What Is the Zodiac? What Does It Represent?

(Last Updated On: November 19, 2019)
What Is the Zodiac?

Whether you buy into the premise of zodiac signs or not, chances are you at least know what they are. However, how much do you really know about the zodiac? It is more than just a system upon which to create extremely vague personality descriptions. There is actually a complex system behind the zodiac that is more impressive than most people like to think. Here is a brief overview of what the zodiac is, the history of it, and how it is actively changing. 

What Is the Zodiac? 

In astronomy and astrology, the zodiac refers to the belt around the sky that extends roughly 8° north or south of the ecliptic–the plane of the earth’s orbit and of the sun’s apparent annual path. The 12 astrological zodiac signs are considered to each represent 1/12 or 30° of celestial longitude within this great sphere. 

As most people already know, the zodiac uses the various constellations and their alignment with the sun in order to represent certain information. Most often, this constellation alignment is used as justification for certain personality features and decisions made by humans. Although this might sound a bit far-fetched to some, the science behind the zodiac itself is actually quite interesting. 

What Does It Represent?

A common misconception is that the zodiac sign that someone belongs to is the same constellation that occurred on the day they were born. After all, this only makes sense since the zodiac sign that you have at birth shouldn’t change throughout your life. In reality, the motion of the Earth causes constellations to align with the Sun at a slightly different part of the year over time. 

The reason for this is the unique movement that the Earth goes through. Most people just think that the Earth moves on its side, and for the most part, they are right. However, there is a second much smaller motion that the Earth is constantly undergoing. Because the planet is spinning, it starts to experience a slight wobble as well. This wobble is so small and slow that it actually requires 26,000 years in order to make one full revolution. However, even a movement of this size can have a massive impact on things like the zodiac. 

Since the solstice actually takes place about 20 minutes earlier each year, and the zodiac signs are synced up to a calendar rather than actual time, it results in one seasonal year being slightly shorter than an actual full rotation of the Earth. Although this amount of difference is imperceivable in a single year or even a decade, it becomes much more obvious when examining greater distances of time. 

For example, if you were to either go back in time 1,500 years or go into the future 1,500 years, you would discover that the zodiac sign aligned with the sun during any given month in the present day would be completely different from the sign that it would be aligned with then. 

How Many Zodiac Signs Are There?

Not only are zodiac signs slowly changing, but traditional horoscopes don’t actually include all of them. Although horoscopes tend to include 12 different zodiac signs, the constellation boundaries that were made official in 1930 by the International Astronomical Union dictate that there are 13 constellations. 

The one that is missing is the constellation called Ophiuchus (or the Serpent Bearer). Anyone who was born at the end of November may be surprised to learn that this may actually be their real zodiac sign since Ophiuchus is located in the middle of the Sagittarius and Scorpio constellations.

History of the Zodiac

The exact history of the zodiac is one that is not completely known. Although, it is believed that members of ancient China and ancient Egypt were some of the earliest people to attempt to get additional meaning out of the sun’s position relative to the various constellations. By 1700 BC, the Babylonians had already split the Zodiac into 12 equal signs, which were named after many of these similar titles that they currently have. 

Since then, astrology has developed much further to include a system where the fixed signs are calculated and predicted using the position of the Sun and Earth. This ensures that the zodiac signs remain as accurate as possible to how they were on the day that someone was born. 

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