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Astrology & Astronomy
Astrology 1
Astronomy 18
Article Sources and Contributors 34
Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors 36
Article Licenses
License 37
Not to be confused with Astronomy, the scientific study of celestial objects.
The astrological signs
Astrology categories
Expand list
for reference
Branches of astrology
The planets in astrology
Astrological organizations
Astrology and science
Astrology, or astromancy, consists of several systems of divination based on the premise that there is a relationship
between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world. Many cultures have attached importance to
astronomical events, and the Indians, Chinese, and Mayans developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial
events from celestial observations. In the West, astrology most often consists of a system of horoscopes purporting to
explain aspects of a person's personality and predict future events in their life based on the positions of the sun,
moon, and other celestial objects at the time of their birth. The majority of professional astrologers rely on such
Throughout most of its history, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition. It was accepted in political and
academic contexts, and was connected with other studies, such as astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine.
At the end of the 17th century, new scientific concepts in astronomy and physics (such as heliocentrism and
Newtonian mechanics) called astrology into question. Astrology thus lost its academic and theoretical standing, and
common belief in astrology has largely declined. Astrology has been rejected by the scientific community as a
pseudoscience, having no validity or explanatory power for describing the universe. Among other issues, there is no
proposed mechanism of action by which the positions and motions of stars and planets could affect people and
events on Earth that does not contradict well understood basic aspects of biology and physics.
Scientific testing of
astrology has found no evidence to support any of the premises or purported effects outlined in astrological
traditions. In one study, participating astrologers attempting to match natal charts with profiles generated by a
psychological inventory produced results not significantly at variance with random chance.
Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, with roots in calendrical systems used to predict
seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications. A form of astrology was practised
in the first dynasty of Mesopotamia (19501651 BCE). Chinese astrology was elaborated in the Zhou dynasty
(1046256 BCE). Hellenistic astrology after 332 BCE mixed Babylonian astrology with Egyptian Decanic astrology
in Alexandria, creating horoscopic astrology. Alexander the Great's conquest of Asia allowed astrology to spread to
Ancient Greece and Rome. In Rome, astrology was associated with "Chaldean wisdom". After the conquest of
Alexandria in the 7th century, astrology was taken up by Islamic scholars, and Hellenistic texts were translated into
Arabic and Persian. In the 12th century, Arabic texts were imported to Europe and translated into Latin, helping to
initiate the European Renaissance, when major astronomers including Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo
practised as court astrologers. Astrological references appear in literature in the works of poets such as Dante
Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer, and of playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.
Marcantonio Raimondi engraving,
15th century
The word astrology comes from the early Latin word astrologia, deriving from
the Greek noun , 'account of the stars'. Astrologia later passed into
meaning 'star-divination' with astronomia used for the scientific term.
Main article: History of astrology
Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events, and the Indians,
Chinese, and Mayans developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial
events from celestial observations. In the West, astrology most often consists of a
system of horoscopes purporting to explain aspects of a person's personality and
predict future events in their life based on the positions of the sun, moon, and
other celestial objects at the time of their birth. The majority of professional
astrologers rely on such systems.
Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, with roots in
calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications.
A form of astrology was practised in the first dynasty of Mesopotamia (19501651 BCE). Chinese astrology was
elaborated in the Zhou dynasty (1046256 BCE). Hellenistic astrology after 332 BCE mixed Babylonian astrology
with Egyptian Decanic astrology in Alexandria, creating horoscopic astrology. Alexander the Great's conquest of
Asia allowed astrology to spread to Ancient Greece and Rome. In Rome, astrology was associated with 'Chaldean
wisdom'. After the conquest of Alexandria in the 7th century, astrology was taken up by Islamic scholars, and
Hellenistic texts were translated into Arabic and Persian. In the 12th century, Arabic texts were imported to Europe
and translated into Latin, helping to initiate the European Renaissance, when major astronomers including Tycho
Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo practised as court astrologers. Astrological references appear in literature in the
works of poets such as Dante Alighieri and Geoffrey Chaucer, and of playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe and
William Shakespeare.
Throughout most of its history, astrology was considered a scholarly tradition. It was accepted in political and
academic contexts, and was connected with other studies, such as astronomy, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine.
At the end of the 17th century, new scientific concepts in astronomy and physics (such as heliocentrism and
Newtonian mechanics) called astrology into question. Astrology thus lost its academic and theoretical standing, and
common belief in astrology has largely declined.
Ancient world
For more details on ancient astrology, see Babylonian astrology.
Astrology, in its broadest sense, is the search for meaning in the sky.
Early evidence for humans making
conscious attempts to measure, record, and predict seasonal changes by reference to astronomical cycles, appears as
markings on bones and cave walls, which show that lunar cycles were being noted as early as 25,000 years ago.
This was a first step towards recording the Moon's influence upon tides and rivers, and towards organizing a
communal calendar. Agricultural needs were addressed with increasing knowledge of constellations which appear in
the different seasons, allowing the rising of particular star-groups to herald annual floods or seasonal activities. By
the 3rd millennium BCE, civilizations had sophisticated awareness of celestial cycles, and may have oriented
temples in alignment with heliacal risings of the stars.
There is scattered evidence to suggest that the oldest known astrological references are copies of texts made in the
ancient world. The Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa (compiled in Babylon around 1700 BCE) is reported to have been
made during the reign of king Sargon of Akkad (23342279 BCE).
A scroll documenting an early use of electional
astrology is doubtfully ascribed to the reign of the Sumerian ruler Gudea of Lagash (c. 2144 2124 BCE). This
describes how the gods revealed to him in a dream the constellations that would be most favourable for the planned
construction of a temple.
However, there is controversy about whether these were genuinely recorded at the time
or merely ascribed to ancient rulers by posterity. The oldest undisputed evidence of the use of astrology as an
integrated system of knowledge is therefore attributed to the records of the first dynasty of Mesopotamia
(19501651 BCE). This astrology had some parallels with Hellenistic Greek (western) astrology, including the
zodiac, a norming point near 9 degrees in Aries, the trine aspect, planetary exaltations, and the dodekatemoria (the
twelve divisions of 30 degrees each). However, the Babylonians viewed celestial events as possible signs rather than
as causes of physical events.
The system of Chinese astrology was elaborated during the Zhou dynasty (1046256 BCE) and flourished during the
Han Dynasty (2nd century BCE to 2nd century CE), during which all the familiar elements of traditional Chinese
culture the Yin-Yang philosophy, theory of the five elements, Heaven and Earth, Confucian morality were
brought together to formalise the philosophical principles of Chinese medicine and divination, astrology and
Ancient objections
The Roman orator Cicero objected to
Cicero stated the twins objection (that with close birth times, personal outcomes
can be very different), later developed by Saint Augustine.
He argued that
since the other planets are much more distant from the earth than the moon, they
could have only very tiny influence compared to the moon's.
He also argued
that if astrology explains everything about a person's fate, then it wrongly ignores
the visible effect of inherited ability and parenting, changes in health worked by
medicine, or the effects of the weather on people.
Plotinus argued that since the fixed stars are much more distant than the planets,
it is laughable to imagine the planets' effect on mankind should depend on their
position with respect to the zodiac. He also argues that the interpretation of the
moon's conjunction with a planet as good when the moon is full, but bad when
the moon is waning, is clearly wrong, as from the moon's point of view, half of
her surface is always in sunlight; and from the planet's point of view, waning
should be better, as then the planet sees some light from the moon, but when the
moon is full to us, it is dark, and therefore bad, on the side facing the planet.
Favorinus argued that it was absurd to imagine that stars and planets would affect human bodies in the same way as
they affect the tides,
and equally absurd that small motions in the heavens cause large changes in people's fates.
Sextus Empiricus argued that it was absurd to link human attributes with myths about the signs of the zodiac.
Carneades argued that belief in fate denies free will and morality; that people born at different times can all die in the
same accident or battle; and that contrary to uniform influences from the stars, tribes and cultures are all different.
Hellenistic Egypt
Main article: Hellenistic astrology
1484 copy of first page of Ptolemy's
Tetrabiblos, translated into Latin by
Plato of Tivoli
In 525 BCE, Egypt was conquered by the Persians. The 1st century BCE
Egyptian Dendera Zodiac shares two signs the Balance and the Scorpion
with Mesopotamian astrology.
With the occupation by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, Egypt became
Hellenistic. The city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander after the conquest,
becoming the place where Babylonian astrology was mixed with Egyptian
Decanic astrology to create Horoscopic astrology. This contained the Babylonian
zodiac with its system of planetary exaltations, the triplicities of the signs and the
importance of eclipses. It used the Egyptian concept of dividing the zodiac into
thirty-six decans of ten degrees each, with an emphasis on the rising decan, and
the Greek system of planetary Gods, sign rulership and four elements.
century BCE texts predict positions of planets in zodiac signs at the time of the
rising of certain decans, particularly Sothis.
The astrologer and astronomer
Ptolemy lived in Alexandria. Ptolemy's work the Tetrabiblos formed the basis of
Western astrology, and "enjoyed almost the authority of a Bible among the astrological writers of a thousand years or
Greece and Rome
The conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great exposed the Greeks to ideas from Syria, Babylon, Persia and central
Around 280 BCE, Berossus, a priest of Bel from Babylon, moved to the Greek island of Kos, teaching
astrology and Babylonian culture.
By the 1st century BCE, there were two varieties of astrology, one using
horoscopes to describe the past, present and future; the other, theurgic, emphasising the soul's ascent to the stars.
Greek influence played a crucial role in the transmission of astrological theory to Rome.
The first definite reference to astrology in Rome comes from the orator Cato, who in 160 BCE warned farm
overseers against consulting with Chaldeans,
who were described as Babylonian 'star-gazers'.
Among both
Greeks and Romans, Babylonia (also known as Chaldea) became so identified with astrology that 'Chaldean wisdom'
became synonymous with divination using planets and stars.
The 2nd-century Roman poet and satirist Juvenal
complains about the pervasive influence of Chaldeans, saying "Still more trusted are the Chaldaeans; every word
uttered by the astrologer they will believe has come from Hammon's fountain".
One of the first astrologers to bring Hermetic astrology to Rome was Thrasyllus, astrologer to the emperor Tiberius,
the first emperor to have had a court astrologer,
though his predecessor Augustus had used astrology to help
legitimise his Imperial rights.
Medival world
Main article: Astrology in medieval Islam
Latin translation of Ab Mashar's De Magnis
Coniunctionibus ('Of the great conjunctions'),
Venice, 1515.
Astrology was taken up by Islamic scholars following the collapse of
Alexandria to the Arabs in the 7th century, and the founding of the
Abbasid empire in the 8th. The second Abbasid caliph, Al Mansur
(754775) founded the city of Baghdad to act as a centre of learning,
and included in its design a library-translation centre known as Bayt
al-Hikma 'House of Wisdom', which continued to receive development
from his heirs and was to provide a major impetus for Arabic-Persian
translations of Hellenistic astrological texts. The early translators
included Mashallah, who helped to elect the time for the foundation of
Baghdad, and Sahl ibn Bishr, (a.k.a. Zael), whose texts were directly
influential upon later European astrologers such as Guido Bonatti in
the 13th century, and William Lilly in the 17th century. Knowledge of
Arabic texts started to become imported into Europe during the Latin translations of the 12th century, the effect of
which was to help initiate the European Renaissance.
Dante Alighieri meets the Emperor
Justinian in the Sphere of Mercury,
in Canto 5 of the Paradiso.
The first astrological book published in Europe was the Liber Planetis et Mundi
Climatibus ("Book of the Planets and Regions of the World") which appeared
between 1010 and 1027 AD, and may have been authored by Gerbert of
Ptolemy's second century AD Tetrabiblos was translated into Latin
by Plato of Tivoli in 1138. The Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas followed
Aristotle in proposing that the stars ruled the imperfect 'sublunary' body, while
attempting to reconcile astrology with Christianity by stating that God ruled the
The thirteenth century mathematician Campanus of Novara is said to
have devised a system of astrological houses which divides the prime vertical
into 'houses' of equal 30 arcs,
though the system was used earlier in the East.
The thirteenth century astronomer Guido Bonatti wrote a textbook, the Liber
Astronomicus, a copy of which was owned at the end of the fifteenth century by
king Henry VII of England.
In Paradiso, the final part of the Divine Comedy, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri
referred "in countless details" to the astrological planets, though he adapted
traditional astrology to suit his Christian viewpoint, for example using astrological thinking in his prophecies of the
reform of Christendom.
Medival objections
The medieval theologian Isidore of
Seville criticized the predictive part
of astrology.
In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville argued in his Etymologiae that
astronomy described the movements of the heavens, while astrology had two
parts: one was scientific, describing the movements of the sun, the moon and the
stars, while the other, making predictions, was theologically erroneous.
contrast, John Gower in the fourteenth century defined astrology as essentially
limited to the making of predictions. The influence of the stars was in turn
divided into natural astrology, with for example effects on tides and the growth
of plants, and judicial astrology, with supposedly predictable effects on
The fourteenth century skeptic Nicole Oresme however included
astronomy as a part of astrology in his Livre de divinacions.
Oresme argued
that current approaches to prediction of events such as plagues, wars, and
weather were inappropriate, but that such prediction was a valid field of inquiry.
However, he attacked the use of astrology to choose the timing of actions
(so-called interrogation and election) as wholly false, and rejected the
determination of human action by the stars on grounds of free will. The friar Laurens Pignon (c. 13681449)
similarly rejected all forms of divination and determinism, including by the stars, in his 1411 Contre les
This was in opposition to the tradition carried by the Arab astronomer Albumasar (787-886) whose
Introductorium in Astronomiam and De Magnis Coniunctionibus argued the view that both individual actions and
larger scale history are determined by the stars.
Renaissance and Early Modern
'An Astrologer Casting a Horoscope' from Robert
Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi Historia, 1617
Renaissance scholars often practised astrology to pay for their research
into other subjects.
Gerolamo Cardano cast the horoscope of king
Edward VI of England, while John Dee was the personal astrologer to
queen Elizabeth I of England. Catherine de Medici paid Michael
Nostradamus in 1566 to verify the prediction of the death of her
husband, king Henry II of France made by her astrologer Lucus
Gauricus. Major astronomers who practised as court astrologers
included Tycho Brahe in the royal court of Denmark, Johannes Kepler
to the Habsburgs and Galileo Galilei to the Medici. The astronomer
and spiritual astrologer Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for
heresy in Rome in 1600.
Ephemerides with complex astrological calculations, and almanacs
interpreting celestial events for use in medicine and for choosing times
to plant crops, were popular in Elizabethan England. In 1597, the English mathematician and physician Thomas
Hood made a set of paper instruments using revolving overlays which enabled students to work out relationships
between the fixed stars or constellations, the midheaven, and the twelve astrological houses. Hood's instruments also
illustrated for pedagogical purposes the supposed relationships between the signs of the zodiac, the planets, and the
parts of the human body which were believed to be governed by the planets and signs. While Hood's presentation
was innovative, his astrological information was largely standard and was taken from Gerard Mercator's astrological
disc made in 1551, or a source used by Mercator.
English astrology had reached its zenith by the 17th century.
Astrologers were theorists, researchers, and social
engineers, as well as providing individual advice to everyone from monarchs downwards. Among other things,
astrologers could advise on the best time to take a journey or harvest a crop, diagnose and prescribe for physical or
mental illnesses, and predict natural disasters. This underpinned a system in which everything - people, the world,
the universe - was understood to be interconnected, and astrology co-existed happily with religion, magic and
Enlightenment period and onwards
During The Enlightenment, intellectual sympathy for astrology fell away, leaving only a popular following
supported by cheap almanacs. One English almanac compiler, Richard Saunders, followed the spirit of the age by
printing a derisive Discourse on the Invalidity of Astrology, while in France Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire of 1697
stated that the subject was puerile. The Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift ridiculed the Whig political astrologer
John Partridge.
Astrology saw a popular revival starting in the 19th century as part of a general revival of spiritualism and later New
Age philosophy,
and through the influence of mass media such as newspaper horoscopes.
Early in the
20th century the psychiatrist Carl Jung developed some concepts concerning astrology, which led to the development
of psychological astrology.
Principles and practice
Advocates have defined astrology as a symbolic language, an art form, a science, and a method of divination.
Although most cultural systems of astrology share common roots in ancient philosophies that influenced each other,
many have unique methodologies which differ from those developed in the West. These include Hindu astrology
(also known as "Indian astrology" and in modern times referred to as "Vedic astrology") and Chinese astrology, both
of which have influenced the world's cultural history.
For more details on this topic, see Western astrology.
Western astrology is a form of divination based on the construction of a horoscope for an exact moment, such as a
person's birth. It uses the tropical zodiac, which is aligned to the equinoctial points.
Western astrology is founded on the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies such as the Sun, Moon and
planets, which are analyzed by their movement through signs of the zodiac (twelve spatial divisions of the ecliptic)
and by their aspects (based on geometric angles) relative to one another. They are also considered by their placement
in houses (twelve spatial divisions of the sky). Astrology's modern representation in western popular media is usually
reduced to sun sign astrology, which considers only the zodiac sign of the Sun at an individual's date of birth, and
represents only 1/12 of the total chart.
The horoscope visually expresses the set of relationships for the time and place of the chosen event. These
relationships are between the seven 'planets', signifying tendencies such as war and love; the twelve signs of the
zodiac; and the twelve houses. Each planet is in a particular sign and a particular house at the chosen time, when
observed from the chosen place, creating two kinds of relationship. A third kind is the aspect of each planet to every
other planet, where for example two planets 120 apart (in 'trine') are in a harmonious relationship, but two planets
90 apart ('square') are in a conflicted relationship. Together these relationships and their interpretations supposedly
form "the language of the heavens speaking to learned men".
Along with tarot divination, astrology is one of the core studies of Western esotericism, and as such has influenced
systems of magical belief not only among Western esotericists and Hermeticists, but also belief systems such as
Wicca that have borrowed from or been influenced by the Western esoteric tradition. Tanya Luhrmann has said that
"all magicians know something about astrology," and refers to a table of correspondences in Starhawk's The Spiral
Dance, organized by planet, as an example of the astrological lore studied by magicians.
Page from an Indian astrological
treatise, c. 1750
For more details on this topic, see Hindu astrology.
Hindu natal astrology originated with western (Hellenistic) astrology in ancient
though incorporating the Hindu lunar mansions. The names of the
signs (e.g. Greek 'Kpios' for Aries, Hindi 'Kriya'), the planets (e.g. Greek 'Helios'
for Sun, astrological Hindi 'Heli'), and astrological terms (e.g. Greek 'apoklima'
and 'sunaphe' for declination and planetary conjunction, Hindi 'apoklima' and
'sunapha' respectively) in Varaha Mihira's texts are considered conclusive
evidence of a Greek origin for Hindu astrology. The Indian techniques may also
have been augmented with some of the Babylonian techniques.
Chinese and East-Asian
For more details on this topic, see Chinese astrology and Chinese zodiac.
Chinese astrology has a close relation with Chinese philosophy (theory of the
three harmonies: heaven, earth and man) and uses concepts such as yin and yang,
the Five phases, the 10 Celestial stems, the 12 Earthly Branches, and shichen (
a form of timekeeping used for religious purposes). The early use of Chinese astrology was mainly confined to
political astrology, the observation of unusual phenomena, identification of portents and the selection of auspicious
days for events and decisions.
The constellations of the Zodiac of western Asia and Europe were not used; instead the sky is divided into Three
Enclosures ( sn yun), and Twenty-eight Mansions ( rshb xi) in twelve Ci ( ).
The Chinese zodiac of twelve animal signs is said to represent twelve different types of personality. It is based on
cycles of years, lunar months, and two-hour periods of the day (the shichen). The zodiac traditionally begins with the
sign of the Rat, and the cycle proceeds through 11 other animals signs: the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse,
Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
Complex systems of predicting fate and destiny based on one's birthday,
birth season, and birth hours, such as ziping and Zi Wei Dou Shu (simplified Chinese: ; traditional
Chinese: ; pinyin: zwidush) are still used regularly in modern day Chinese astrology. They do not
rely on direct observations of the stars.
The Korean zodiac is identical to the Chinese one. The Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to Chinese zodiac
except the second animal is the Water Buffalo instead of the Ox, and the fourth animal is the Cat instead of the
Rabbit. The Japanese have since 1873 celebrated the beginning of the new year on 1 January as per the Gregorian
Calendar. The Thai zodiac begins, not at Chinese New Year, but either on the first day of fifth month in the Thai
lunar calendar, or during the Songkran festival (now celebrated every 1315 April), depending on the purpose of the
Theological viewpoints
See also: Christianity and astrology, Jewish views on astrology and Muslim views on astrology
St. Augustine (354-430) believed that the determinism of astrology conflicted with the Christian doctrines of man's
free will and responsibility, and God not being the cause of evil, but he also grounded his opposition philosophically,
citing the failure of astrology to explain twins who behave differently although conceived at the same moment and
born at approximately the same time.
Some of the practices of astrology were contested on theological grounds by medieval Muslim astronomers such as
Al-Farabi (Alpharabius), Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) and Avicenna. They said that the methods of astrologers
conflicted with orthodox religious views of Islamic scholars, by suggesting that the Will of God can be known and
predicted in advance. For example, Avicenna's 'Refutation against astrology', Risla f ibl akm al-nojm, argues
against the practice of astrology while supporting the principle that planets may act as agents of divine causation.
Avicenna considered that the movement of the planets influenced life on earth in a deterministic way, but argued
against the possibility of determining the exact influence of the stars.
Essentially, Avicenna did not deny the core
dogma of astrology, but denied our ability to understand it to the extent that precise and fatalistic predictions could
be made from it.
Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (12921350), in his Miftah Dar al-SaCadah, also used physical
arguments in astronomy to question the practice of judicial astrology. He recognized that the stars are much larger
than the planets, and argued:
And if you astrologers answer that it is precisely because of this distance and smallness that their influences
are negligible, then why is it that you claim a great influence for the smallest heavenly body, Mercury? Why is
it that you have given an influence to al-Ra's and al-Dhanab, which are two imaginary points [ascending and
descending nodes]?
Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya
Divination, including predictive astrology, is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be incompatible with
modern Catholic beliefs such as free will:
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other
practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading,
interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire
for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate
hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Scientific analysis and criticism
Main article: Astrology and science
Popper proposed falsifiability as that
which distinguishes science from
non-science, using astrology as the
example of an idea which has not
dealt with falsification during
Astrology has been rejected by the scientific community as having no
explanatory power for describing the universe and is considered a
Scientific testing of astrology has been conducted, and no
evidence has been found to support any of the premises or purported effects
outlined in astrological traditions.
There is no proposed mechanism of action
by which the positions and motions of stars and planets could affect people and
events on Earth that does not contradict well understood, basic aspects of biology
and physics.
Those who continue to have faith in astrology have been
characterized as doing so "in spite of the fact that there is no verified scientific
basis for their beliefs, and indeed that there is strong evidence to the
It has also been shown that confirmation bias is a psychological factor that
contributes to belief in astrology.
Confirmation bias is a form of
cognitive bias.
According to available literature Astrology believers tend
to selectively remember those predictions which have turned out to be true, and
do not remember those predictions which happen to be false. Another, separate,
form of confirmation bias also plays a role, where believers often fail to
distinguish between messages that demonstrate special ability and those which do not.
Thus there are two
distinct forms of confirmation bias that are under study with respect to astrological belief.
Under the criterion of falsifiability, first proposed by philosopher of science Karl Popper, astrology is a
pseudoscience. Popper regarded astrology as "pseudo-empirical" in that "it appeals to observation and experiment",
but "nevertheless does not come up to scientific standards".
In contrast to scientific disciplines, astrology has
not responded to falsification through experiment.
In contrast to Popper, the philosopher Thomas Kuhn argued
that it was not lack of falsifiability that makes astrology unscientific, but rather that the process and concepts of
astrology are non-empirical.
To Kuhn, although astrologers had, historically, made predictions that "categorically failed", this in itself does not
make it unscientific, nor do the attempts by astrologers to explain away the failure by claiming it was due to the
creation of a horoscope being very difficult. Rather, in Kuhn's eyes, astrology is not science because it was always
more akin to medieval medicine; they followed a sequence of rules and guidelines for a seemingly necessary field
with known shortcomings, but they did no research because the fields are not amenable to research,
and so "they
had no puzzles to solve and therefore no science to practise".
While an astronomer could correct for failure, an
astrologer could not. An astrologer could only explain away failure but could not revise the astrological hypothesis
in a meaningful way. As such, to Kuhn, even if the stars could influence the path of humans through life astrology is
not scientific.
Philosopher Paul Thagard believed that astrology cannot be regarded as falsified in this sense until it has been
replaced with a successor. In the case of predicting behaviour, psychology is the alternative.
To Thagard a further
criterion of demarcation of science from pseudoscience was that the state-of-the-art must progress and that the
community of researchers should be attempting to compare the current theory to alternatives, and not be "selective in
considering confirmations and disconfirmations".
Progress is defined here as explaining new phenomena and
solving existing problems, yet astrology has failed to progress having only changed little in nearly 2000 years.
To Thagard, astrologers are acting as though engaged in Normal science believing that the foundations of astrology
were well established despite the "many unsolved problems", and in the face of better alternative theories
(Psychology). For these reasons Thagard viewed astrology as pseudoscience.
For the philosopher Edward W. James, astrology is irrational not because of the numerous problems with
mechanisms and falsification due to experiments, but because an analysis of the astrological literature shows that it is
infused with fallacious logic and poor reasoning.
What if throughout astrological writings we meet little appreciation of coherence, blatant insensitivity to
evidence, no sense of a hierarchy of reasons, slight command over the contextual force of critieria, stubborn
unwillingless to pursue an argument where it leads, stark naivete concerning the effiacacy of explanation and
so on? In that case, I think, we are perfectly justified in rejecting astrology as irrational.... Astrology simply
fails to meet the multifarious demands of legitimate reasoning."
Edward W. James
Astrology has not demonstrated its effectiveness in controlled studies and has no scientific validity.
Where it has
made falsifiable predictions under controlled conditions, they have been falsified.
One famous experiment
included 28 astrologers who were asked to match over a hundred natal charts to psychological profiles generated by
the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) questionnaire.
The double-blind experimental protocol used in this
study was agreed upon by a group of physicists and a group of astrologers nominated by the National Council for
Geocosmic Research, who advised the experimenters, helped ensure that the test was fair
and helped draw the
central proposition of natal astrology to be tested.
They also chose 26 out of the 28 eight astrologers for the tests
(two more volunteered afterwards).
The study, published in Nature in 1985, found that predictions based on natal
astrology were no better than chance, and that the testing "clearly refutes the astrological hypothesis".
In 1955, astrologer and psychologist Michel Gauquelin stated that although he had failed to find evidence to support
such indicators as the zodiacal signs and planetary aspects in astrology, he had found positive correlations between
the diurnal positions of some of the planets and success in some professions which astrology traditionally associates
with those planets. The best-known of Gauquelin's findings is based on the positions of Mars in the natal charts of
successful athletes and became known as the "Mars effect".
A study conducted by seven French scientists
attempted to replicate the claim, but found no statistical evidence.
They attributed the effect to selective bias
on Gauquelin's part, accusing him of attempting to persuade them to add or delete names from their study.
Geoffrey Dean has suggested that the effect may be caused by self-reporting of birth dates by parents rather than any
issue with the study by Gauquelin. The suggestion is that a small subset of the parents may have had changed birth
times to be consistent with better astrological charts for a related profession. The sample group was taken from a
time where belief in astrology was more common. Gauquelin had failed to find the Mars effect in more recent
populations, where a nurse or doctor recorded the birth information. The number of births under astrologically
undesirable conditions was also lower, indicating more evidence that parents choose dates and times to suit their
Dean, a scientist and former astrologer, and psychologist Ivan Kelly conducted a large scale scientific test, involving
more than one hundred cognitive, behavioural, physical and other variables, but found no support for astrology.
Furthermore, a meta-analysis was conducted pooling 40 studies consisting of 700 astrologers and over 1,000 birth
charts. Ten of the tests, which had a total of 300 participating, involved the astrologers picking the correct chart
interpretation out of a number of others which were not the astrologically correct chart interpretation (usually 3 to 5
others). When the date and other obvious clues were removed no significant results were found to suggest there was
any preferred chart.
Lack of mechanisms and consistency
Testing the validity of astrology can be difficult because there is no consensus amongst astrologers as to what
astrology is or what it can predict.
Most professional astrologers are paid to predict the future or describe a
person's personality and life, but most horoscopes only make vague untestable statements that can apply to almost
Many astrologers claim that astrology is scientific, while some have proposed conventional causal agents such as
electromagnetism and gravity. Scientists reject these mechanisms as implausible since, for example, the magnetic
field, when measured from earth, of a large but distant planet such as Jupiter is far smaller than that produced by
ordinary household appliances.
Western astrology has taken the earth's axial precession (also called precession of the equinoxes) into account since
Ptolemy's Almagest, so the 'first point of Aries', the start of the astrological year, continually moves against the
background of the stars.
The tropical zodiac has no connection to the stars, and as long as no claims are made that
the constellations themselves are in the associated sign, astrologers avoid the concept that precession seemingly
moves the constellations. Charpak and Broch, noting this, referred to astrology based on the tropical zodiac as being
"...empty boxes that have nothing to do with anything and are devoid of any consistency or correspondence with the
stars." Sole use of the tropical zodiac is inconsistent with references made, by the same astrologers, to the Age of
Aquarius, which depends on when the vernal point enters the constellation of Aquarius.
Astrologers usually have only a small knowledge of astronomy and they often do not take into account basic features
such as the precession of the equinoxes which would change the position of the sun with time; they commented on
the example of Elizabeth Teissier who claimed that "the sun ends up in the same place in the sky on the same date
each year" as the basis for claims that two people with the same birthday but a number of years apart should be under
the same planetary influence. Charpak and Broch noted that "there is a difference of about twenty-two thousand
miles between Earth's location on any specific date in two successive years" and that thus they should not be under
the same influence according to astrology. Over a 40 years period there would be a difference greater than 780,000
Cultural impact
Mars, the Bringer of War
Mars, performed by the U.S. Air Force Band
Venus, the Bringer of Peace
Venus, performed by the U.S. Air Force Band
Mercury, the Winged Messenger
Mercury, performed by the U.S. Air Force Band
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Jupiter, performed by the U.S. Air Force Band
Uranus, the Magician
Uranus, performed by the U.S. Air Force Band
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Western politics and society
In the West, political leaders have sometimes consulted astrologers. Louis de Wohl worked as an astrologer for the
British intelligence agency MI5, after it was claimed that Adolf Hitler used astrology to time his actions. The War
Office was "interested to know what Hitler's own astrologers would be telling him from week to week". In fact, de
Wohl's predictions were so inaccurate that he was soon labelled a "complete charlatan" and it was later shown that
Hitler considered astrology to be "complete nonsense". After John Hinckley's attempted assassination of U.S.
President Ronald Reagan, first lady Nancy Reagan commissioned astrologer Joan Quigley to act as the secret White
House astrologer. However, Quigley's role ended in 1988 when it became public through the memoirs of former
chief of staff, Donald Regan.
There was a boom in interest in astrology in the late 1960s. The sociologist Marcello Truzzi described three levels of
involvement of "Astrology-believers" to account for its revived popularity in the face of scientific discrediting. He
found that most astrology-believers did not claim it was a scientific explanation with predictive power. Instead, those
superficially involved, knowing "next to nothing" about astrology's 'mechanics', read newspaper astrology columns,
and could benefit from "tension-management of anxieties" and "a cognitive belief-system that transcends science".
Those at the second level usually had their horoscopes cast and sought advice and predictions. They were much
younger than those at the first level, and could benefit from knowledge of the language of astrology and the resulting
ability to belong to a coherent and exclusive group. Those at the third level were highly involved and usually cast
horoscopes for themselves. Astrology provided this small minority of astrology-believers with a "meaningful view of
their universe and [gave] them an understanding of their place in it."
This third group took astrology seriously,
possibly as a "sacred canopy", whereas the other two groups took it playfully and irreverently.
In 1953, sociologist Theodor W. Adorno conducted a study of the astrology column of a Los Angeles newspaper as
part of a project examining mass culture in capitalist society.
Adorno believed that popular astrology, as a device,
invariably led to statements which encouraged conformity, and that astrologers who went against conformity with
statement discouraging performance at work etc. would risk losing their jobs.
Adorno concluded that astrology
was a large-scale manifestation of systematic irrationalism, where individuals were subtly being led to believe that
the author of the column was addressing them directly through the use of flattery and vague generalisations. Adorno
drew a parallel with the phrase opium of the people, by Karl Marx, by commenting "occultism is the metaphysic of
the dopes".
A 2005 Gallup poll and a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center reported that 25% of U.S. adults believe in
astrology. According to data released in the National Science Foundation's 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators
study, "Fewer Americans rejected astrology in 2012 than in recent years." The NSF study noted that in 2012,
"slightly more than half of Americans said that astrology was 'not at all scientific,' whereas nearly two-thirds gave
this response in 2010. The comparable percentage has not been this low since 1983."
India and Japan
Birth (in blue) and death (in red) rates of Japan
since 1950, with the sudden drop in births during
hinoeuma year (1966)
In India, there is a long-established and widespread belief in astrology.
It is commonly used for daily life, particularly in matters concerning
marriage and career, and makes extensive use of electional, horary and
karmic astrology. Indian politics have also been influenced by
astrology. It is still considered a branch of the Vedanga.
In 2001,
Indian scientists and politicians debated and critiqued a proposal to use
state money to fund research into astrology, resulting in permission for
Indian universities to offer courses in Vedic astrology.
On February 2011, the Bombay High Court reaffirmed astrology's
standing in India when it dismissed a case which had challenged its
status as a science.
In Japan, a strong belief in astrology has led to dramatic changes in the fertility rate and the number of abortions in
the years of "Fire Horse". Women born in hinoeuma years are believed to be unmarriageable and to bring bad luck to
their father or husband. In 1966, the number of babies born in Japan dropped by over 25% as parents tried to avoid
the stigma of having a daughter born in the hinoeuma year.
Literature and music
Title page of John Lyly's astrological
play, The Woman in the Moon, 1597
The fourteenth-century English poets John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer both
referred to astrology in their works, including Gower's Confessio Amantis and
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer commented explicitly on astrology in
his Treatise on the Astrolabe, demonstrating personal knowledge of one area,
judicial astrology, with an account of how to find the ascendant or rising sign.
In the fifteenth century, references to astrology, such as with similes, became "a
matter of course" in English literature.
In the sixteenth century, John Lyly's 1597 play, The Woman in the Moon, is
wholly motivated by astrology, while Christopher Marlowe makes astrological
references in his plays Doctor Faustus and Tamburlaine (both c. 1590), and Sir
Philip Sidney refers to astrology at least four times in his romance The Countess
of Pembroke's Arcadia (c. 1580). Edmund Spenser uses astrology both
decoratively and causally in his poetry, revealing "unmistakably an abiding
interest in the art, an interest shared by a large number of his contemporaries",
while George Chapman's play Byron's Conspiracy (1608) similarly uses
astrology as a causal mechanism in the drama. William Shakespeare's attitude
towards astrology is unclear, with contradictory references in plays including King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and
Richard II. Shakespeare was familiar with astrology and made use of his knowledge of astrology "in nearly every
play he wrote", assuming a basic familiarity with the subject in his commercial audience. Outside theatre, the
physician and mystic Robert Fludd practised astrology, as did the quack doctor Simon Forman. In Elizabethan
England, "the usual feeling about astrology... [was] that it is the most useful of the sciences".
The most famous piece of music to be influenced by astrology is the orchestral suite The Planets. Written by the
British composer Gustav Holst (18741934), and first performed in 1918, the framework of The Planets is based
upon the astrological symbolism of the planets.
Each of the seven movements of the suite is based upon a
different planet, though the movements are not in the order of the planets from the Sun. The composer Colin
Matthews wrote an eighth movement entitled "Pluto, the Renewer", first performed in 2000. In 1937, another British
composer, Constant Lambert, wrote a ballet on astrological themes, called Horoscope. In 1974, the New Zealand
composer Edwin Carr wrote The Twelve Signs: An Astrological Entertainment for orchestra without strings.
[1] http:/ / en. wikipedia. org/ w/ index. php?title=Template:Ast_box& action=edit
[2] Two texts which refer to the 'omens of Sargon' are reported in E. F. Weidner, 'Historiches Material in der Babyonischen Omina-Literatur'
Altorientalische Studien, ed. Bruno Meissner, (Leipzig, 1928-9), v. 231 and 236.
[3] From scroll A of the ruler Gudea of Lagash, I 17 VI 13. O. Kaiser, Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments, Bd. 2, 13. Gtersloh,
19861991. Also quoted in A. Falkenstein, 'Wahrsagung in der sumerischen berlieferung', La divination en Msopotamie ancienne et dans
les rgions voisines. Paris, 1966.
[4] [4] Long, 2005. p. 173.
[5] Long, 2005. pp.173174.
[6] [6] Long, 2005. p. 177.
[7] [7] Long, 2005. p. 174.
[8] [8] Long, 2005. p. 184.
[9] [9] Long, 2005. p. 186.
[10] [10] Barton, 1994. p. 24.
[11] Holden, 1996. pp.1113.
[12] [12] Barton, 1994. p. 20.
[13] [13] Robbins, 1940. 'Introduction' p. xii.
[14] [14] Campion, 2008. p. 173.
[15] [15] Campion, 2008. p. 84.
[16] Campion, 2008. pp.173174.
[17] [17] Barton, 1994. p. 32.
[18] Barton, 1994. p.3233.
[19] Campion, 2008. pp.227228.
[20] [20] Parker, 1983. p. 16.
[21] Juvenal, Satire 6: The Ways of Women (http:/ / www.tertullian. org/ fathers/ juvenal_satires_06. htm) (translated by G. G. Ramsay, 1918,
retrieved 5 July 2012).
[22] [22] Barton, 1994. p. 43.
[23] [23] Barton, 1994. p. 63.
[24] [24] Campion, 1982. p. 44.
[25] [25] Campion, 1982. p. 45.
[26] [26] Campion, 1982. p. 46.
[27] [27] Wood, 1970. p. 5
[28] [28] Wood, 1970. p. 6
[29] Wood, 1970. pp. 811
[30] [30] Veenstra, 1997. pp. 5, 32, passim
[31] [31] Veenstra, 1997. p. 184
[32] [32] Campion, 1982. p. 47.
[33] [33] Cummins A (2012) The Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-Century English Astrology and Magic, p. 3. France:Hadean Press
[34] Cummins A (2012) The Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-Century English Astrology and Magic, p. 4345. France:Hadean Press
[35] Gieser, Suzanne. The Innermost Kernel, Depth Psychology and Quantum Physics. Wolfgang Pauli's Dialogue with C.G.Jung, (Springer,
Berlin, 2005) p. 21 ISBN 3-540-20856-9
[36] Campion, Nicholas. "Prophecy, Cosmology and the New Age Movement. The Extent and Nature of Contemporary Belief in Astrology."(Bath
Spa University College, 2003) via Campion, Nicholas, History of Western Astrology, (Continuum Books, London & New York, 2009) pp.
248, 256, ISBN 978-1-84725-224-1
[37] [37] The New Encyclopdia Britannica, Encyclopdia Britannica,' v.5, 1974, p. 916
[38] Dietrich, Thomas: 'The Origin of Culture and Civilization, Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists, 2005, p. 305
[39] James R. Lewis, 2003. The Astrology Book: the Encyclopedia of Heavenly Influences. Visible Ink Press. Online at Google Books.
[40] F. Richard Stephenson, "Chinese Roots of Modern Astronomy", New Scientist, 26 June 1980. See also
(http:/ / www. lamost.org/ ~yzhao/ history/ xiu28. html)
[41] Theodora Lau, The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, pp28, 305, 604, 8894, 11824, 14853, 17884, 20813, 23844, 27078,
30612, 33844, Souvenir Press, New York, 2005
[42] [42] (in Thai)
[43] Catarina Belo, Catarina Carrio Marques de Moura Belo, Chance and determinism in Avicenna and Averros, p. 228. Brill, 2007. ISBN
[44] George Saliba, Avicenna: 'viii. Mathematics and Physical Sciences'. Encyclopdia Iranica, Online Edition, 2011, available at http:/ / www.
iranicaonline. org/ articles/ avicenna-viii
The Humanist (http:/ / thehumanist.org/ the-humanist-archive/ ), volume 36, no.5 (1976).
[46] see Heuristics in judgement and decision making
The relevant piece is also published in
[48] My former student Shawn Carlson published in Nature magazine the definitive scientific test of Astrology.
"...a perfectly convincing and lasting demonstration."
[49] [49] Tester, 1999. Page 161.
[50] [50] Italics in original.
[51] "In countries such as India, where only a small intellectual elite has been trained in Western physics, astrology manages to retain here and
there its position among the sciences." David Pingree and Robert Gilbert, "Astrology; Astrology In India; Astrology in modern times".
Encyclopdia Britannica, 2008
[52] Mohan Rao, Female foeticide: where do we go? Indian Journal of Medical Ethics OctoberDecember 2001 9(4) (http:/ / web. archive. org/
web/ 20101103000514/ http:/ / issuesinmedicalethics. org/ 094co123. html)
[53] 'Astrology is a science: Bombay HC', The Times of India (http:/ / timesofindia. indiatimes. com/ india/ Astrology-is-a-science-Bombay-HC/
articleshow/ 7418795. cms), 3 February 2011
[54] Wood, 1970. pp.1221
[55] Campion, Nicholas.:A History of Western Astrology: Volume II: The Medieval and Modern Worlds. (Continuum Books, 2009) pp.244245
ISBN 978-1-84725-224-1
Barton, Tamsyn (1994). Ancient Astrology. Routledge. ISBN0-415-11029-7.
Kay, Richard (1994). Dante's Christian Astrology. Middle Ages Series. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Campion, Nicholas (1982). An Introduction to the History of Astrology. ISCWA.
Holden, James Herschel (2006). A History of Horoscopic Astrology (2nd ed.). AFA. ISBN0-86690-463-8.
Long, A.A. (2005). "6: Astrology: arguments pro and contra". In Barnes, Jonathan; Brunschwig, J. Science and
Speculation. Cambridge University Press. pp.165191.
Parker, Derek; Parker, Julia (1983). A history of astrology. Deutsch. ISBN978-0-233-97576-4.
Robbins, Frank E., ed. (1940). Ptolemy Tetrabiblos. Harvard University Press (Loeb Classical Library).
Veenstra, J.R. (1997). Magic and Divination at the Courts of Burgundy and France: Text and Context of Laurens
Pignon's "Contre les Devineurs" (1411). Brill. ISBN978-90-04-10925-4.
Wedel, Theodore Otto (1920). The Medival Attitude Toward Astrology: Particularly in England (http:/ / archive.
org/ stream/ medivalattitud00wede#page/ n9/ mode/ 2up). Yale University Press.
Wood, Chauncey (1970). Chaucer and the Country of the Stars: Poetical Uses of Astrological Imagery. Princeton
University Press.
Further reading
Forer, Bertram R. (January 1949). "The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A Classroom Demonstration of
Gullibility" (http:/ / pt. scribd. com/ doc/ 105681300/ Forer-The-Fallacy-of-Personal-Validation-1949). The
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 44 (1).
Osborn, M. (2002). Time and the Astrolabe in The Canterbury Tales (http:/ / books. google. com/ books/ about/
Time_and_the_astrolabe_in_the_Canterbury. html?id=twt6-FgU-EkC). University of Oklahoma Press.
Thorndike, Lynn (1955). "The True Place of Astrology in the History of Science". Isis 46 (3).
External links
Astrology (http:/ / www. dmoz. org/ Society/ Religion_and_Spirituality/ Divination/ Astrology/ ) at DMOZ
Digital International Astrology Library (http:/ / cura. free. fr/ DIAL. html) at International Astrology Research
This article is about the scientific study of celestial objects. For other uses, see Astronomy (disambiguation).
A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic
Cloud, an irregular galaxy.
A giant Hubble mosaic of the Crab Nebula, a
supernova remnant
Part of a series on
Astronomy is a natural science which is the study of celestial objects (such as stars, galaxies, planets, moons, and
nebulae), the physics, chemistry, and evolution of such objects, and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere
of Earth, including supernovae explosions, gamma ray bursts, and cosmic microwave background radiation. A
related but distinct subject, cosmology, is concerned with studying the universe as a whole.
Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. Prehistoric cultures have left astronomical artifacts such as the Egyptian
monuments and Nubian monuments, and early civilizations such as the Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians,
Iranians and Maya performed methodical observations of the night sky. However, the invention of the telescope was
required before astronomy was able to develop into a modern science. Historically, astronomy has included
disciplines as diverse as astrometry, celestial navigation, observational astronomy and the making of calendars, but
professional astronomy is nowadays often considered to be synonymous with astrophysics.
During the 20th century, the field of professional astronomy split into observational and theoretical branches.
Observational astronomy is focused on acquiring data from observations of astronomical objects, which is then
analyzed using basic principles of physics. Theoretical astronomy is oriented toward the development of computer or
analytical models to describe astronomical objects and phenomena. The two fields complement each other, with
theoretical astronomy seeking to explain the observational results and observations being used to confirm theoretical
Astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can still play an active role, especially in the discovery and
observation of transient phenomena. Amateur astronomers have contributed to many important astronomical
19th century Observatory Sydney, Australia
Astronomy (from the Greek words astron (), "star" and -nomia
from nomos (), "law" or "culture") means "law of the stars" (or
"culture of the stars" depending on the translation). Astronomy should
not be confused with astrology, the belief system which claims that
human affairs are correlated with the positions of celestial objects.
Although the two fields share a common origin they are now entirely
Use of terms "astronomy" and "astrophysics"
Generally, either the term "astronomy" or "astrophysics" may be used
to refer to this subject. Based on strict dictionary definitions,
"astronomy" refers to "the study of objects and matter outside the
Earth's atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties" and "astrophysics" refers to the branch of
astronomy dealing with "the behavior, physical properties, and dynamic processes of celestial objects and
phenomena". In some cases, as in the introduction of the introductory textbook The Physical Universe by Frank Shu,
"astronomy" may be used to describe the qualitative study of the subject, whereas "astrophysics" is used to describe
the physics-oriented version of the subject. However, since most modern astronomical research deals with subjects
related to physics, modern astronomy could actually be called astrophysics. Few fields, such as astrometry, are
purely astronomy rather than also astrophysics. Various departments in which scientists carry out research on this
subject may use "astronomy" and "astrophysics," partly depending on whether the department is historically
affiliated with a physics department, and many professional astronomers have physics rather than astronomy
degrees. One of the leading scientific journals in the field is the European journal named Astronomy and
Astrophysics. The leading American journals are The Astrophysical Journal and The Astronomical Journal.
Main article: History of astronomy
Further information: Archaeoastronomy and List of astronomers
A celestial map from the 17th century, by the
Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit.
In early times, astronomy only comprised the observation and
predictions of the motions of objects visible to the naked eye. In some
locations, such as Stonehenge, early cultures assembled massive
artifacts that possibly had some astronomical purpose. In addition to
their ceremonial uses, these observatories could be employed to
determine the seasons, an important factor in knowing when to plant
crops, as well as in understanding the length of the year.
Before tools such as the telescope were invented, early study of the
stars was conducted using the naked eye. As civilizations developed,
most notably in Mesopotamia, China, Egypt, Greece, India, and
Central America, astronomical observatories were assembled, and
ideas on the nature of the universe began to be explored. Most of early astronomy actually consisted of mapping the
positions of the stars and planets, a science now referred to as astrometry. From these observations, early ideas about
the motions of the planets were formed, and the nature of the Sun, Moon and the Earth in the universe were explored
philosophically. The Earth was believed to be the center of the universe with the Sun, the Moon and the stars rotating
around it. This is known as the geocentric model of the universe, or the Ptolemaic system, named after Ptolemy.
A particularly important early development was the beginning of mathematical and scientific astronomy, which
began among the Babylonians, who laid the foundations for the later astronomical traditions that developed in many
other civilizations. The Babylonians discovered that lunar eclipses recurred in a repeating cycle known as a saros.
Greek equatorial sun dial, Alexandria
on the Oxus, present-day
Afghanistan 3rd2nd century BCE.
Following the Babylonians, significant advances in astronomy were made in
ancient Greece and the Hellenistic world. Greek astronomy is characterized from
the start by seeking a rational, physical explanation for celestial phenomena. In
the 3rd century BC, Aristarchus of Samos estimated the size and distance of the
Moon and Sun, and was the first to propose a heliocentric model of the solar
system. In the 2nd century BC, Hipparchus discovered precession, calculated the
size and distance of the Moon and invented the earliest known astronomical
devices such as the astrolabe. Hipparchus also created a comprehensive catalog
of 1020 stars, and most of the constellations of the northern hemisphere derive
from Greek astronomy.
The Antikythera mechanism (c. 15080 BC) was an
early analog computer designed to calculate the location of the Sun, Moon, and
planets for a given date. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not
reappear until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks appeared in Europe.
During the Middle Ages, astronomy was mostly stagnant in medieval Europe, at least until the 13th century.
However, astronomy flourished in the Islamic world and other parts of the world. This led to the emergence of the
first astronomical observatories in the Muslim world by the early 9th century.
In 964, the Andromeda Galaxy, the
largest galaxy in the Local Group, was discovered by the Persian astronomer Azophi and first described in his Book
of Fixed Stars. The SN 1006 supernova, the brightest apparent magnitude stellar event in recorded history, was
observed by the Egyptian Arabic astronomer Ali ibn Ridwan and the Chinese astronomers in 1006. Some of the
prominent Islamic (mostly Persian and Arab) astronomers who made significant contributions to the science include
Al-Battani, Thebit, Azophi, Albumasar, Biruni, Arzachel, Al-Birjandi, and the astronomers of the Maragheh and
Samarkand observatories. Astronomers during that time introduced many Arabic names now used for individual
stars. It is also believed that the ruins at Great Zimbabwe and Timbuktu may have housed an astronomical
observatory. Europeans had previously believed that there had been no astronomical observation in pre-colonial
Middle Ages sub-Saharan Africa but modern discoveries show otherwise.
Scientific revolution
Galileo's sketches and observations
of the Moon revealed that the surface
was mountainous.
During the Renaissance, Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model of
the solar system. His work was defended, expanded upon, and corrected by
Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler. Galileo used telescopes to enhance his
Kepler was the first to devise a system that described correctly the details of the
motion of the planets with the Sun at the center. However, Kepler did not
succeed in formulating a theory behind the laws he wrote down.
It was left to
Newton's invention of celestial dynamics and his law of gravitation to finally
explain the motions of the planets. Newton also developed the reflecting
Further discoveries paralleled the improvements in the size and quality of the
telescope. More extensive star catalogues were produced by Lacaille. The
astronomer William Herschel made a detailed catalog of nebulosity and clusters,
and in 1781 discovered the planet Uranus, the first new planet found.
distance to a star was first announced in 1838 when the parallax of 61 Cygni was
measured by Friedrich Bessel.
During the 1819th centuries, attention to the three body problem by Euler, Clairaut, and D'Alembert led to more
accurate predictions about the motions of the Moon and planets. This work was further refined by Lagrange and
Laplace, allowing the masses of the planets and moons to be estimated from their perturbations.
Significant advances in astronomy came about with the introduction of new technology, including the spectroscope
and photography. Fraunhofer discovered about 600 bands in the spectrum of the Sun in 181415, which, in 1859,
Kirchhoff ascribed to the presence of different elements. Stars were proven to be similar to the Earth's own Sun, but
with a wide range of temperatures, masses, and sizes.
The existence of the Earth's galaxy, the Milky Way, as a separate group of stars, was only proved in the 20th century,
along with the existence of "external" galaxies, and soon after, the expansion of the Universe, seen in the recession
of most galaxies from us. Modern astronomy has also discovered many exotic objects such as quasars, pulsars,
blazars, and radio galaxies, and has used these observations to develop physical theories which describe some of
these objects in terms of equally exotic objects such as black holes and neutron stars. Physical cosmology made huge
advances during the 20th century, with the model of the Big Bang heavily supported by the evidence provided by
astronomy and physics, such as the cosmic microwave background radiation, Hubble's law, and cosmological
abundances of elements. Space telescopes have enabled measurements in parts of the electromagnetic spectrum
normally blocked or blurred by the atmosphere.
Observational astronomy
Main article: Observational astronomy
In astronomy, the main source of information about celestial bodies and other objects is visible light or more
generally electromagnetic radiation. Observational astronomy may be divided according to the observed region of
the electromagnetic spectrum. Some parts of the spectrum can be observed from the Earth's surface, while other parts
are only observable from either high altitudes or outside the earth's atmosphere. Specific information on these
subfields is given below.
Radio astronomy
The Very Large Array in New Mexico, an
example of a radio telescope
Main article: Radio astronomy
Radio astronomy studies radiation with wavelengths greater than
approximately one millimeter. Radio astronomy is different from most
other forms of observational astronomy in that the observed radio
waves can be treated as waves rather than as discrete photons. Hence, it
is relatively easier to measure both the amplitude and phase of radio
waves, whereas this is not as easily done at shorter wavelengths.
Although some radio waves are produced by astronomical objects in
the form of thermal emission, most of the radio emission that is
observed from Earth is the result of synchrotron radiation, which is
produced when electrons orbit magnetic fields. Additionally, a number
of spectral lines produced by interstellar gas, notably the hydrogen spectral line at 21cm, are observable at radio
A wide variety of objects are observable at radio wavelengths, including supernovae, interstellar gas, pulsars, and
active galactic nuclei.
Infrared astronomy
Main article: Infrared astronomy
ALMA Observatory is one of the highest
observatory sites on Earth.
Infrared astronomy is founded on the detection and analysis of infrared
radiation (wavelengths longer than red light). The infrared spectrum is
useful for studying objects that are too cold to radiate visible light,
such as planets, circumstellar disks or nebulae whose light is blocked
by dust. Longer infrared wavelengths can penetrate clouds of dust that
block visible light, allowing the observation of young stars in
molecular clouds and the cores of galaxies. Observations from the
Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have been particularly effective at unveiling numerous Galactic
protostars and their host star clusters.
With the exception of wavelengths close to visible light, infrared radiation
is heavily absorbed by the atmosphere, or masked, as the atmosphere itself produces significant infrared emission.
Consequently, infrared observatories have to be located in high, dry places or in space. Some molecules radiate
strongly in the infrared. This allows the study the chemistry of space; more specifically it can detect water in comets.
Optical astronomy
The Subaru Telescope (left) and Keck
Observatory (center) on Mauna Kea, both
examples of an observatory that operates at
near-infrared and visible wavelengths. The
NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (right) is an
example of a telescope that operates only at
near-infrared wavelengths.
Main article: Optical astronomy
Historically, optical astronomy, also called visible light astronomy, is
the oldest form of astronomy. Optical images of observations were
originally drawn by hand. In the late 19th century and most of the 20th
century, images were made using photographic equipment. Modern
images are made using digital detectors, particularly detectors using
charge-coupled devices (CCDs) and recorded on modern medium.
Although visible light itself extends from approximately 4000 to
7000 (400 nm to 700nm), that same equipment can be used to
observe some near-ultraviolet and near-infrared radiation.
Ultraviolet astronomy
Main article: Ultraviolet astronomy
Ultraviolet astronomy refers to observations at ultraviolet wavelengths
between approximately 100 and 3200 (10 to 320nm). Light at these wavelengths is absorbed by the Earth's
atmosphere, so observations at these wavelengths must be performed from the upper atmosphere or from space.
Ultraviolet astronomy is best suited to the study of thermal radiation and spectral emission lines from hot blue stars
(OB stars) that are very bright in this wave band. This includes the blue stars in other galaxies, which have been the
targets of several ultraviolet surveys. Other objects commonly observed in ultraviolet light include planetary
nebulae, supernova remnants, and active galactic nuclei. However, as ultraviolet light is easily absorbed by
interstellar dust, an appropriate adjustment of ultraviolet measurements is necessary.
X-ray astronomy
Main article: X-ray astronomy
X-ray astronomy is the study of astronomical objects at X-ray wavelengths. Typically, X-ray radiation is produced
by synchrotron emission (the result of electrons orbiting magnetic field lines), thermal emission from thin gases
above 10
(10million) kelvins, and thermal emission from thick gases above 10
Kelvin. Since X-rays are absorbed
by the Earth's atmosphere, all X-ray observations must be performed from high-altitude balloons, rockets, or
spacecraft. Notable X-ray sources include X-ray binaries, pulsars, supernova remnants, elliptical galaxies, clusters of
galaxies, and active galactic nuclei.
X-rays were first observed and documented in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Rntgen, a German scientist who found
them when experimenting with vacuum tubes. Through a series of experiments, Rntgen was able to discover the
beginning elements of radiation. The "X", in fact, holds its own significance, as it represents Rntgen's inability to
identify exactly the type of radiation.
Gamma-ray astronomy
Main article: Gamma ray astronomy
Gamma ray astronomy is the study of astronomical objects at the shortest wavelengths of the electromagnetic
spectrum. Gamma rays may be observed directly by satellites such as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory or by
specialized telescopes called atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes. The Cherenkov telescopes do not actually detect the
gamma rays directly but instead detect the flashes of visible light produced when gamma rays are absorbed by the
Earth's atmosphere.
Most gamma-ray emitting sources are actually gamma-ray bursts, objects which only produce gamma radiation for a
few milliseconds to thousands of seconds before fading away. Only 10% of gamma-ray sources are non-transient
sources. These steady gamma-ray emitters include pulsars, neutron stars, and black hole candidates such as active
galactic nuclei.
Fields not based on the electromagnetic spectrum
In addition to electromagnetic radiation, a few other events originating from great distances may be observed from
the Earth.
In neutrino astronomy, astronomers use heavily shielded underground facilities such as SAGE, GALLEX, and
Kamioka II/III for the detection of neutrinos. The vast majority of the neutrinos streaming through the earth originate
from the Sun, but 24 neutrinos were also detected from supernova 1987A. Cosmic rays, which consist of very high
energy particles that can decay or be absorbed when they enter the Earth's atmosphere, result in a cascade of particles
which can be detected by current observatories. Additionally, some future neutrino detectors may also be sensitive to
the particles produced when cosmic rays hit the Earth's atmosphere.
Gravitational wave astronomy is an emerging new field of astronomy which aims to use gravitational wave detectors
to collect observational data about compact objects. A few observatories have been constructed, such as the Laser
Interferometer Gravitational Observatory LIGO, but gravitational waves are extremely difficult to detect.
Combining observations made using electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos or gravitational waves with those made
using a different means, which shall give complementary information, is known as multi-messenger astronomy.
Astrometry and celestial mechanics
Main articles: Astrometry and Celestial mechanics
One of the oldest fields in astronomy, and in all of science, is the measurement of the positions of celestial objects.
Historically, accurate knowledge of the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars has been essential in celestial
navigation (the use of celestial objects to guide navigation) and in the making of calendars.
Careful measurement of the positions of the planets has led to a solid understanding of gravitational perturbations,
and an ability to determine past and future positions of the planets with great accuracy, a field known as celestial
mechanics. More recently the tracking of near-Earth objects will allow for predictions of close encounters, and
potential collisions, with the Earth.
The measurement of stellar parallax of nearby stars provides a fundamental baseline in the cosmic distance ladder
that is used to measure the scale of the universe. Parallax measurements of nearby stars provide an absolute baseline
for the properties of more distant stars, as their properties can be compared. Measurements of radial velocity and
proper motion plot the movement of these systems through the Milky Way galaxy. Astrometric results are the basis
used to calculate the distribution of dark matter in the galaxy.
During the 1990s, the measurement of the stellar wobble of nearby stars was used to detect large extrasolar planets
orbiting nearby stars.
Theoretical astronomy
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Big Bang nucleosynthesis
Supernova nucleosynthesis
Cosmic ray spallation
Related topics
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fission
Main article: Theoretical astronomy
Theoretical astronomers use several tools including analytical models (for example, polytropes to approximate the
behaviors of a star) and computational numerical simulations. Each has some advantages. Analytical models of a
process are generally better for giving insight into the heart of what is going on. Numerical models reveal the
existence of phenomena and effects otherwise unobserved.
Theorists in astronomy endeavor to create theoretical models and from the results predict observational
consequences of those models. The observation of a phenomenon predicted by a model allows astronomers to select
between several alternate or conflicting models.
Theorists also try to generate or modify models to take into account new data. In the case of an inconsistency, the
general tendency is to try to make minimal modifications to the model so that it produces results that fit the data. In
some cases, a large amount of inconsistent data over time may lead to total abandonment of a model.
Topics studied by theoretical astronomers include: stellar dynamics and evolution; galaxy formation; large-scale
structure of matter in the Universe; origin of cosmic rays; general relativity and physical cosmology, including string
cosmology and astroparticle physics. Astrophysical relativity serves as a tool to gauge the properties of large scale
structures for which gravitation plays a significant role in physical phenomena investigated and as the basis for black
hole (astro)physics and the study of gravitational waves.
Some widely accepted and studied theories and models in astronomy, now included in the Lambda-CDM model are
the Big Bang, Cosmic inflation, dark matter, and fundamental theories of physics.
A few examples of this process:
Physical process Experimental tool Theoretical model Explains/predicts
Gravitation Radio telescopes Self-gravitating system Emergence of a star system
Nuclear fusion Spectroscopy Stellar evolution How the stars shine and how metals formed
The Big Bang Hubble Space Telescope, COBE Expanding universe Age of the Universe
Quantum fluctuations Cosmic inflation Flatness problem
Gravitational collapse X-ray astronomy General relativity Black holes at the center of Andromeda galaxy
CNO cycle in stars The dominant source of energy for massive star.
Dark matter and dark energy are the current leading topics in astronomy, as their discovery and controversy
originated during the study of the galaxies.
Specific subfields
Solar astronomy
An ultraviolet image of the Sun's active
photosphere as viewed by the TRACE space
telescope. NASA photo
Solar observatory Lomnick tt (Slovakia) built
in 1962.
Main article: Sun
See also: Solar telescope
At a distance of about eight light-minutes, the most frequently studied
star is the Sun, a typical main-sequence dwarf star of stellar class G2
V, and about 4.6 billion years (Gyr) old. The Sun is not considered a
variable star, but it does undergo periodic changes in activity known as
the sunspot cycle. This is an 11-year fluctuation in sunspot numbers.
Sunspots are regions of lower-than- average temperatures that are
associated with intense magnetic activity.
The Sun has steadily increased in luminosity over the course of its life,
increasing by 40% since it first became a main-sequence star. The Sun
has also undergone periodic changes in luminosity that can have a
significant impact on the Earth. The Maunder minimum, for example,
is believed to have caused the Little Ice Age phenomenon during the
Middle Ages.
The visible outer surface of the Sun is called the photosphere. Above
this layer is a thin region known as the chromosphere. This is
surrounded by a transition region of rapidly increasing temperatures,
and finally by the super-heated corona.
At the center of the Sun is the core region, a volume of sufficient
temperature and pressure for nuclear fusion to occur. Above the core is
the radiation zone, where the plasma conveys the energy flux by means
of radiation. Above that are the outer layers that form a convection
zone where the gas material transports energy primarily through
physical displacement of the gas. It is believed that this convection
zone creates the magnetic activity that generates sun spots.
A solar wind of plasma particles constantly streams outward from the Sun until, at the outermost limit of the solar
system, it reaches the heliopause. This solar wind interacts with the magnetosphere of the Earth to create the Van
Allen radiation belts about the Earth, as well as the aurora where the lines of the Earth's magnetic field descend into
the atmosphere.
Planetary science
Main articles: Planetary science and Planetary geology
Planetary science is the study of the assemblage of planets, moons, dwarf planets, comets, asteroids, and other bodies
orbiting the Sun, as well as extrasolar planets. The Solar System has been relatively well-studied, initially through
telescopes and then later by spacecraft. This has provided a good overall understanding of the formation and
evolution of this planetary system, although many new discoveries are still being made.
The black spot at the top is a dust devil climbing
a crater wall on Mars. This moving, swirling
column of Martian atmosphere (comparable to a
terrestrial tornado) created the long, dark streak.
NASA image.
The Solar System is subdivided into the inner planets, the asteroid belt,
and the outer planets. The inner terrestrial planets consist of Mercury,
Venus, Earth, and Mars. The outer gas giant planets are Jupiter, Saturn,
Uranus, and Neptune. Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt, and finally
the Oort Cloud, which may extend as far as a light-year.
The planets were formed in the protoplanetary disk that surrounded the
early Sun. Through a process that included gravitational attraction,
collision, and accretion, the disk formed clumps of matter that, with
time, became protoplanets. The radiation pressure of the solar wind
then expelled most of the unaccreted matter, and only those planets
with sufficient mass retained their gaseous atmosphere. The planets
continued to sweep up, or eject, the remaining matter during a period of intense bombardment, evidenced by the
many impact craters on the Moon. During this period, some of the protoplanets may have collided, the leading
hypothesis for how the Moon was formed.
Once a planet reaches sufficient mass, the materials of different densities segregate within, during planetary
differentiation. This process can form a stony or metallic core, surrounded by a mantle and an outer surface. The core
may include solid and liquid regions, and some planetary cores generate their own magnetic field, which can protect
their atmospheres from solar wind stripping.
A planet or moon's interior heat is produced from the collisions that created the body, radioactive materials (e.g.
uranium, thorium, and
Al), or tidal heating. Some planets and moons accumulate enough heat to drive geologic
processes such as volcanism and tectonics. Those that accumulate or retain an atmosphere can also undergo surface
erosion from wind or water. Smaller bodies, without tidal heating, cool more quickly; and their geological activity
ceases with the exception of impact cratering.
Stellar astronomy
The Ant planetary nebula. Ejecting gas from the
dying central star shows symmetrical patterns
unlike the chaotic patterns of ordinary explosions.
Main article: Star
The study of stars and stellar evolution is fundamental to our
understanding of the universe. The astrophysics of stars has been
determined through observation and theoretical understanding; and
from computer simulations of the interior.
Star formation occurs in
dense regions of dust and gas, known as giant molecular clouds. When
destabilized, cloud fragments can collapse under the influence of
gravity, to form a protostar. A sufficiently dense, and hot, core region
will trigger nuclear fusion, thus creating a main-sequence star.
Almost all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created
inside the cores of stars.
The characteristics of the resulting star depend primarily upon its starting mass. The more massive the star, the
greater its luminosity, and the more rapidly it expends the hydrogen fuel in its core. Over time, this hydrogen fuel is
completely converted into helium, and the star begins to evolve. The fusion of helium requires a higher core
temperature, so that the star both expands in size, and increases in core density. The resulting red giant enjoys a brief
life span, before the helium fuel is in turn consumed. Very massive stars can also undergo a series of decreasing
evolutionary phases, as they fuse increasingly heavier elements.
The final fate of the star depends on its mass, with stars of mass greater than about eight times the Sun becoming
core collapse supernovae;
while smaller stars form a white dwarf as it ejects matter that forms a planetary
The remnant of a supernova is a dense neutron star, or, if the stellar mass was at least three times that of
the Sun, a black hole. Close binary stars can follow more complex evolutionary paths, such as mass transfer onto a
white dwarf companion that can potentially cause a supernova.
Planetary nebulae and supernovae are necessary
for the distribution of metals to the interstellar medium; without them, all new stars (and their planetary systems)
would be formed from hydrogen and helium alone.
See also: Solar astronomy
Galactic astronomy
Observed structure of the Milky Way's spiral
Main article: Galactic astronomy
Our solar system orbits within the Milky Way, a barred spiral galaxy
that is a prominent member of the Local Group of galaxies. It is a
rotating mass of gas, dust, stars and other objects, held together by
mutual gravitational attraction. As the Earth is located within the dusty
outer arms, there are large portions of the Milky Way that are obscured
from view.
In the center of the Milky Way is the core, a bar-shaped bulge with
what is believed to be a supermassive black hole at the center. This is
surrounded by four primary arms that spiral from the core. This is a
region of active star formation that contains many younger, population
I stars. The disk is surrounded by a spheroid halo of older, population
II stars, as well as relatively dense concentrations of stars known as globular clusters.
Between the stars lies the interstellar medium, a region of sparse matter. In the densest regions, molecular clouds of
molecular hydrogen and other elements create star-forming regions. These begin as a compact pre-stellar core or
dark nebulae, which concentrate and collapse (in volumes determined by the Jeans length) to form compact
As the more massive stars appear, they transform the cloud into an H II region (ionized atomic hydrogen) of glowing
gas and plasma. The stellar wind and supernova explosions from these stars eventually cause the cloud to disperse,
often leaving behind one or more young open clusters of stars. These clusters gradually disperse, and the stars join
the population of the Milky Way.
Kinematic studies of matter in the Milky Way and other galaxies have demonstrated that there is more mass than can
be accounted for by visible matter. A dark matter halo appears to dominate the mass, although the nature of this dark
matter remains undetermined.
Extragalactic astronomy
This image shows several blue, loop-shaped
objects that are multiple images of the same
galaxy, duplicated by the gravitational lens effect
of the cluster of yellow galaxies near the middle
of the photograph. The lens is produced by the
cluster's gravitational field that bends light to
magnify and distort the image of a more distant
Main article: Extragalactic astronomy
The study of objects outside our galaxy is a branch of astronomy
concerned with the formation and evolution of Galaxies; their
morphology (description) and classification; and the observation of
active galaxies, and at a larger scale, the groups and clusters of
galaxies. Finally, the latter is important for the understanding of the
large-scale structure of the cosmos.
Most galaxies are organized into distinct shapes that allow for
classification schemes. They are commonly divided into spiral,
elliptical and Irregular galaxies.
As the name suggests, an elliptical galaxy has the cross-sectional shape
of an ellipse. The stars move along random orbits with no preferred
direction. These galaxies contain little or no interstellar dust; few
star-forming regions; and generally older stars. Elliptical galaxies are
more commonly found at the core of galactic clusters, and may have
been formed through mergers of large galaxies.
A spiral galaxy is organized into a flat, rotating disk, usually with a
prominent bulge or bar at the center, and trailing bright arms that spiral
outward. The arms are dusty regions of star formation where massive young stars produce a blue tint. Spiral galaxies
are typically surrounded by a halo of older stars. Both the Milky Way and our nearest galaxy neighbor, the
Andromeda Galaxy, are spiral galaxies.
Irregular galaxies are chaotic in appearance, and are neither spiral nor elliptical. About a quarter of all galaxies are
irregular, and the peculiar shapes of such galaxies may be the result of gravitational interaction.
An active galaxy is a formation that emitts a significant amount of its energy from a source other than its stars, dust
and gas. It is powered by a compact region at the core, thought to be a super-massive black hole that is emitting
radiation from in-falling material.
A radio galaxy is an active galaxy that is very luminous in the radio portion of the spectrum, and is emitting
immense plumes or lobes of gas. Active galaxies that emit shorter frequency, high-energy radiation include Seyfert
galaxies, Quasars, and Blazars. Quasars are believed to be the most consistently luminous objects in the known
The large-scale structure of the cosmos is represented by groups and clusters of galaxies. This structure is organized
into a hierarchy of groupings, with the largest being the superclusters. The collective matter is formed into filaments
and walls, leaving large voids between.
Main article: Physical cosmology
Hubble Extreme Deep Field.
Cosmology (from the Greek
(kosmos) "world, universe" and
(logos) "word, study" or literally "logic")
could be considered the study of the
universe as a whole.
Observations of the large-scale structure of
the universe, a branch known as physical
cosmology, have provided a deep
understanding of the formation and
evolution of the cosmos. Fundamental to
modern cosmology is the well-accepted
theory of the big bang, wherein our universe
began at a single point in time, and
thereafter expanded over the course of 13.8
billion years to its present condition. The
concept of the big bang can be traced back
to the discovery of the microwave
background radiation in 1965.
In the course of this expansion, the universe underwent several evolutionary stages. In the very early moments, it is
theorized that the universe experienced a very rapid cosmic inflation, which homogenized the starting conditions.
Thereafter, nucleosynthesis produced the elemental abundance of the early universe. (See also
When the first neutral atoms formed from a sea of primordial ions, space became transparent to radiation, releasing
the energy viewed today as the microwave background radiation. The expanding universe then underwent a Dark
Age due to the lack of stellar energy sources.
A hierarchical structure of matter began to form from minute variations in the mass density of space. Matter
accumulated in the densest regions, forming clouds of gas and the earliest stars, the Population III stars. These
massive stars triggered the reionization process and are believed to have created many of the heavy elements in the
early universe, which, through nuclear decay, create lighter elements, allowing the cycle of nucleosynthesis to
continue longer.
Gravitational aggregations clustered into filaments, leaving voids in the gaps. Gradually, organizations of gas and
dust merged to form the first primitive galaxies. Over time, these pulled in more matter, and were often organized
into groups and clusters of galaxies, then into larger-scale superclusters.
Fundamental to the structure of the universe is the existence of dark matter and dark energy. These are now thought
to be its dominant components, forming 96% of the mass of the universe. For this reason, much effort is expended in
trying to understand the physics of these components.
Interdisciplinary studies
Astronomy and astrophysics have developed significant interdisciplinary links with other major scientific fields.
Archaeoastronomy is the study of ancient or traditional astronomies in their cultural context, utilizing archaeological
and anthropological evidence. Astrobiology is the study of the advent and evolution of biological systems in the
universe, with particular emphasis on the possibility of non-terrestrial life. Astrostatistics is the application of
statistics to astrophysics to the analysis of vast amount of observational astrophysical data.
The study of chemicals found in space, including their formation, interaction and destruction, is called
astrochemistry. These substances are usually found in molecular clouds, although they may also appear in low
temperature stars, brown dwarfs and planets. Cosmochemistry is the study of the chemicals found within the Solar
System, including the origins of the elements and variations in the isotope ratios. Both of these fields represent an
overlap of the disciplines of astronomy and chemistry. As "forensic astronomy", finally, methods from astronomy
have been used to solve problems of law and history.
Amateur astronomy
Amateur astronomers can build their
own equipment, and can hold star
parties and gatherings, such as
Main article: Amateur astronomy
Astronomy is one of the sciences to which amateurs can contribute the most.
Collectively, amateur astronomers observe a variety of celestial objects and
phenomena sometimes with equipment that they build themselves. Common
targets of amateur astronomers include the Moon, planets, stars, comets, meteor
showers, and a variety of deep-sky objects such as star clusters, galaxies, and
nebulae. Astronomy clubs are located throughout the world and many have
programs to help their members set up and complete observational programs
including those to observe all the objects in the Messier (110 objects) or Herschal
400 catalogues of points of interest in the night sky. One branch of amateur
astronomy, amateur astrophotography, involves the taking of photos of the night
sky. Many amateurs like to specialize in the observation of particular objects,
types of objects, or types of events which interest them.
Most amateurs work at visible wavelengths, but a small minority experiment
with wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. This includes the use of infrared
filters on conventional telescopes, and also the use of radio telescopes. The pioneer of amateur radio astronomy was
Karl Jansky, who started observing the sky at radio wavelengths in the 1930s. A number of amateur astronomers use
either homemade telescopes or use radio telescopes which were originally built for astronomy research but which are
now available to amateurs (e.g. the One-Mile Telescope).
Amateur astronomers continue to make scientific contributions to the field of astronomy and it is one of the few
scientific disciplines where amateurs can still make significant contributions. Amateurs can make occultation
measurements that are used to refine the orbits of minor planets. They can also discover comets, and perform regular
observations of variable stars. There are hundreds of local astronomy clubs throughout the world and many help their
members set up and complete observational programs such as ones to observe all the Messier or Hershel catalogue
objects.Improvements in digital technology have allowed amateurs to make impressive advances in the field of
Unsolved problems in astronomy
See also: Unsolved problems in physics
Although the scientific discipline of astronomy has made tremendous strides in understanding the nature of the
universe and its contents, there remain some important unanswered questions. Answers to these may require the
construction of new ground- and space-based instruments, and possibly new developments in theoretical and
experimental physics.
What is the origin of the stellar mass spectrum? That is, why do astronomers observe the same distribution of
stellar masses the initial mass function apparently regardless of the initial conditions? A deeper understanding
of the formation of stars and planets is needed.
Is there other life in the Universe? Especially, is there other intelligent life? If so, what is the explanation for the
Fermi paradox? The existence of life elsewhere has important scientific and philosophical implications. Is the
Solar System normal or atypical?
What caused the Universe to form? Is the premise of the Fine-tuned universe hypothesis correct? If so, could this
be the result of cosmological natural selection? What caused the cosmic inflation that produced our homogeneous
universe? Why is there a baryon asymmetry?
What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? These dominate the evolution and fate of the cosmos, yet their
true nature remains unknown. What will be the ultimate fate of the universe?
How did the first galaxies form? How did supermassive black holes form?
What is creating the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays?
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Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors
File:Venice ast sm.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Venice_ast_sm.jpg License: Creative Commons Zero Contributors: User:Zachariel
File:Astrologia-tynk.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Astrologia-tynk.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Hautala, Theoteryi, Waldir, WolfgangRieger
File:Marcantonio Raimondi - Two Women with the Signs of Libra and Scorpio.jpg Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Marcantonio_Raimondi_-_Two_Women_with_the_Signs_of_Libra_and_Scorpio.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Cirt, Lalupa, Postdlf
File:Cicero - Musei Capitolini.JPG Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Cicero_-_Musei_Capitolini.JPG License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0
Contributors: Glauco92
File:Quadritpartitum.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Quadritpartitum.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Lx 121, Zachariel
File:Translation of Albumasar Venice 1515 De Magnis Coniunctionibus.jpg Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Translation_of_Albumasar_Venice_1515_De_Magnis_Coniunctionibus.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: PHGCOM
File:Meister von San Vitale in Ravenna 004.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Meister_von_San_Vitale_in_Ravenna_004.jpg License: unknown Contributors: -
File:Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Isidor_von_Sevilla.jpeg License: Public Domain Contributors: AndreasPraefcke, Anual, Dionisio,
Ecummenic, Enrique Cordero, Evrik, Ixtzib, JMCC1, Ketamino, Kokodyl, Mattes, Schaengel89, Sebastian Wallroth, Svencb
File:Robert Fludd's An Astrologer Casting a Horoscope 1617.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Robert_Fludd's_An_Astrologer_Casting_a_Horoscope_1617.jpg
License: Public Domain Contributors: Chiswick Chap
File:Brooklyn Museum - Page from an Astrological Treatise.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Page_from_an_Astrological_Treatise.jpg
License: Public Domain Contributors: AnRo0002, NeverDoING, Romaine, Trelio
File:Karl Popper.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Karl_Popper.jpg License: unknown Contributors: LSE library
File:Gnome-mime-sound-openclipart.svg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Gnome-mime-sound-openclipart.svg License: unknown Contributors: User:Eubulides
File:Bdrates of Japan since 1950.svg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Bdrates_of_Japan_since_1950.svg License: Public Domain Contributors: Demmo
File:Woman in the Moon.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Woman_in_the_Moon.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: John Lyly
File:LH 95.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:LH_95.jpg License: Public domain Contributors: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team
(STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration
File:Crab Nebula.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Crab_Nebula.jpg License: Public domain Contributors: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State
File:SLNSW 479519 16 Observatory SH 198.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:SLNSW_479519_16_Observatory_SH_198.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors:
99of9, Mattinbgn
File:Planisphri cleste.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Planisphri_cleste.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Geagea, Jan Arkesteijn, Jay2332, Joopr,
Leyo, STyx, W!B:, 2 anonymous edits
File:AiKhanoumSunDial.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:AiKhanoumSunDial.jpg License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Contributors:
Green fr, Ismoon, JuergenG, Kilom691, Sailko, Soerfm, TcfkaPanairjdde, World Imaging
File:Galileo moon phases.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Galileo_moon_phases.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Galileo
File:USA.NM.VeryLargeArray.02.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:USA.NM.VeryLargeArray.02.jpg License: GNU General Public License Contributors:
File:In Search of Space.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:In_Search_of_Space.jpg License: unknown Contributors: Jmencisom
File:The Keck Subaru and Infrared obervatories.JPG Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Keck_Subaru_and_Infrared_obervatories.JPG License: Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Contributors: Sasquatch
File:Wpdms physics proton proton chain 1.svg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Wpdms_physics_proton_proton_chain_1.svg License: Public Domain Contributors: see
File:Uvsun trace big.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Uvsun_trace_big.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: (supposed to be NASA due to this rather similar
image; see e.g. File:PIA03150.png; thus the material will be under the well known PD licensing terms)
File:Observatrium Lomnick tt 1.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Observatrium_Lomnick_tt_1.jpg License: Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0
Contributors: User:Bubamara
File:dust.devil.mars.arp.750pix.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dust.devil.mars.arp.750pix.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: Bdamokos, Ruslik0,
Saperaud, Scanmap, TheDJ
File:Ant Nebula.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ant_Nebula.jpg License: Public Domain Contributors: NASA, ESA & the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).
Acknowledgment: R. Sahai (Jet Propulsion Lab), B. Balick (University of Washington
File:Milky Way Spiral Arm.svg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Milky_Way_Spiral_Arm.svg License: GNU Free Documentation License Contributors: User:Surachit
File:grav.lens1.arp.750pix.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Grav.lens1.arp.750pix.jpg License: Public domain Contributors: STScl/NASA
File:Hubble Extreme Deep Field (full resolution).png Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Hubble_Extreme_Deep_Field_(full_resolution).png License: Public Domain
Contributors: NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team
File:Telescope trailer 22.jpg Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Telescope_trailer_22.jpg License: GNU Free Documentation License Contributors: Halfblue
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0