ZOH dee ak, is a band-shaped section of the sky that contains 12 special constellations.
The zodiac extends about 9 degrees on either side of the ecliptic, the yearly path the sun
seems to follow in relation to other stars.
The zodiac in astrology. The zodiac has special meaning to people who follow astrology,
the belief that the stars and other heavenly bodies influence people's lives. Astrologers
divide the zodiac into 12 equal parts called signs, named after the zodiac's 12
constellations. The 12 signs--and the 12 constellations--are Aries, Taurus, Gemini,
Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.
Astrologers believe that each person comes under the special influence of a particular
sign of the zodiac, depending on the date of the person's birth. For example, anyone born
from March 21 to April 19 has Aries as his or her sign and is called "an Aries."
Astrologers think that people born under each sign have certain characteristics. An Aries,
for example, is supposed to be bold, energetic, and strong-willed. However, scientists and
many other people consider astrology to be no more than a superstition.
The origin of the zodiac. Prehistoric people probably noticed that the seasons changed
every year when certain groups of stars reached certain positions in the night sky. These
early people may have invented the constellations by giving the groups names that could be
represented by human, animal, or other figures. The outlines of the figures, drawn over
maps of the night sky, would have helped the people identify and remember the groups. The
word zodiac comes from an ancient Greek word meaning circle of animals.
Over thousands of years, the constellations have changed their positions in the sky with
respect to the celestial equator, an extension of the earth's equator into space. For this
reason, people have identified different constellations at different times. According to
some historians, the constellations of the zodiac were named in three stages. Gemini,
Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces were named during the 5000's B.C., when these
constellations appeared at the ecliptic in spring, summer, autumn, and winter,
respectively. The first farmers in the Middle East may have looked for those four
constellations as markers for the change of seasons.
By the 2000's B.C., the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians had probably identified the
constellations Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius as seasonal markers. Aries, Cancer,
Libra, and Capricorn may have been added in the 1000's B.C. The earliest known horo-scope
to mention all 12 signs of the zodiac dates from about the 400's B.C.
The Eastern zodiac, also called the Chinese zodiac, is a set of symbols used since ancient
times in China, Japan, Korea, and some other Asian countries. The Eastern zodiac does not
involve constellations and has no historical connection with the Western zodiac. Both
zodiacs, however, consist of 12 symbols. And in both, according to popular belief, the
symbol a person is born under influences the person's character and fate.
The 12 symbols of the Eastern zodiac are animals. The zodiac matches the animals to years
that repeat in a 12-year cycle. The years 1984 and 1996, for example, were years of the
rat. The 12 animals, in chronological order, are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit (or hare),
dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster (or cock), dog, and pig (or boar).