Shalom, everyone! Genesis 1:14-16 gives the account of Day 4 of the Creation in which Elohim divided the day from the night. He created two great lights, one with greater power than the other: The greater light, also known as the Sun, He created to rule the day; the lesser light, also known as the Moon, He created to rule the night. Elohim also created the stars to be used in conjunction with the Sun and Moon to assess the seasons, days and years.
The solar calendar utilizes the positions of the Sun and the stars relative to the Earth’s rotation and annual orbit. Each year on the solar calendar consisted of approximately 365 days. On the solar calendar, the first sighting of the Sun in each of the constellations visible to the naked eye during ancient times marked the beginning of a new month. There were 12 months in each year, and each month had either 29, 30 or 31 days. We will now explore the Sun and the constellations of the Zodiac.
The Sun is at the center of our Solar System. It is made of hot plasma and is the most important physical source of energy for life on planet Earth. It is a stationary object that is orbited by a number of other objects including:
- Eight known planets – four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), two gas planets (Jupiter and Saturn), two ice planets (Uranus and Neptune);
- Five known dwarf planets – Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea;
- Asteroids, comets, and other icy objects.
Our Solar System also has groups of stars called “constellations.” Like the Sun, the constellations are stationary but they appear to “move” in the night sky due to the Earth‘s rotation and annual orbit around the Sun. The Moon, the lesser light Elohim created to rule the night, orbits the Earth.
In astronomy, all objects in our Solar System form the “celestial sphere,” an imaginary sphere of which the observer is the center and on which all celestial objects are considered to lie. Like planet Earth, this celestial sphere has assigned axes (north celestial pole and south celestial pole), and coordinates for measuring the positions of celestial objects in the sky (sun, planets, stars, constellations, etc). The circular “orbit” the Sun appears to follow on the celestial sphere over the course of one year is called the “ecliptic.” According to scientific research, one year of this solar orbit consists of 365.2425 days. The celestial sphere also has a celestial equator, an imaginary line on the same plane as the Earth‘s equator. Because the Earth‘s axis is tilted, the celestial equator is inclined at 23.44 degrees relative to the ecliptic plane.
The Sun and the Seasons: Equinoxes and Solstices
The Sun is key in the determination of the arrival of the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Spring and Fall begin with the arrival of the Equinoxes. Summer and Winter begin with the arrival of the Solstices.
The Equinox is the time when the Sun crosses the plane of the Earth‘s equator, making night and day of approximately equal length all over the Earth. The Vernal (Spring) Equinox occurs about March 19, 20 or 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, and approximately September 22 in the Southern Hemisphere. The Autumn (Fall) Equinox occurs approximately September 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, and about March 19, 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Solstice is the time when the Sun appears to reach its most northerly or southerly point in the sky at noon, and are marked by the longest and shortest days of the year. The Summer Solstice occurs annually around June 21 when the Sun is at its most northerly point from the Earth‘s equator and is the longest day of the year. The Winter Solstice occurs annually around December 21, when the Sun is at its most southerly point relative to the Earth‘s equator and is the shortest day of the year.
The Stars: The Constellations of the Zodiac
Constellations are groups of stars that form meaningful patterns in the celestial sphere. These patterns typically represent animals, mythical beings or creatures, or inanimate objects. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) confirms that there are 88 constellations covering the entire celestial sphere. In ancient times, only 48 constellations were known to astronomers.
About 8-degrees north and south of the ecliptic lies an area of the sky called the Zodiac, a circle of twelve 30-degree divisions of celestial longitude that are centered on the ecliptic. Within the Zodiac lie 13 constellations of stars that are visible to the naked eye from Earth. Though the International Astronomical Union (IAU) confirmed 13 constellations in the Zodiac in 1995, the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian astronomers referred to 12, and used the start date of the Sun‘s position in each of these constellations as the instance of a new month on the 365-day solar calendar.
Sidereal Solar Year and Constellations
Ancient Mesopotamian astronomers used the sidereal system to define a solar year. The sidereal system reckons the Earth‘s position in relation to the fixed positions of the stars in the celestial sphere. The dates when the Sun appeared nearest to a constellation were used to reckon a month. The ancient sidereal system originally divided the Zodiac into 12 constellations. The modern sidereal system divides the Zodiac into 13 constellations. The ancient Egyptian astronomers used the sidereal system up until the time of Ptolemy, who introduced the tropical system to define a solar year, based on the Earth‘s position relative to the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The ancient pre-exilic Israelites used the ancient sidereal system to reckon time for their solar calendar, which began the year in the Fall with the Virgo constellation. The sidereal system is used today primarily by Eastern astronomers.
The following are the constellations of the Zodiac and their dates when the Sun “passes” through them according to the sidereal system. The names of these constellations are English translations. Naturally, each culture would have given these constellations names in their own language.
|#||Constellation||Symbol||Sidereal Dates||# Days||IAU Sidereal Dates||# Days|
|1||Pisces||Fishes||Mar 16 – Apr 14||30||Mar 12 – Apr 18||38|
|2||Aries||Ram||Apr 15 – May 15||31||Apr 19 – May 13||25|
|3||Taurus||Bull||May 16 – Jun 15||31||May 14 – Jun 19||37|
|4||Gemini||Twins||Jun 16 – Jul 16||31||Jun 20 – Jul 20||31|
|5||Cancer||Crab||Jul 17 – Aug 16||31||Jul 21 – Aug 9||20|
|6||Leo||Lion||Aug 17 – Sep 16||31||Aug 10 – Sep 15||37|
|7||Virgo||Maiden holding wheat stalks||Sep 17 – Oct 17||31||Sep 16 – Oct 30||45|
|8||Libra||Scales/Weights||Oct 18 – Nov 16||30||Oct 31 – Nov 22||23|
|9||Scorpio||Scorpion||Nov 17 – Dec 16||30||Nov 23 – Nov 29||7|
|10||Ophiuchus||Snake||N/A||Nov 30 – Dec 17||18|
|11||Sagittarius||Archer||Dec 17 – Jan 15||30||Dec 18 – Jan 18||32|
|12||Capricorn||Goat-Fish||Jan 16 – Feb 14||30||Jan 19 – Feb 15||28|
|13||Aquarius||Water-Bearer||Feb 15 – Mar 15||29||Feb 16 – Mar 11||24|
Tropical Solar Year and Constellations
The tropical system is used primarily by Western astronomers, although the use of the sidereal system among them is gaining traction. The tropical system divides the Zodiac into 12 constellations. The tropical system is based on the seasons of the Earth and does not reflect the true locations of sun and constellations relative to the Earth’s position. The following are the constellations of the Zodiac and their dates when the Sun “passes” through them according to tropical system. The names of these constellations are English translations. Naturally, each culture would have given these constellations names in their own language.
|#||Constellation||Symbol||Tropical Dates||# Days|
|1||Aries||Ram||March 21 – April 20||31|
|2||Taurus||Bull||April 21 – May 21||31|
|3||Gemini||Twins||May 22 – June 21||31|
|4||Cancer||Crab||June 22 – July 22||31|
|5||Leo||Lion||July 23 – August 22||31|
|6||Virgo||Maiden holding wheat stalks||August 23 – September 22||31|
|7||Libra||Scales/Weights||September 23 – October 22||30|
|8||Scorpio||Scorpion||October 23 – November 21||30|
|9||Sagittarius||Archer||November 22 – December 21||30|
|10||Capricorn||Goat-Fish||December 22 – January 19||29|
|11||Aquarius||Water-Bearer||January 20 – February 19||31|
|12||Pisces||Fishes||February 20 – March 20||29|
|Total Number of Days:||365|