Astronomy vs Astrology: What’s The Difference?

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences. Every culture throughout history devoted at least some time and resources to astronomical observations. There are clear advantages to understanding the positions of the stars and planets. It allowed ancient cultures to predict seasons, navigate over large distances, know when best to grow food, and understand animal migrations. Understanding the night sky was essential for the survival of humanity for thousands of years. However, numerous cultures also viewed the positions of the stars and planets as having a large influence over human affairs, from large scale events to individual lives. For a vast portion of human history, astronomy and astrology were viewed as the same subject, and it was not until astronomical observations by astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo that we began to see that these two subjects are very different from each other. 

What Is Astrology?

Zodiac Constellations
                        The Zodiac along with the constellations generally used in astrology

Astrology is the belief that the positions of stars and planets have a direct influence over human affairs. Today, most of us are likely familiar with astrology in terms of horoscopes, which uses the position of the sun relative to constellations to determine things like personality types and predict the future. For example, the constellation that the sun happens to be in on the day of your birth is believed to influence who you will become as a person. 

What Is Astronomy?

Star Cluster
Astronomy is the study of celestial objects, such as planets, stars, and galaxies. Image credit: NASA/ESA

Astronomy is the study of objects and events that occur outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Unlike astrology, astronomical observations are not claimed to have any influence on human affairs. Rather than the universe behaving in a way that places significance on humanity, astronomy studies how the universe behaves under the natural laws of physics. As a science, astronomy relies on the scientific method to further our understanding of the cosmos, by gathering evidence and data to either prove or disprove specific claims. 

Is Astrology A Science?

Despite astrology maintaining a large amount of acceptance among the general population, scientists generally regard it as a pseudoscience rather than an actual science. As a pseudoscience, astrology makes claims about the natural world that are not supported by evidence or data, and usually employs other tactics to pass itself off as true. For example, horoscopes are almost always worded in a general way that will apply to just about anyone who reads them, and so they come across as being accurate. Furthermore, astronomical observations have largely dispelled the notion that the positions of stars and planets have any influence over our lives. Constellations themselves only have the appeases they do because of where our solar system happens to be located and the time period in which we find ourselves. If you were to go to another solar system and look at the same stars we can see from Earth, you would not see any of the constellations we are used to. Since stars can form and die, if you go back in time far enough, the constellations we can currently see would not exist. If the dinosaurs had developed their own form of astrology, it would be far different from what humanity developed due to a different night sky. Another important observation is that the Earth’s position relative to constellations changes over time. If you were born even just a few hundred years ago, your astrological sign would be different than it is today. Historically, astrology eventually led to the development of astronomy, yet astronomical observations have largely dispelled the notion that the stars and planets have any influence over our daily lives. 

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