Glossary in Astronomy
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Glossary in Astronomy


The degree of the zodiac rising over the eastern horizon at any given moment. Each degree takes about four minutes to rise.

Birth Chart

A map of the sky showing the planets in the precise position they occupied at the moment of birth. The traditional word for the birth chart is horoscope. A horoscope can be drawn for any location and moment in time – in horary astrology, for example, it is drawn for the moment a particular question is asked.

Birth Time

The precise time of birth. The time of the first cry or the moment of cutting the umbilical cord have traditionally been used.

Celestial Sphere

An imaginary sphere around the Earth onto which are positioned all the visible planets and stars of the heavens. Though essentially imaginary, it is a useful device for visualizing the stars and planets vis-à-vis each other and in relation to locations on Earth.


A conjunction takes place between two planets when they occupy the same degree of the zodiac. The line that divides one astrological sign or house from its neighbour. It is extremely rare to be born “on the cusp”; almost everyone is born with the Sun in one sign or another, if only by a single degree. If one is born with the Sun 1º into Aries, there will not be any effect from Pisces simply because the Sun has just left that sign. More nonsense is talked about being “born on the cusp” than any other area of astrology.


Each sign occupies a 30° slice of the zodiac and is itself divided into three sections, called decans, of 10° each.


Annual ephemerides are published to show the movements of the planets with astronomical accuracy.

Feminine Signs

Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces are traditionally known as feminine signs, the others being masculine. Feminine signs are regarded as negative, masculine as positive.

Generation Influence

Those planets which spend many years in the same sign influence whole generations of people.

Great Year

The Earth, while revolving, wobbles rather like a top running down, and the pole moves backwards through the zodiac, passing through a sign in about 2,500 years – this is known as an astrological age. The period during which the pole completes a full circle is known as the Great Year and lasts for about 25,868 years.

Horary Astrology

When a particular question is asked, an astrologer suggests an answer based on the horoscope for the moment at which the question was posed.


The birth chart or horoscope is divided into 12 sections, distinct from the sections of the zodiac signs, each of which represents different aspects of human life.

Inferior Planets

Mercury and Venus, placed between the Earth and Sun, are known as inferior, or inner, planets; those further from the Sun are called superior, or outer, planets. The terms relate only to position, and not to the astrological nature of the planets concerned.


An imaginary line in the sky arcing north to south and passing through the zenith, or point in the sky directly above an observer.


Astrologers allow an orb – a specific number of degrees – within which an aspect between two planets will operate, if it is not exact. The degree allowed depends on the strength of the aspect.


For convenience, astrologers refer to the Sun and Moon as planets (knowing perfectly well that the Sun is a star, and the Moon merely Earth’s satellite). These – along with Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Chiron, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto – are used by astrologers, who estimate the effect they have on affairs on Earth, and the human race in particular.

Polar Sign

The polar sign is the one positioned on the directly opposite side of the zodiac to the sign under discussion. For example, Libra is the polar sign of Aries, and vice versa. There is a special relationship between such signs.


Many, perhaps most, astrologers avoid the word prediction, preferring forecast or progression – events are not predicted with complete accuracy, but suggested, much in the manner of a weather forecast.


The zodiac signs have traditionally been divided into three groups (cardinal, fixed and mutable) of four signs, known as the quadruplicities. The cardinal signs are Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn; the fixed signs are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius; and the mutable signs Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces. The signs of a particular group are said to share certain quadruplicities, or qualities.

Retrograde Motion

As seen from Earth, a planet sometimes looks as though it is moving backwards in its course (due to their relative orbits); the planet is then said to be retrograde.


When a planet returns to the precise position in the sky in which it stood at the time of a birth, the individual is said to be celebrating its return. Astrologers also take into consideration timescales known as half-returns. These periods – at which times of change tend to occur – are: the Jupiter return, every 12 years; the Saturn return, at 29+ years; the Uranus half-return, at 40+; the Chiron return, at 50+; the second Saturn return, at 60; the full Uranus return, at 84; and the third Saturn return at 90.


Each sign is traditionally said to be ruled by a particular planet, and a sign’s influence can be affected by this. There has been much discussion about the theory of rulerships, and in particular how the modern planets have been assigned. It is perhaps not such a particularly important feature of astrological theory, however.

Solar Chart

A chart drawn up with the Sun on the cusp of the first house – i.e. at sunrise; this is done when a birth time is unknown. It is also used by Sun-sign astrologers.


Some modern astrologers are increasingly studying the effect fixed stars may have when they fall within the zodiac. In general, though, the stars have no importance in popular astrology, and their effect remains questionable.


A group of planets gathered in the same area of the sky; a multiple conjunction.


Signs are traditionally assigned to the four elements – fire, earth, air, and water – and are thus placed in four groups of three. The fire signs are Aries, Leo, Sagittarius; earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn; air signs are Gemini, Libra, Aquarius; and water signs Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.

The Star Of Bethlehem

From time to time, two large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn appear close to each other in the night sky. It was probably the sight of such a spectacular conjunction that alerted the biblical Magi to an extraordinary event, and made them follow the star of Bethlehem to the manger in which Christ was born – there was a conjunction of these two planets in March, 6 bce, and it was particularly brilliant in those latitudes.

Uranus, Neptune, And Pluto

On 13 March 1781, the astronomer William Hershel unexpectedly spotted a new planet – Uranus – which is barely visible without a telescope. In September 1846 the discovery of Neptune was announced by astronomers who had been looking for a distant planet whose gravity was affecting the path of Uranus. Tiny Pluto was not found until 1930, after a long quest for “Planet X”. For some astrologers, the modern planets appeared to invalidate the whole astrological system. Others have undertaken detailed research to define the influence of each new planet, and the sign it should rule. Such research is ongoing as other bodies are identified and the significance of objects such as asteroids is considered. One approach is to examine geographical and political conditions dominating at the time of the planet’s discovery. The 1700s, when Uranus was found, were a time of unrest and scientific development – hence the eventual connection between Uranus and the scientific qualities of Aquarius. In the 1860s gas was first used for lighting, and there was a fascination with spiritualism – such matters relate to the qualities of Pisces. The placing of Pluto is most revealing: the time of its discovery coincided with the rise of Fascism, the crime wave linked to prohibition in the USA , and the brutality of Stalin’s Russia. These events complement the darker side of Scorpio, hence Pluto became the modern ruler of Scorpio.

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