Astronomical symbols are abstract pictorial symbols used to represent astronomical objects, theoretical constructs and observational events in European astronomy. The earliest forms of these symbols appear in Greek papyrus texts of late antiquity. The Byzantine codices in which many Greek papyrus texts were preserved continued and extended the inventory of astronomical symbols.New symbols were further invented to represent many newly-discovered planets and minor planets discovered in the 18th to the 20th centuries.
A symbol is a mark, sign or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experiences. All communication is achieved through the use of symbols. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, ideas or visual images and are used to convey other ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a blue line might represent a river. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Alphabetic letters may be symbols for sounds. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose may symbolize love and compassion. The variable 'x', in a mathematical equation, may symbolize the position of a particle in space.
An astronomical object or celestial object is a naturally occurring physical entity, association, or structure that exists in the observable universe. In astronomy, the terms object and body are often used interchangeably. However, an astronomical body or celestial body is a single, tightly bound, contiguous entity, while an astronomical or celestial object is a complex, less cohesively bound structure, which may consist of multiple bodies or even other objects with substructures.
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies that originated in or are associated with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are European. Western culture has its roots in Greco-Roman culture from before 800 B.C.E..
These symbols were once commonly used by professional astronomers, amateur astronomers, alchemists, and astrologers. While they are still commonly used in almanacs and astrological publications, their occurrence in published research and texts on astronomy is relatively infrequent,with some exceptions such as the Sun and Earth symbols appearing in astronomical constants, and certain zodiacal signs used to represent the solstices and equinoxes.
An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, moons, comets, and galaxies – in either observational or theoretical astronomy. Examples of topics or fields astronomers study include planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. Related but distinct subjects like physical cosmology, which studies the Universe as a whole.
Alchemical symbols, originally devised as part of alchemy, were used to denote some elements and some compounds until the 18th century. Although notation like this was mostly standardized, style and symbol varied between alchemists, so this page lists the most common.
An astronomical constant is a physical constant used in astronomy. Formal sets of constants, along with recommended values, have been defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) several times: in 1964 and in 1976. In 2009 the IAU adopted a new current set, and recognizing that new observations and techniques continuously provide better values for these constants, they decided to not fix these values, but have the Working Group on Numerical Standards continuously maintain a set of Current Best Estimates. The set of constants is widely reproduced in publications such as the Astronomical Almanac of the United States Naval Observatory and HM Nautical Almanac Office.
Unicode has formally assigned code points to most symbols, mainly in the Miscellaneous Symbols Blockand the Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs Block.
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard is maintained by the Unicode Consortium, and as of May 2019 the most recent version, Unicode 12.1, contains a repertoire of 137,994 characters covering 150 modern and historic scripts, as well as multiple symbol sets and emoji. The character repertoire of the Unicode Standard is synchronized with ISO/IEC 10646, and both are code-for-code identical.
Miscellaneous Symbols is a Unicode block (U+2600–U+26FF) containing glyphs representing concepts from a variety of categories: astrological, astronomical, chess, dice, musical notation, political symbols, recycling, religious symbols, trigrams, warning signs, and weather, among others.
Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs is a Unicode block containing meteorological and astronomical symbols, emoji characters largely for compatibility with Japanese telephone carriers' implementations of Shift JIS, and characters originally from the Wingdings and Webdings fonts found in Microsoft Windows.
The use of astronomical symbols for the Sun and Moon dates to antiquity. The forms of the symbols that appear in the original papyrus texts of Greek horoscopes are a circle with one ray (
In modern academic usage, the Sun symbol is used for astronomical constants relating to the Sun. ☉, M☉, and R☉, respectively) as units of measurement.Teff☉ represents the solar effective temperature, and the luminosity, mass, and radius of stars are often represented using the corresponding solar constants (L
The effective temperature of a body such as a star or planet is the temperature of a black body that would emit the same total amount of electromagnetic radiation. Effective temperature is often used as an estimate of a body's surface temperature when the body's emissivity curve is not known.
|☉||the Sun (the center of our planetary system)|
|🜚||the Sun with one ray|
|🌞︎||the face of the Sun or "Sun in splendor"|
|Moon, or first-quarter moon||U+263D|
|☽︎||an increscent (waxing) moon|
(as viewed from the northern hemisphere)
|🌕︎||a white circle as it appears in the night sky|
|Moon, or last-quarter moon||U+263E|
|☾||a decrescent (waning) moon|
(as viewed from the northern hemisphere)
|🌑︎||a new moon|
Symbols for the classical planets appear in many medieval Byzantine codices in which many ancient horoscopes were preserved.The written symbols for Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn have been traced to forms found in late Greek papyrus texts. The symbols for Jupiter and Saturn are identified as monograms of the corresponding Greek names, and the symbol for Mercury is a stylized caduceus. According to A. S. D. Maunder, antecedents of the planetary symbols were used in art to represent the gods associated with the classical planets; Bianchini's planisphere , produced in the 2nd century, shows Greek personifications of planetary gods charged with early versions of the planetary symbols: Mercury has a caduceus; Venus has, attached to her necklace, a cord connected to another necklace; Mars, a spear; Jupiter, a staff; Saturn, a scythe; the Sun, a circlet with rays radiating from it; and the Moon, a headdress with a crescent attached.
In classical antiquity, the seven classical planets are the seven non-fixed astronomical objects in the sky visible to the naked eye: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The word planet comes from two related Greek words, πλάνης planēs and πλανήτης planētēs, both with the original meaning of "wanderer", expressing the fact that these objects move across the celestial sphere relative to the fixed stars. Greek astronomers such as Geminus and Ptolemy often divided the seven planets into the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets.
A monogram is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters or other graphemes to form one symbol. Monograms are often made by combining the initials of an individual or a company, used as recognizable symbols or logos. A series of uncombined initials is properly referred to as a cypher and is not a monogram.
In astronomy, a planisphere is a star chart analog computing instrument in the form of two adjustable disks that rotate on a common pivot. It can be adjusted to display the visible stars for any time and date. It is an instrument to assist in learning how to recognize stars and constellations. The astrolabe, an instrument that has its origins in Hellenistic astronomy, is a predecessor of the modern planisphere. The term planisphere contrasts with armillary sphere, where the celestial sphere is represented by a three-dimensional framework of rings.
A diagram in Byzantine astronomer Johannes Kamateros's 12th century Compendium of Astrology shows the Sun represented by the circle with a ray, Jupiter by the letter zeta (the initial of Zeus, Jupiter's counterpart in Greek mythology), Mars by a shield crossed by a spear, and the remaining classical planets by symbols resembling the modern ones, without the cross-mark seen in modern versions of the symbols. These cross-marks first appear around the 16th century. According to Maunder, the addition of crosses appears to be "an attempt to give a savour of Christianity to the symbols of the old pagan gods."
The symbols for Uranus were created shortly after its discovery. One symbol,
Several symbols were proposed for Neptune to accompany the suggested names for the planet. Claiming the right to name his discovery, Urbain Le Verrier originally proposed the name Neptune
The International Astronomical Union discourages the use of these symbols in journal articles. In certain cases where planetary symbols might be used, such as in the headings of tables, the IAU Style Manual permits certain one- and (to disambiguate Mercury and Mars) two-letter abbreviations for the names of the planets.
|♀||Venus's necklace (also interpreted as a "hand mirror" )|
|♁||a globus cruciger|
|🜨||globe with equator and a meridian |
(alternative characters with similar shape: U+2295 ⊕ CIRCLED PLUS; U+2A01 ⨁ N-ARY CIRCLED PLUS OPERATOR; U+1F310 🌐︎ GLOBE WITH MERIDIANS)
|♂||Mars's shield and spear|
|♃||the letter Zeta (for Zeus, the Greek equivalent to the Roman god Jupiter)|
|♄||Saturn's sickle or scythe|
|⛢||the element platinum|
|♅||a globe surmounted by the letter H (for Herschel, who discovered Uranus) |
(more common in older or British literature)
|⯉||a globe surmounted by the letters "L" and "V", (for Le Verrier, who discovered Neptune) |
(more common in older, especially French, literature)
Following the discovery of Ceres in 1801 by the astronomer and Catholic priest Giuseppe Piazzi, a group of astronomers ratified the name, which Piazzi had proposed. At that time, the sickle was chosen as a symbol of the planet.
The symbol for 2 Pallas, the spear of Pallas Athena, was invented by Baron Franz Xaver von Zach, who organized a group of twenty-four astronomers to search for a planet between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The symbol was introduced by von Zach in his Monatliche correspondenz zur beförderung der erd- und himmels-kunde.In a letter to von Zach, discoverer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers (who had named the newly discovered asteroid) expressed his approval of the proposed symbol, but wished that the handle of the sickle of Ceres had been adorned with a pommel instead of a crossbar, to better differentiate it from the sign of Venus.
German astronomer Karl Ludwig Harding created the symbol for 3 Juno. Harding, who discovered this asteroid in 1804, proposed the name Juno and the use of a scepter topped with a star as its astronomical symbol.
The symbol for 4 Vesta was invented by German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. Dr. Olbers, having previously discovered and named 2 Pallas, gave Gauss the honor of naming his newest discovery. Gauss decided to name the new asteroid for the goddess Vesta, and also designed the symbol (
Karl Ludwig Hencke, a German amateur astronomer, discovered the next two asteroids, 5 Astraea (in 1845) and 6 Hebe (in 1847). Hencke requested that the symbol for 5 Astraea be an upside-down anchor;however, a pair of balances was sometimes used instead. Gauss named 6 Hebe at Hencke's request, and chose a wineglass as the symbol.
As more new asteroids were discovered, astronomers continued to assign symbols to them. Thus, 7 Iris had for its symbol a rainbow with a star;8 Flora, a flower; 9 Metis, an eye with a star; 10 Hygiea, an upright snake with a star on its head; 11 Parthenope, a standing fish with a star; 12 Victoria, a star topped with a branch of laurel; 13 Egeria, a buckler; 14 Irene, a dove carrying an olive branch with a star on its head; 15 Eunomia, a heart topped with a star; 16 Psyche, a butterfly wing with a star; 17 Thetis, a dolphin with a star; 18 Melpomene, a dagger over a star; and 19 Fortuna, a star over Fortuna's wheel.
Johann Franz Encke made a major change in the Berliner Astronomisches Jahrbuch (BAJ, Berlin Astronomical Yearbook) for the year 1854, published in 1851. He introduced encircled numbers instead of symbols, although his numbering began with Astraea, the first four asteroids continuing to be denoted by their traditional symbols. This symbolic innovation was adopted very quickly by the astronomical community. The following year (1852), Astraea's number was bumped up to 5, but Ceres through Vesta would be listed by their numbers only in the 1867 edition. The circle later became a pair of parentheses, and the parentheses were sometimes omitted altogether over the next few decades.
A few asteroids were given symbols by their discoverers after the encircled-number notation became widespread. 26 Proserpina, 28 Bellona, 35 Leukothea, and 37 Fides, all discovered by German astronomer Robert Luther between 1853 and 1855, were assigned, respectively, a pomegranate with a star inside;a whip and spear; an antique lighthouse; and a cross. 29 Amphitrite was named and assigned a shell for its symbol by George Bishop, the owner of the observatory where astronomer Albert Marth discovered it in 1854.
Pluto's name and symbol were announced by the discoverers on May 1, 1930.The symbol, a monogram of the letters PL, could be interpreted to stand for Pluto or for Percival Lowell, the astronomer who initiated Lowell Observatory's search for a planet beyond the orbit of Neptune.
|⚳||a handle-down sickle; |
cf. the handle-up sickle symbol of Saturn
|⚵||a scepter topped with a star|
|⚶||an altar with fire on it|
|5 Astraea||an inverted anchor|
|⚖||a pair of balances|
|6 Hebe||N/A||N/A||a wineglass|
|7 Iris||N/A||N/A||a rainbow with a star inside it|
|9 Metis||N/A||N/A||an eye with a star above it|
|10 Hygiea||N/A||N/A||a serpent with a star|
|⚕||a Rod of Asclepius|
|11 Parthenope||N/A||N/A||a fish with a star|
|12 Victoria||N/A||N/A||a star with a branch of laurel|
|13 Egeria||N/A||N/A||a buckler|
|14 Irene||N/A||N/A||a dove carrying an olive-branch in its mouth and a star on its head|
|15 Eunomia||N/A||N/A||a heart with a star on top|
|16 Psyche||N/A||N/A||a butterfly's wing and a star|
|17 Thetis||N/A||N/A||a dolphin and a star|
|18 Melpomene||N/A||N/A||a dagger over a star|
|19 Fortuna||N/A||N/A||a star over a wheel|
|26 Proserpina||N/A||N/A||a pomegranate with a star inside it|
|28 Bellona||N/A||N/A||Bellona's whip and spear|
|29 Amphitrite||N/A||N/A||a shell|
|35 Leukothea||N/A||N/A||an ancient lighthouse|
|37 Fides||N/A||N/A||a Latin cross, in fact showing broadened and rounded endings|
|♇||a PL monogram for Pluto and Percival Lowell|
The zodiac symbols have several astronomical interpretations. Depending on context, a zodiac symbol may denote either a constellation, or a point or interval on the ecliptic plane.
Lists of astronomical phenomena published by almanacs sometimes included conjunctions of stars and planets or the Moon; rather than print the full name of the star, a Greek letter and the symbol for the constellation of the star was sometimes used instead.The ecliptic was sometimes divided into 12 signs, each subdivided into 30 degrees, and the sign component of ecliptic longitude was expressed either with a number from 0 to 11 or with the corresponding zodiac symbol.
In modern academic usage, all the constellations, including the twelve of the zodiac, have dedicated three-letter abbreviations.The zodiac symbols are also sometimes used to represent points on the ecliptic, particularly the solstices and equinoxes. Each symbol is taken to represent the "first point" of each sign. Thus, ♈︎ the symbol for Aries, represents the March equinox; ♋︎, for Cancer, the June solstice; ♎︎, for Libra, the September equinox; and ♑︎, for Capricorn, the December solstice.
Symbols for aspects and nodes appear in medieval texts, although medieval and modern usage of the node symbols differ; the modern ascending node symbol (☊) formerly stood for the descending node, and the modern descending node symbol (☋) was used for the ascending node.In describing the Keplerian elements of an orbit, ☊ is sometimes used to denote the ecliptic longitude of the ascending node, although it is more common to use Ω (capital omega), which was originally a typographical substitute for the astronomical symbol.
The symbols for aspects first appear in Byzantine codices.Of the symbols for the five Ptolemaic aspects, only the three displayed here—for conjunction, opposition, and quadrature—are used in astronomy.
Symbols for a comet (☄) and a star (
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Astronomical symbols .|
Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel was a German astronomer, mathematician, physicist and geodesist. He was the first astronomer who determined reliable values for the distance from the sun to another star by the method of parallax. A special type of mathematical functions were named Bessel functions after Bessel's death, though they had originally been discovered by Daniel Bernoulli and then generalised by Bessel.
Carl Wilhelm Wirtz was an astronomer who spent his time between the Kiel Observatory in Germany and the Observatory of Strasbourg, France. He is known for statistically showing the existence of a redshift-distance correlation for spiral galaxies.
Hermann Mayer Salomon Goldschmidt was a German-French astronomer and painter who spent much of his life in France. He started out as a painter, but after attending a lecture by the famous French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier turned to astronomy. His discovery of the asteroid Lutetia in 1852 was followed by further findings and by 1861 Goldschmidt had discovered 14 asteroids. He received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1861 for having discovered more asteroids than any other person up to that time. He died from complications of diabetes.
Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf was a German astronomer and a pioneer in the field of astrophotography. He was chairman of astronomy at the University of Heidelberg and director of the Heidelberg-Königstuhl State Observatory from 1902 until his death.
Eva Ahnert-Rohlfs was a German astronomer. She made important observations of variable stars.
Lomia is a large main-belt asteroid that has a nearly circular orbit; the orbital eccentricity is 0.029. It was discovered by French astronomer Alphonse Borrelly on September 12, 1871, from the Marseilles Observatory. The preliminary orbital elements were published in the following year by German astronomer Friedrich Tietjen. The reason for the name is uncertain, but Lutz D. Schmadel believes it is most likely a misspelling of Lamia, the female demon of Greek mythology.
HD 69830 is a yellow dwarf star located approximately 41 light-years away in the constellation of Puppis. In 2005, the Spitzer Space Telescope discovered a narrow ring of warm debris orbiting the star. The debris ring contains substantially more dust than the Solar System's asteroid belt. In 2006, three extrasolar planets with minimum masses comparable to Neptune were confirmed in orbit around the star, located interior to the debris ring.
Epsilon Ursae Minoris is a binary star system in the northern circumpolar constellation of Ursa Minor. It is visible to the naked eye with a combined apparent visual magnitude of 4.19. Based upon an annual parallax shift of 10.73 mas as seen from the Earth, it is located around 300 light years from the Sun. The pair are drawing nearer to the Sun with a radial velocity of −10.57 km/s.
Tisiphone is an asteroid which orbits among the Cybele family of asteroids.
Friedrich Wilhelm Hans Ludendorff was a German astronomer and astrophysicist. He was the younger brother of General Erich Ludendorff.
Symbols used in astrology overlap with those used in astronomy because of the historical overlap between the two subjects. Frequently used symbols include signs of the zodiac and for the classical planets. These have their origin in medieval Byzantiny, but in their current form are a product of the European Renaissance. Other symbols for astrological aspects are used in various astrological traditions.
A planet symbol is a graphical symbol used in astrology and astronomy to represent a classical planet or one of the eight modern planets. The symbols are also used in alchemy to represent the metals that are associated with the planets. The use of these symbols is based in ancient Greco-Roman astronomy, although their current shapes are a development of the 16th century.
An R Coronae Borealis variable is an eruptive variable star that varies in luminosity in two modes, one low amplitude pulsation, and one irregular, unpredictably-sudden fading by 1 to 9 magnitudes. The prototype star R Coronae Borealis was discovered by the English amateur astronomer Edward Pigott in 1795, who first observed the enigmatic fadings of the star. Only about 150 RCB stars are currently known in our Galaxy while up to 1000 were expected, making this class a very rare kind of star.
HAT-P-11, also designated GSC 03561-02092, is an orange dwarf metal rich star about 123 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. This star is notable for its relatively large rate of proper motion. The magnitude of this star is about 9, which means it is not visible to the naked eye but can be seen with a medium-sized amateur telescope on a clear dark night. The age of this star is about 6.5 billion years.
Julius Bauschinger was a German astronomer.
Thomas John Hussey was an English clergyman and astronomer.
Paul Friedrich Ferdinand Kempf was a German astronomer.
Adolf Joseph Berberich was a German astronomer best known for his work on calculating the orbits of minor planets and double stars. The minor planet 776 Berbericia was named in his honour.
Adolph Christian Wilhelm Schur, RAS Associate was a German astronomer and professor of astronomy at the University of Göttingen. He held important positions at multiple observatories throughout his career, namely deputy director of the Strasbourg Observatory and director of the Göttingen Observatory. His main work was in astrometry, although he focused on publishing astronomical catalogues in his later life.
Fritz Cohn, RAS Associate was a German astronomer and professor of astronomy at the University of Berlin. Throughout his career he worked at numerous observatories and was director of the Astronomical Calculation Institute. His main work was in astrometry and minor planets, although he published star catalogues and oversaw the production of journals in his later life.
In general, only the signs for Vesta have enough variance to be regarded as different designs. However, all of these Vesta symbols ... are differing designs for 'the hearth and flame of the temple of the Goddess Vesta' in Rome, and can thus be regarded as extreme variants of a single symbol.
Der Planet hat mit Einwilligung des Entdeckers den Namen Astraea erhalten, und sein Zeichen wird nach dem Wunsche des Hr. Hencke ein umgekehrter Anker sein.
Hofrath Gauß gab auf Hencke's Ansuchen diesem neuen Planetoiden den Namen Hebe mit dem Zeichen (ein Weinglas).
The symbol adopted for [Iris] is a semicircle to represent the rainbow, with an interior star and a base line for the horizon....The symbol adopted for [Flora's] designation is the figure of a flower.
I trust, therefore, that astronomers will adopt this name [viz. Metis], with an eye and star for symbol.
The symbol of Hygeia is a serpent (like a Greek ζ) crowned with a star. That of Parthenope is a fish crowned with a star.
I have called the new planet Victoria, for which I have devised, as a symbol, a star and laurel branch, emblematic of the Goddess of Victory.
M. De Gasparis adresse ses remerciments à l'Académie, qui lui a décerné, dans la séance solennelle du 16 décembre 1850, deux des médailles de la fondation Lalande, pour la découverte des planètes Hygie, Parthénope et Egérie. M. de Gasparis annonce qu'il a choisi, pour symbole de cette dernière planète, la figure d'un bouclier.
Sir John Herschel, who kindly undertook the selection of a name for this, the fourteenth member of the ultra-zodiacal group, has suggested Irene as one suitable to the present time, the symbol to be a dove carrying an olive-branch with a star on the head; and since the announcement of this name, I have been gratified in receiving from all quarters the most unqualified expressions of approbation.
J'ai proposé le nom Eunomia pour la nouvelle planète. Le symbole serait un coeur surmonté d'une étoile.
(in a footnote) Herr Professor de Gasparis schreibt mir, in Bezug auf den von ihm März 17 entdeckten neuen Planeten: "J'ai proposé, avec l'approbation de Mr. Hind, le nom de Psyché pour la nouvelle planète, ayant pour symbole une aile de papillon surmontée d'une étoile."
Herr Director Argelander in Bonn, welcher der hiesigen Sternwarte schon seit längerer Zeit seinen Schutz und Beistand zu Theil werden lässt, hat die Entdeckung des April-Planeten zuerst constatirt und mir bei dieser Gelegenheit dafür den Namen Thetis und das Zeichen [symbol pictured] vorgeschlagen, wodurch der der silberfüssigen Göttinn geheiligte Delphin angedeutet wird. Indem ich mich hiermit einverstanden erkläre, ersuche ich die sämmtlichen Herren Astronomen, diesen Namen und dieses Zeichen annehmen und beibehalten zu wollen.
...observe, that 60 seconds make a minute, 60 minutes make a degree, 30 degrees make a sign, and 12 signs make a circle.