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Perhaps even harder to distinguish are the false claims by those who say they are scientific from the claims arrived at using proper research methods. Much of the television and internet media are awash in pseudoscience claims that are wrapped in a technical/scientific-looking veneer in an attempt to give them some legitimacy. Pseudoscience (fake or bogus science) says it is scientific but does not follow the rigorous error-correction process of true science, particularly peer review. A couple of places in astronomy where pseudoscience claims are commonly made are astrology and UFOs as alien spacecraft. Astrology is dealt with here in this section and UFOs are dealt with in the Pseudoscience vs. science article.

Many astronomy students take the class believing they are going to ``learn about the stars and planets.'' You will learn about these things! However, quite often when I probe a little more what people mean by that phrase ``learn about the stars and planets'', I find out that many people are thinking about astrology---a belief system in which the positions of the planets among the stars are thought to hold the key to understanding what you can expect from life. I find that even many of those who have a four-year college degree (including some college professors!) are thinking this when I tell them that I teach astroNOMY. Astronomy is a science, astrology is NOT. Today the two subjects are very different from one another, but hundreds of years ago astronomy and astrology were very similar to one another.

History of Astrology

Astrology began about 4000 years ago in the religions of Babylonia that believed the future of the nation and ruling class depended on the planets, Sun, and Moon and their motions. Astrology spread through most of the western world when the Greeks became the world power and incorporated the Babylonian culture into their own. The application of astrology expanded to all social classes---the planets were believed to influence every person, not just the ruling class. Eventually, people came to believe that the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets at a person's birth was especially significant.

While most astrologers were developing ways to predict the future of human events by careful observations of the sky, early astronomers were developing ways to predict the motions of the planets, Sun, and Moon. Most early astronomers were motivated by the idea that if they could accurately predict the motions of the planets then they would be able to accurately predict the future of persons. Astronomy broke away from astrology and became a science when astronomers became more interested in explaining what made the planets move the way they do and not in divining the future and interactions of individuals.

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last updated: August 24, 2016

Is this page a copy of Strobel's Astronomy Notes?

Author of original content: Nick Strobel