Astronomy vs astrology?
What’s the difference between astrology and astronomy? The words are similar and can be confused, but are very different things – though a closer look at the history of the words reveals that this hasn’t always been the case.
The difference between astronomy and astrology
Let’s clear this up first. Astronomy is ‘the branch of science which deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole’. If you’re thinking about the academic study, stargazers, telescopes, and the like, then the word you need is astronomy.
- Supernovae are among the most spectacular phenomena known to astronomy.
- An inquiry into the effect of light pollution on astronomy was published last year.
- She wrote her doctoral thesis in the field of astronomy.
Astrology, on the other hand, is ‘the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs and the natural world’. If you are writing about people using stars or planets to predict favourable or unfavourable events happening to humans, then astrology is the correct word.
- The planets, signs, houses and aspects are the nuts and bolts of astrology.
- In astrology Mars represents the compelling force of action and initiative.
- It is unlikely that he ever practised astrology in the sense of drawing up charts and interpreting them.
Etymology and changing use
Ancient observers of the heavens developed elaborate systems of explanation based on the movements of the sun, moon, and planets through the constellations of the zodiac, for predicting events and for casting horoscopes – as well as using the sun, moon, stars, and planets astronomically to form the basis of timekeeping and navigation. By 1700 astrology had lost intellectual credibility in the West, but continued to have popular appeal. While astronomy remains an academic pursuit, astrology is now widely considered a pseudoscience.
This distinction has certainly not always been present. Both words relate to astron, the Greek for ‘star’. Astronomy ultimately comes from the Greek astronomos ‘astronomer’, or more literally ‘someone who classifies the stars’, while astrology means ‘study of stars’, but the words have sometimes been used more or less interchangeably – though that is no longer the case, and they now have entirely distinct meanings.
In its earliest uses in English, astrology was used to mean ‘the practical application of the (medieval) art or science of astronomy’ – that is, astronomy was theoretical and astrology was practical.
Astrology originally included the calculation of natural phenomena and meteorological events (such as the measurement of time and the times of tides and eclipses) that are now considered the domain of astronomy. This was termed natural astrology, while judicial astrology covered much the same ground that astrology does today: ‘the supposed art of foretelling or counselling in human affairs by interpretation of the motions of the planets and stars’.
In modern English, the division between astrology and astronomy is fixed, and it’s worth making sure you know which is which before you use either of them.