Saturday, May 9, 2009

What's Up? Is it Astronomy or Astrology?

Welcome back to What's Up?

Every amateur astronomer has been asked at some point, "Is it astronomy or astrology?" and "What's the difference between astronomy and astrology?"

Astronomy is a science, it uses facts, evidence, and mathematics to come to conclusions about the universe around us. Astrology is the unfounded belief that the position of the planets relative to the stars in the sky affect everyday life in some way.

Although very different today, astronomy and astrology share common roots. Over 2000 years ago, astrology was created by the ancient Babylonians. They believed that the position of the planets in the sky could be used to predict the future. They also believed that the constellation the sun rose in the day of a person's birth would determine their personality and fate.

Since the sun rises in the same general area of the sky all year and the stars and constellations slowly rotate overhead, the sun will rise in one constellation to the next spending on average a month in each.

According to astrologers, the sun rises in Gemini from May 21 to June 21, but not all constellations are the same size, so the sun can spend different amounts of time in each one.

There's also another major flaw in astrology: since astrology was created, the positions of the constellations have shifted. If you take someone born on June 16, they are considered a Gemini, but when it comes to checking where the sun rises, it actually rises in Taurus!

Astronomy started to diverge from astrology in the early 1600's when it was discovered that the planets are actual worlds of their own and not just tiny points of light, Earth is not the centre of the universe, and math began to be used to predict the path of planets through space (math can't be used to predict someone's personality or the next time someone will stub their toe).

Astronomy is now a diverse and extremely interesting scientific field. Using it, humans have landed on the moon, robotic spacecraft have been sent to the planets, there are planets around other stars, we now know stars don't live forever and often die dramatic deaths, and that the universe is so enormous that light takes billions upon billions of years to cross just a portion of it.

Astronomy has also provided great benefits to our everyday lives. Things like cell phones, satellite TV, weather forecasts, GPS, and accurate maps of the Earth all owe their existence to the science of astronomy.

Look at all the benefits astronomy has provided, what has astrology done for anybody other than being a little fun to read in a newspaper?

Astrology has done a great deal of harm to many people in the past. Many civilizations of the past had their own appointed astrologer and didn't allow anyone else to make observations of the sky, hindering any way for astronomy to develop.

Astrologers that got predictions wrong were often executed, as their job was to predict the future of the empire to which they belong. Those astrologers made sure to keep their predictions vague or change the details of their predictions to match what later happened.

Although not very common today, many people still fall victim to fraud artists who scam people out of money with astrology.

In 1998, for example, an astrologer in Alang, India, predicted that there would be a disastrous cyclone. Over 60,000 workers were evacuated from the town's shipyard. The cyclone never came. As much as 60 million dollars of profit were lost. This is just one example of many in recent history.

As Carl Sagan, a great astronomer who popularized science, once said about astronomy and astrology, "There are two ways to view the stars, as they really are, and as we might wish them to be."

To read further into the nonsense of astrology go to "".

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Forgetting astrology, let's check out what the planets are really up to this month.

Mercury will be low in the west right after sunset while Saturn will be high in the south. Jupiter will be rising much later in the evening and will be fairly high in the southeast by twilight.

Right before the sun rises in the morning will be brilliant Venus in the east. It will be the brightest starlike object in the sky and will slowly rise higher in the sky as the month progresses. Reddish-orange Mars will be to the lower left of Venus for much of the month.

The moon will be full on May 9 and will shrink to a new moon by May 24.

On May 11, the space shuttle is planned head up to the Hubble Space Telescope for a repair mission.

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The Athena Community Astronomy Club will be having boardwalk astronomy viewing sessions by the Shipyard Market building during the weekend if skies are clear. Come by for a peek through a telescope at Saturn, the Moon, or whatever else is visible in the sky at that time. Club members will typically be there from 9pm to 11pm.

To end this month, is the monthly Athena Community Astronomy Club meeting in the Wilmot community centre. Visitors are always welcome. It runs from 7pm to 9pm on Sunday, May 31.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
On April 25, the "world's largest model rocket" was launched. It was a model of the Saturn V rocket that brought people to the moon in the 1970's. It's about ten times shorter than the Saturn V and was only expected to fly up about one mile high. It set the Guinness world record for heaviest model rocket. It weighed over 1600 pounds. It may have been a beast but it was sure beautiful when it launched!

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