Stars, signs and a path across the Sun

Music of the spheres: Mercury’s transit was first observed in 1631 by French astronomer Gassendi. © NASA

Is there any truth to astrology? For the last time this decade, Mercury has passed in front of the Sun. It has special significance for a growing number of star-gazing, millennial mystics.

The pictures are among the most amazing portraits of space captured by humanity: Mercury, the smallest and fastest-moving planet in our solar system, is a black pin-prick set against a vast, swirling wall of fire.

On Monday, Mercury passed in front of the Sun for the last time this decade, in a rare event called a transit. We will not witness a Mercury transit again until 2032.

It was not just NASA scientists whose eyes were glued to that small, black dot, but also a growing number of millennials who believe that the planets and stars can reveal the future.

Even more excitingly for astrologers, the transit happened while Mercury was in retrograde, when the planet appears to move “backwards” across the sky from west to east. It is one of the most feared times of the astrological calendar, as it is thought to be a time when tensions rise, secrets are buried and disruption reigns.

Is there any truth in astrology?

Signs and stars

To many, astrology is utter nonsense: a hangover from centuries of silly superstition, before the Enlightenment taught us better. Horoscopes are vague enough that anyone can see themselves in them. It doesn’t even make sense on its own terms: the Earth has moved on its axis since the zodiac was first devised, so the signs don’t even correspond to their constellations anymore.

But there’s much more to astrology than simple newspaper horoscopes. True astrology is an art, with the precise location and minute of your birth informing a complex chart of stars, planets and houses. Perhaps those demanding that it be proven to be true are missing the point: astrology provides a rare opportunity for introspection in a noisy world, and puts us in communication with ancestors who used the stars as their calendars, compasses and mirrors.

You Decide

  1. Is astrology true?

Activities

  1. In pairs, find out your partner’s star sign and write a horoscope for their week ahead. It should be no longer than a paragraph.

Some People Say...

“We make guilty of our disasters the Sun, the Moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion.”

Edmund in King Lear, by William Shakespeare

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Monday, Mercury passed in front of the Sun over the course of five-and-a-half hours. This astronomical event only happens 14 times a century.
What do we not know?
If there are 12 or 13 signs of the zodiac. Just a month ago, NASA released an updated list of the star signs based on changes to Earth’s axis over the past 4,000 years.

Word Watch

Fastest-moving
Mercury completes its orbit of the Sun in just 88 Earth days.
Transit
Mercury’s orbit usually sails below or above the Sun, so we cannot see it from Earth.
Enlightenment
An intellectual movement in the 18th century, which placed heavy emphasis on explaining the world through science over purely religion.
Constellations
Groups of stars that form recognisable patterns, in the shape of animals, gods, objects or mythological creatures.
Introspection
When you take time to think about your mental state and how your life is going.

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