Nearly everyone knows a little something about astrology — even if it’s only where to find the daily horoscope section in the local newspaper. Whether you truly believe the stars control your destiny, think it’s all bunk, or just like to have fun with it, the 12 signs of the zodiac are part of our cultural heritage. Over the next year, the Farmers’ Almanac will introduce you to the facts and mythology behind each constellation in the traditional Western zodiac. This month, Sagittarius.
Sagittarius is the ninth constellation of the zodiac. Its name is the Latin word meaning “the archer.”
The astrological symbol for Sagittarius is ♐, and the constellation sits in the sky between Scorpius and Ophiuchus to the west and Capricornus to the east. Other nearby constellations include Aquila, Scutum, Serpens Cauda, Corona Australis, Telescopium, and Microscopium.
The constellation contains 68 stars, 12 of which form its centaur shape — the half-man, half-horse creature from Greek mythology — in the midst of shooting an arrow. Sagittarius includes 16 stars with planets orbiting them, more than any other constellation. Its brightest stars form a popular asterism — an unofficial constellation — called “the Teapot.”
Sagittarius is notable because it contains the galactic center of the Milky Way. Because of this, it contains many star clusters and nebulae, including the bright star cluster Messier 55, and three nebulae known as “the Sagittarius triplet”: the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8), the Omega Nebula (Messier 17), and Trifid Nebula (Messier 20).
There were many centaurs in Greek mythology, but Sagittarius is most often associated with Chiron, son of the Titan god Cronus and a nymph named Philyra. Cronus had changed himself into a horse to escape the notice of his jealous wife, Rhea, resulting in his son being born a centaur. Chiron was said to be the wisest and most noble of all the centaurs, and he served as tutor to many epic heroes. He was also renowned as a healer, but ironically, could not heal himself after Hercules accidentally struck him with a poisoned arrow. The pain was so great, Chiron relinquished his immortality to escape it, and the gods memorialized him by placing his likeness in the sky for all eternity.
To the ancient Babylonians, the constellation represented the god Pabilsag, a centaur-like figure with wings, two heads — a panther head and a human head — and a scorpion’s stinger.
Astrologically, the Sun resides in the house of Sagittarius from November 22 to December 22 each year. People born during this period have Sagittarius as their Sun sign. Proponents of astrological determinism believe that people born under the same Sun sign share certain character traits. Sagittarius people are most often described as confident, honest, extroverted, optimistic, lighthearted, witty, spontaneous, and open.