equal 12 segments, each occupying 30° of celestial longitude. The segments denoted the 12 equal 30-day months and were given the names we now know as “the zodiac signs.”
The constellations along the path of the Sun, Moon, and planets on the sky had been observed even earlier. The first mentions of them belong to ancient Babylonia around 1000 B.C. They only roughly corresponded with the twelve segments of the zodiac. Still, the twelve of these constellations were given the same names as the zodiac signs. The translated names of the zodiac signs and constellations survived through the works of Greek astrologers and astronomers, one of whom was Claudius Ptolemy. In the 2nd century B.C., he wrote Tetrabiblos, which served as the basis for the western zodiac astrology.
The zodiac was mainly an astrological concept until the heliocentric model appeared. Ancient people thought all sky objects spun around the Earth, so it seemed obvious that the cosmic forces focused on human beings. Only in the 17th century, when the telescope was invented, and people realized that the Earth orbits the Sun and they are not the center of the Universe, the astronomical observations of the zodiac constellations became more respected.
What are the zodiac signs?
The zodiac signs are the twelve 30° sections of the zodiac created in analogy with the ancient “ideal year” with equal 30-day months. Most signs refer to living things, the only exception is Libra, the Scales. In modern western astrology, the zodiac signs are supposed to affect human life somehow.
What are the zodiac constellations?
The zodiac constellations are the constellations that are located along the path of the Sun in the sky and roughly correspond to the traditional zodiac signs. The zodiac constellations, even though they are historically connected to astrology, now are as valuable for astronomical observations.
How many constellations are there in the zodiac?
For more than 10 years the hype around the zodiac constellations’ number hasn't dropped. Some say there are 13 of these constellations or even more than 20. What causes the disagreement? Let’s clarify it.
12 zodiac constellations
There are twelve constellations that roughly correspond to the traditional zodiac signs and are recognized as members of the zodiac family. These are:
They are called “zodiac” on behalf of tradition. Beyond that, there is no reason why they are grouped this way. Let’s see what constellations are overlooked.
13 ecliptic constellations
Astrologers say that during the dates of a zodiac sign the Sun is “in” the corresponding constellation. There are 13 constellations in the sky the Sun regularly visits over a year: Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, and Ophiuchus. The last one doesn’t have its traditional zodiac sign, but why? To find this out, we would have to ask the Babylonians.
Babylonian astronomers designated the 12 zodiac signs in the 5th century B.C. They knew the 13th constellation Ophiuchus, but it didn’t fit into the ancient calendar of 12 lunar months. So, Babylonians omitted Ophiuchus for convenience. Modern western zodiac astrology still follows the Babylonian tradition. Moreover, astronomy constellation maps don’t include Ophiuchus in the zodiac family either – it belongs to the Hercules one.
Altogether the 13 constellations are called the constellations of the ecliptic. The ecliptic refers to the imaginary plane containing the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. We from the Earth observe it as the Sun’s path on the sky throughout the year. Over a year, the Sun appears to regularly pass in front of the ecliptic constellations one by one. The entry and exit dates almost perfectly repeat. For Ophiuchus, these dates are November 30 to December 17 (the beginning and the ending may vary by day, depending on the year and your timezone).
Therefore, if you are born at the beginning of December, don’t be surprised that the Sun is “in” Ophiuchus and not the constellation Sagittarius.
25 constellations in the zodiac belt
There is another reason to be surprised about the zodiac. Let’s forget about the tradition and assume that the zodiac constellations are the constellations located in the zodiac. In that case, we’ll get 25 of them! Here is why.
The zodiac, by the standard definition, is the band of the sky where the Sun, Moon, and planets of the Solar System move. It occupies approximately 8° on either side of the ecliptic plane. The number of the constellations within 8° on either side of the ecliptic includes Cetus, Corvus, Crater, Hydra, Orion, Pegasus, Scutum, Sextans, Auriga, Canis Minor, Serpens, and Aquila. There are 25 of them in all. How many of these names you’ve even heard?
But the Sun only passes through the 13 ecliptic constellations. Only the Moon and planets meet the extra ones. And, sure enough, they don’t have corresponding zodiac signs.
Still, the traditional definition of the zodiac is convenient because we can refer to the same constellations in a historical and astronomical context. By this definition, the zodiac constellations are the 12 ecliptic constellations that roughly correspond to the traditional zodiac signs.
What is the difference between a zodiac sign and a zodiac constellation?
Zodiac signs and constellations are historically connected but aren’t the same. To say the least, there is a slight difference in their names: the zodiac signs Scorpio and Capricorn correspond to the constellations Scorpius and Capricornus. Even though their names sound similar, they differ as much as astronomy differs from astrology. Here are the main issues that they don’t agree on.
Telling fortunes vs. finding planets
Zodiac signs are now only used in astrology to tell fortunes and describe people's characters. The zodiac constellations are the subject of astronomy. Formerly they marked the passage of time and the seasons for ancient people and helped create calendars. Even now, they are used for marine navigation and astronomical observations. For instance, they are especially useful for amateur astronomers as reference points to locate planets.
Equal sections vs. different sizes
Zodiac signs divide the zodiac band of the sky into equal 30° sections and represent the equal 30-day months. But the actual constellations are of different sizes and shapes. For example, the constellation Scorpius covers the area of 497 square degrees, and the Sun passes through it only for about 7 days. And the constellation Virgo occupies 1,294 square degrees, and the Sun spends around 45 days in front of it.
Fixed ancient dates vs. real astronomical dates
The zodiac signs’ dates are now about a month ahead of when the Sun meets the corresponding constellations. These dates were established more than two thousand years ago, but today things changed. For example, Aries now meets the Sun around April 19 (the exact date depends on the year and your timezone) instead of the astrological date of March 21. So, most people who think of themselves as Aries were born when the Sun was in Pisces.
The reason for this time shift is the axial precession of the Earth. Our planet is like a spinning top: it’s flattened at the poles and bulges at the equator, pulled by the Moon and Sun. So, it wobbles as it spins, tracing a cone of 23.5° radius with its axis. The wobble is called the precession of the Earth’s axis, or the precession of the equinoxes. Each spin lasts one day, but each gyration around the cone takes 25 800 years. The movement slowly alters the view of the zodiac from the Earth, making the constellations appear to slide to the east about 1° per human lifetime.
Moreover, just as in ancient times, now the Sun passes through the 13th constellation Ophiuchus that we mentioned above. So, no zodiac constellation meets the Sun from around November 30 to December 17, but, in astrology, these days belong to the sign Sagittarius.
It’s the astronomical view of things. Astrologers defend themselves by saying that they use the tropical zodiac, which is fixed to seasons, not the position of constellations. So, it’s your choice to believe whether you are Aries or Pisces, Sagittarius or Ophiuchus.
Where was the Sun when you were born?
Here we provide the astronomical dates when the Sun passes through the ecliptic constellations nowadays; the beginnings and endings may vary by a day, depending on the year and your timezone:
- Aries: April 19 – May 13;
- Taurus: May 14 – June 19;
- Gemini: June 20 – July 20;
- Cancer: July 21 – August 9;
- Leo: August 10 – September 15;
- Virgo: September 16 – October 30;
- Libra: October 31 – November 22;
- Scorpius: November 23 – November 29;
- Ophiuchus: November 30 – December 17;
- Sagittarius: December 18 – January 18;
- Capricornus: January 19 – February 15;
- Aquarius: February 16 – March 11;
- Pisces: March 12 – April 18.
Do astronomy apps show the zodiac constellations accurately?
Some users complain that Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight apps show the incorrect positions of the zodiac constellations. For example, during the astrological dates of the zodiac sign Sagittarius, the apps show that the Sun meets Scorpius or even the 13th constellation Ophiuchus. Now you know that the zodiac signs’ dates don’t tightly correspond with the constellations’ real position in the sky. The dates used in the astronomy apps are not imagined but accurately calculated so that you can see what’s in the sky above you now. Try using Star Walk 2 or Sky Tonight to learn what zodiac constellations are visible this evening. Stargazing is no less fun than reading horoscopes!
Which zodiac constellation is the largest?
Virgo is the largest zodiac constellation and the second-largest constellation in the whole sky, after Hydra. The constellation Virgo covers 1,294 square degrees of the sky. It’s seen from November to August in both hemispheres, from latitudes between -80° to +80°. To easily find Virgo in the night sky from your location, use the stargazing app Star Walk 2.
Where are the zodiac constellations located?
The zodiac constellations are located along the Sun’s path in the sky throughout the year. To find them at night, look along the approximate path that the Sun follows during the day – from east to west across the sky. Note that you won’t see the zodiac constellation that is currently behind the Sun. Use the astronomy app Sky Tonight to locate all of the zodiac constellations.
How many constellations are on the ecliptic?
There are 13 constellations on the ecliptic: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, and Pisces. The 12 of them (except for Ophiuchus) are also called zodiac constellations. Test your knowledge of the constellations with this quiz!
Mysterious patterns of stars in the night sky have fascinated people since ancient times. In this quiz, you'll need to guess famous constellations from their images. Will you be able to tell Cassiopeia from Ursa Major? Play our guessing game and find out!
Take the quiz!
What is zodiacal light?
Zodiacal light is a hazy pyramid of light extending up from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic. Zodiacal light isn’t connected to the zodiac constellations but to the band of the sky where we see them. This rare celestial event can be observed in spring and fall. Read more about the zodiacal light in our article.
Bottom line: There are 12 constellations that are traditionally called “zodiac constellations.” They are historically connected to the zodiac signs, but over the course of time, the functions of them divided. The zodiac signs now are only used in astrological horoscopes that may be fun to read but aren’t scientifically based. The zodiac constellations, on the other hand, are real groups of stars you can observe for yourself. They are explored by astronomers and can be used to locate planets and other celestial objects.
Are there 12 or 13 zodiac constellations? ›
The astrological calendar recognizes only twelve zodiac constellations because that number equals the number of months in a calendar year. Each sign corresponds to about thirty days. However, in the sky, the Sun doesn't appear to spend 30 days in each constellation.What are the 12 original zodiac signs? ›
The 12 zodiac signs in order are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Each zodiac sign has a symbol dating back to Greek manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Let's take a closer look at zodiac symbols, the zodiac constellations, and their attributes.What do the 12 constellations of zodiac refer to? ›
In Western astrology, and formerly astronomy, the zodiac is divided into twelve signs, each occupying 30° of celestial longitude and roughly corresponding to the following star constellations: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.Are there 27 constellations? ›
In Hindu astronomy, there are 27 nakshatras , or sectors along the ecliptic. A list of them is first found in the Vedanga Jyotisha, a text dated to the final centuries BCE. The Nakṣatra system predates the influence of Hellenistic astronomy on Vedic tradition, which became prevalent from about the 2nd century CE.Are there 88 named constellations? ›
Overview. In contemporary astrology, there are 88 constellations that are recognized by the International Astronomical Union. 42 depict animals, 29 depict inanimate objects and 17 depict humans or mythological characters.What zodiac is unique? ›
As the rarest zodiac sign, those with Aquarius sun signs are “known to be the unique thinkers of the zodiac,” says Stardust. They are also considered “the innovators and originators of fresh perspectives.”What is a zodiac demon? ›
The zodiac demons are introduced as a series of menacing (although somewhat endearing) beasts, some multi-headed. Each is depicted with cuffs on its clawed or hoofed limbs, suggesting that these creatures had been bound or confined.Is zodiac Chinese or Japanese? ›
Originating from China, the zodiac and its variations remain popular in many East Asian and Southeast Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand.What are the 5 fearless zodiac signs? ›
What is the most fearless zodiac sign? Aries is the most fearless zodiac sign ever. It is closely followed by Leo, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Aquarius zodiac signs.What zodiac signs will protect you? ›
- They have it in their personality to be nurturing, kind and maternal. ...
- All Leo's want is to make their loved ones smile. ...
- Scorpios are all or nothing people.
What are the 7 major constellations? ›
For this infographic, we've picked 7 most prominent constellations from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres: Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, Orion, Canis Major, Centaurus, Crux, and Carina.What is your birth constellation? ›
|Constellation||Astrology Date||True Date|
|Aries||March 21 - April 20||April 19 - May 13|
|Taurus||April 21 - May 21||May 14 - June 19|
|Gemini||May 22 - June 21||June 20 - July 20|
|Cancer||June 22 - July 22||July 21 - August 9|
The term zodiac derives from Latin zōdiacus, which in its turn comes from the Greek ζoδιακoς κύκλος (zōdiakos kuklos), meaning 'circle of animal'. Ancient records show that the Greeks inherited their knowledge of the heavens primarily from the Mesopotamians, who in turn inherited their knowledge from the Sumerians.Who named 48 constellations? ›
In 150 A.D., the Greek scientist Ptolemy published a book, known by its Arabic name, The Almagest, which contained a summary of Greek astronomical knowledge, including a catalog of 1022 stars, with estimates of their brightness, arranged into 48 constellations.What are the 5 largest constellations? ›
Hydra, Virgo, Ursa Major, Cetus, and Hercules are the biggest constellations in the sky.What are the 3 largest constellations? ›
The largest constellations in the sky are Hydra, Virgo, Ursa Major, Cetus and Hercules. The largest northern constellations are Ursa Major, Hercules, Pegasus, Draco and Leo, and the southern ones are Hydra, Virgo, Cetus, Eridanus and Centaurus.What is the oldest star name? ›
Methuselah: The oldest star in the universe | Space.What is the 27th largest constellation? ›
The constellation Cepheus, the king, is visible all year in the northern hemisphere. It can be seen between latitudes of 90 degrees and -10 degrees. It is a medium-sized constellation with a total area of 588 square degrees. This makes is the 27th largest constellation in the night sky.What is the 13th largest constellation? ›
The constellation Boötes, the herdsman, is visible in the northern hemisphere from spring through the summer. It can be seen at latitudes between 90 degrees and -50 degrees. It is a large constellation covering an area of 907 square degrees. This makes it the 13th largest constellation in the night sky.Which zodiac is mysterious? ›
Scorpio. If there's one trait that's associated with Scorpio, it's mysteriousness. In fact, each of the experts we consulted named them the most mysterious sign of the zodiac.
What are the 4 rare zodiac signs? ›
- Aquarius (January 20 – February 18) The sun enters Aquarius at the end of January and stays there for roughly a month before moving on to another sign. ...
- Aries (March 21st – April 19th) ...
- Sagittarius (November 22–December 21) ...
- The Most Common Zodiac Sign.
The Black Zodiac is a dark inversion of the normal Zodiac. Like its celestial counterpart, the more eldritch Black Zodiac is divided into twelve arcane signs; unlike its counterpart, these signs represent twelve earthbound ghosts necessary to gain access to the Ocularis Infernum.What are the 6 negative zodiac signs? ›
Negative polarity signs, also called passive, yin, receptive, or feminine signs, are the six even-numbered signs of the zodiac: Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn, and Pisces. Negative signs make up the earth and water triplicities.Is there a zodiac God? ›
Aion (Greek: Αἰών) is a Hellenistic deity associated with time, the orb or circle encompassing the universe, and the zodiac.Who is the zodiac king? ›
Leo. The king of the jungle and…the zodiac! Represented by the lion, Leos are leaders with a strong sense of character and instinct. They are born between July 23 and August 22 and are ruled by the Sun.Who started the zodiac? ›
The current iteration of Western Astrology is highly influenced by ancient Greece and ancient Babylon. In addition, Zodiac history is primarily derived from the mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, which was published roughly 1,800 years ago.Is dog a zodiac? ›
Dog is the eleventh in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac animals. The recent Years of the Dog include 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030, 2042... Dog is men's good friend who can understand the human spirit and obey its master, whether he is wealthy or not.Is Panda a zodiac? ›
(There are 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, which dates back over 2,000 years and includes the mythical dragon — but no panda.)Which zodiac fears being alone? ›
- Aries (March 21 to April 19) ...
- Taurus (April 20 to May 20) ...
- Gemini (May 21 to June 20) ...
- Cancer (June 21 to July 22) ...
- Libra (Sept. ...
- Scorpio (Oct.
The smartest zodiac sign is actually a tie between Aquarius and Scorpio, astrologists say—but they share the top spot for two very different reasons. Those born under the Aquarius sign have the highest levels of analytical intelligence, which is measured by cognitive ability and IQ.
Which zodiac is brave? ›
Aries are the bravest of them all. They love taking up new challenges and risks and stepping out of their comfort zone when needed. They are fearless and brave and love pushing themselves.What zodiac signs are nervous? ›
No zodiac sign is more obsessed with romance than a Pisces. After all, Pisces is literally the zodiac sign of fantasies and alternate realities, and isn't the whole point of romance to make life feel more magical?What zodiac signs are mortal enemies? ›
- Taurus and Aries. A friendship between Aries and Taurus is quite challenging, but it is understandable why they would be attracted to each other at first. ...
- Cancer and Sagittarius. ...
- Virgo and Aquarius. ...
- Scorpio and Leo. ...
- Capricorn and Libra.
- Some people are inherently dominating.
- According to astrology, there are 4 dominating zodiac signs.
- Aries, Leo, Virgo and Capricorn are the most dominating of all zodiac signs.
If you can find the Summer Triangle, you can use it to locate three of the sky's smallest constellations. They are Vulpecula the Fox, Delphinus the Dolphin and Sagitta the Arrow.What are the 5 smallest constellations? ›
The smallest constellations in the sky are Crux, Equuleus, Sagitta, Circinus and Scutum. The smallest northern constellations are Equuleus, Sagitta, Triangulum, Corona Borealis and Canis Minor, and the southern ones are Crux, Circinus, Scutum, Triangulum Australe and Reticulum.Who created the 12 constellations? ›
This means that in the second half of the first millennium BC the system of 18 constellations, adopted in MUL. APIN, and the system of 12 zodiacal constellations, borrowed from Babylonians by Greek astronomers, were used in parallel.How do I find my star? ›
Using the Google Sky link you'll be referred to a Google Sky page, this will automatically direct your browser to locate your star and set it in the middle of your screen for viewing. Using Google Sky you can browse the galaxy and the constellations within.How do I find my birthday star? ›
In order to locate your birthday star in your local night sky, you can use this handy sky map app called Stellarium, which will let you search the coordinates of your star.
What are the 27 birth stars? ›
Of the four ciphers he produced, two remain unsolved, and one was cracked only in 2020. While many theories regarding the identity of the killer have been suggested, the only suspect authorities ever publicly named was Arthur Leigh Allen, a former elementary school teacher and convicted sex offender who died in 1992.How old is the Zodiac killer? ›
Whether it was Gary Francis Poste or not, one thing that is clear according to the authorities is that the Zodiac killer would now be around 90 years old.Why is the Zodiac killer called? ›
The Zodiac killer was originally known as the “killer,” he later, after purchasing a Zodiac watch, began using the name and symbol as his calling card.Is there a constellation with 13 stars? ›
Hydra contains three Messier objects: Messier 48 (M48, NGC 2548), Messier 68 (M68, NGC 4590), and Messier 83 (Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, M83, NGC 5236). It has 13 stars with known planets. The brightest star in Hydra constellation is Alphard, Alpha Hydrae, with an apparent magnitude of 1.98.Are there 13 zodiac animals? ›
The snake charmer.
|Sagittarius||December 18||January 18|
People develop affinities for various constellations, not just those included in the "zodiac." We recognize 13 zodiac constellations out of the 88 formally designated by the International Astronomical Union. Zodiac constellations are those through which the Sun appears to travel during the year.Is there a 14th constellation? ›
The fourteenth constellation in the set is Cetus. It is a large constellation that dips into Pisces. The Sun passes through Cetus briefly as it ambles through Pisces, but you are not normally informed of this in the horoscope pages.”What are the 28 stars? ›
|Chitra||23.20 Virgo – 6.40 Libra||Vishwakarma|
|Swati||6.40 – 20 Libra||Vayu|
|Vishakha||20 Libra – 3.20 Scorpio||Indragni|
|Anuradha||3.20 – 16.40 Scorpio||Mitra|
Shrek - Aries
Shrek is a typical Aries; he is frank about his opinions to the point of being blunt.
What is the 1st animal of zodiac? ›
Hence, the Rat is the first animal in the Chinese zodiac, the Ox is second, and the other 10 are ordered according to how they fared in the race.Who named the 12 zodiac constellations? ›
The 12 zodiac constellations were first named by the ancient Babylonians and later renamed by the Greeks and Romans.Are there 24 zodiac signs? ›
The 12 astrological signs of the zodiac are each considered to occupy 1/12 (or 30°) of its great circle. These signs no longer correspond to the astronomical constellations in which the Sun actually appears.Is Ophiuchus rare? ›
That said, some still choose to recognize Ophiuchus as the 13th zodiac sign and, because it is rarely used in the world of astrology, it is also believed to be the second rarest zodiac sign.