Monday, May 20, 2013

Astrology and Astronomy

When you're a child and you hear about astrology, you find it weird. But then you see your mother checking it everyday in the newspaper so it becomes commonplace... almost. Because your mother says it's rubbish but there's still a 5 minutes segment on the radio every morning and in every single newspaper.

But then you hear that it's not just about your astrological sign. In fact, you're supposed to also receive influence from another astrological constellation in order to define you: the ascendant. And that's something that was unavailable to me: when you're born overseas and the time of your birth corresponds to a different day in your home country, astrology is wasted on you. There's simply no way you can figure out an ascendant.

And even later, you learn that the Chinese have another system that works per year.

There's a word for this sort of situation: nonsense!

So, from an early age, I've known astrology is nonsense. And as the years passed, I received extra confirmation by reading scientific accounts of this discipline which confirmed that it is based on representations that are false or totally out of sync with the real position of the stars.

But something good came out of astrology: astronomy. The science of the motion of celestial bodies triumphed thanks to Johannes Kepler in the early 16th century. Of course, the religious establishment of the time did not appreciate Kepler putting the sun at the center of the universe, while the Earth would be only one among several planets orbiting the sun. But Kepler's laws were unmistakably correct and explained the movement of celestial bodies, even taking into account the most difficult problem of the time: Mars' apparent backwards motions.

This story is recounted in the 3rd episode of Carl Sagan's  series  "Cosmos: a personal voyage". Despite aging, that series is still very modern to teach oneself or children about the universe.

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