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The Night Sky: Astronomy, Astrology, and You

The Night Sky: Astronomy, Astrology, and You

Though the practice of astrology and the science of astronomy have common roots, there is an important distinction between the two. And this distinction is important when it comes to what you hope to learn when you peer through the lens of a telescope.


Astronomy by definition is the branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space and the physical universe as a whole. So astronomy is the science behind the stars, planets, and galaxies, and their motions. Astronomy includes the study of everything outside of the earth's atmosphere as well as the properties and relationships of those celestial bodies. Astronomers base their studies on research and observation. 

If you're interested in solar systems and their planets or other celestial objects, such as asteroids and comets, and the rest of the universe, what makes up space, and the possibility of alien life or space travel, astronomy is your field of interest. Careers in astronomy are diverse and include jobs such as planetary geologists, astrobiologists, cosmologists, astrophysicists, and all kinds of engineers. 


Astrology, on the other hand, is a nonscientific practice that draws connections between human behavior and the alignment of the stars and planets. Most commonly, those practicing astrology use the position of the planets and stars at the time of an individual’s birth to predict their future, personality, or important life events. Astrology does not study the physical characteristics of stars, planets, and galaxies and it has no physical laws that help explain its findings.

In ancient times, astrology was practiced mainly for political and religious reasons. Farmers used the skies as a calendar during the times of the ancient Egyptians, when the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, around mid-July, was seen as a marker of the imminent annual flooding of the Nile. During the years of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, scientific studies became more rigorous. It became clear to scientists of that time that no measurable physical forces could account for the claims of astrology, and the distinction between the two practices was established. 

Two Disciplines, One Original Goal?

Although the disciplines of astronomy and astrology are often confused—and at times the closeness in their names perpetuates this confusion—their difference lies in their approach to understanding the heavens: Astronomy is a science. Astrology, on the other hand, is an ancient belief system.

Despite this difference, they share historical roots; for millennia, one of the main driving forces for improvements in astronomy was the desire of astrologers to produce more accurate future predictions. Both disciplines’ deep connection with the night sky stems from the desire to more fully understand our world. And that is an unarguably noble pursuit.

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