Glossary term: Zodiac

Description: The Zodiac is a strip of the celestial sky, approximately within eight degrees north and south of the ecliptic line. The apparent motion of the Sun over the course of a year, and the movement of the planets, follow through this strip and crosses 13 constellations – Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius (commonly known as Scorpio), Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, Capricornus (commonly known as Capricorn), Aquarius, and Pisces – most of them representing animals. Its name derives from the Ancient Greek for circle (or cycle) of little animals.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

Related Media

The bright Moon illuminates a beach. Three bright planets form a line below and to the right of the Moon.

To guard the Stars and the Sea Together

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns. This image composition is amazing. In the far background of the landscape we see a chain of mountains that seems to mirror the structure of the Milky Way in the sky above. The strong daylight-like colours of the landscape are caused by the Moon, the bright light at the top of the image. Taken in Kinabalu, Malaysia, in February 2019, this image shows the alignment of planets and the Moon, conveying the idea of the ecliptic as the central line of the Zodiac, the plane within which all planets orbit the Sun. The ecliptic is the central line of the Zodiac, so the region of about five to 10 degrees either side of the ecliptic is where the constellations of the Zodiac are located. Starting from the horizon towards the bottom left of the image we can see the planets Venus, Saturn and Jupiter. The planets have different cultural significance for people around the world, and are deeply embedded in social, religious and practical aspects of life. For example, Wardaman traditions of Indigenous Australians associate the planets with ancestor spirits who traverse the Celestial Road (ecliptic). The appearance and disappearance of planets in the sky are associated with various ceremonies. For example, when Venus starts being the “Morning star” after having been the “Evening star”, this marks the Banumbirr ceremony for the Yolnu people of Arnhem Land, in Australia. The image also shows the constellations Scorpius, Aquila, Lupus and Triangulum Australe, the asterism of the Teapot, and the two pointer stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. The constellations, asterisms and individual stars within them have significance in many different cultures. Malaysia, being close to the equator, has had connections to the north as well as to the south and almost the whole sky is visible over the course of the year. The star Antares is seen by the Kokatha people of the Western Desert as Kogolongo, the red tailed black cockatoo, while the Boorong refer to it as Djuit, the red-rumped parrot. The two stars which form the stinger of Scorpius (Shaula and Lesath), are called Karik Karik, the Australian Kestrel.
Credit: Likai Lin/IAU OAE

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