When comparing the studies of astronomy vs astrology, many people simply do not know what the difference is. If you are new to the world of planets and stars, the two topics can be confusing and difficult to differentiate. In ancient times, the distinction between astronomy versus astrology was not as strict as it is now. In fact, the two fields of study share a common history that started in Antiquity and ended during the 17th century.
While astronomy and astrology do bear some similarities, they have evolved into two very different areas of study. Still, many people today think they are the same thing. Let’s discuss the two fields and explore some of the major differences between them.
What is Astrology?
Many ancient cultures viewed the planets and stars as symbols of gods or otherworldly forces that controlled their lives. The influence of celestial objects on our planet has several manifestations: almost all life on Earth depends on the sun to survive, the seasons are linked to the position of the sun in the sky, eclipses are due to sun-moon-Earth alignments, and ocean tides are the result of the moon exerting its gravitational force.
Astrology extrapolates these manifestations by hypothesizing that the positions of the sun, moon, and eight planets other than Earth (called “luminars”), influence human psychology and destiny and terrestrial events. The position of these eight luminars is relative to the tropical zodiac and can be calculated through celestial mechanics.
Types of Astrology
The study of astrology includes several disciplines:
- Interrogatory Astrology – which refers to astrology that seeks to make predictions about a person’s objectives or events.
- Mundane Astrology – which examines world events and makes predictions about national affairs, economies, and wars.
- Natal Astrology – which makes predictions and analyses based on the date of birth of a person.
What most people know about astrology is their “sign.” Astrological signs are twelve constellations of the zodiac. This is the simplest and most common form of sun-sign astrology because only the calendar date of a person’s birthday is needed to determine a horoscope.
The Signs of the Zodiac
The twelve signs of the zodiac and their corresponding calendar birthday ranges are:
- Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)
- Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
- Aries (March 21 – April 19)
- Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
- Gemini (May 21 – June 20)
- Cancer (June 21 – July 22)
- Leo (July 23 – August 22)
- Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
- Libra (September 23 – October 22)
- Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)
- Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)
- Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)
Astrology becomes complex from there, with the addition of planets, astrological houses, natal charts, compatibility, and more.
The Role of Astrology in Astronomy
It is widely accepted that astrology played a preliminary role in the development of astronomy. Astrologers were also systematic sky gazers who charted the positions and motions of planets and stars. However, unlike astrologers, astronomers did not study the connection between the human beings, the stars, and the sky. This distinction still remains true to this day.
What is Astronomy?
Astronomy is the study of galaxies, sun, moon, planets, stars, comets, gas, dust, and other non-Earthly celestial objects and phenomena. The name derives from the Greek word “astron,” meaning star, and “nomos,” which means arrangement or law. It is a field of study that is concerned with the evolution, chemistry, meteorology, physics, and motion of a heavenly body, as well as the formation and development of the universe.
A Brief History of Astronomy
Astronomers of early civilizations that sought to understand the universe performed methodical observations of the night sky. Starring up at the sky evokes strange feelings and existential questions such as: Who are we? Where do we come from? Are there any other forms of life?
Prehistoric humans pursued astronomy and studied the relationship between the seasons and the length of days to plan their harvesting and hunting. The early farmers used to decide when to plant and when to harvest based on the position of the stars. Early navigators would also rely on the stars and constellations to sail the open seas.
During the Renaissance, advances in mathematics coupled with groundbreaking inventions such as the refracting telescope gave rise to modern astronomy. Isaac Newton was the first to complete a functional reflecting telescope, a vital piece of equipment used in observational astronomy.
Studies into the force of gravity led to the creation of a new branch of astronomy called celestial mechanics, and it became one of the main fields of study for astronomers.
Types of Astronomy
Today, astronomy consists of several disciplines, including:
- Astrometry – involves precise measurements of the movements and positions of celestial bodies.
- Astrophysics – applies the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the birth, life, and death of celestial bodies.
- Cosmology – studies the origin and evolution of the universe, from the Big Bang Theory to today and well into the future.
- Galactic astronomy – studies the Milky Way galaxy and all its contents.
Astronomy vs Astrology
Let’s take a look at a few of the key differences between astronomy and astrology.
Astronomy focuses on science, astrology focuses on people.
Astrology studies the celestial bodies to provide people with the means of explaining themselves and their interactions with the world. Humans have always sought narratives to help weave their past, present, and future together, and probably always will. Many people believe that we are connected to the stars, planets, and universes, and astrology is a way of exploring that connection and learning from it.
Astronomy studies the cosmic objects and phenomena to tell the story of the world. It does not, however, explore the way these cosmic objects may connect to us human beings. Additionally, astronomy is also quite progressive, as it uses constantly evolving technologies for better observation of the universe.
Astrology appeals to a wider audience than astronomy.
While it can often be informative and enlightening, astrology is also very entertaining. It is easily accessible to the public and embraced as a form of entertainment for centuries, all around the world. In fact, astrology has become so mainstream that it is often referenced in television, movies, and other popular forms of entertainment.
Astronomy, on the other hand, is not as accessible. Although there are many people fascinated by the discoveries and advancements in this field, astronomy is a difficult science and can be challenging to understand.
Astronomy is considered an academic science.
As mentioned, from the 17th century onwards, astrology has been viewed as a separate field from astronomy. Astrology is the study of the influence that the solar system and cosmic objects have on human lives. Because we do not yet understand how to study this mathematically or scientifically, the study of astrology is still shrouded in mystery.
On the other hand, most consider astronomy to be an academic science. It studies celestial bodies and phenomena using other sciences such as physics and mathematics. This is part of the reason why it is more widely accepted as an academic discipline.
Astronomy and astrology might sound similar and have a common history, but they are two different things. Astronomy relates to the study of outer space, while astrology focuses on the connection between outer space and humans. Despite their differences, both areas of study have their proper places in our society and culture.