Tonight’s moon (November 20, 2015) is near the First Point of Aries, one of two points on the stellar (celestial) sphere where the ecliptic and celestial equator intersect. The ecliptic is a projection of the Earth’s orbital plane upon the stellar sphere, and the celestial equator is a projection of the Earth’s equatorial plane upon this sphere of stars.
The ecliptic also maps out the sun’s annual path through the constellations of the Zodiac. The First Point of Aries marks that special point on the stellar sphere where the sun crosses the celestial equator on the March equinox, going from south to north.
If you could see the stars during the day, you’d see the March equinox sun in front of the constellation Pisces the Fishes, to the south of the Square of Pegasus. Use the moon to help you envision the First Point of Aries these next few nights, and then rely the Square of Pegasus once the moon has moved from this part of the sky. (See the sky chart below.)
The moon’s orbital path is inclined at 5o to the plane of the ecliptic. Twice a month, the moon crosses the ecliptic at points called nodes. This month, the moon will cross the ecliptic going from north to south (at the moon’s descending node) on November 21 at 13:56 Universal Time. And at this time, the moon will very nearly align with the First Point of Aries.
In ancient times, the March equinox sun shone in front of the rather small constellation Aries the Ram. That’s why, in newspaper astrology columns and elsewhere, you often see Aries at the top of the Zodiac – the band of stars that provides a backdrop for the sun in the course of every year, and the moon in the course of every month.
Aries often comes first in lists of zodiacal constellations because it marked the sun’s location at the time of the Northern Hemisphere’s spring equinox between 1866 B.C. and 68 B.C. Its relationship to the coming of spring gave this point vast significance to early astrologers. That relationship was so significant, in fact, that the point retains the name First Point in Aries – even though the actual location of the sun at the time of the Northern Hemisphere’s spring or vernal equinox has shifted into the constellation Pisces, due to the precession of the equinoxes.
The first point of Aries – or the position of the March equinox point relative to the backdrop stars – slowly but surely drifts westward through the constellations of the Zodiac, going full circle in about 26,000 years.
It’s good to recall here that constellation boundaries were not always hard and fast. The current boundaries for the constellations were decided upon as recently as the 1930s by members of the International Astronomical Union.
Bottom line: This post contains an explanation of the First Point in Aries and also speaks of the Age of Aquarius.