Key Stage 3: Science: Physics

Astronomy and Astrology

Both Astronomy and Astrology were very important in the Middle Ages.

Astronomy, the scientific and mathematical study of stars and planets, was taught at universities throughout Europe including the only two Universities in England: Oxford and Cambridge, as well as St. Andrews University in Scotland.  Its origins go far back into recorded history and we believe that Stonehenge, built over 5,000 years ago, was designed as an astronomical guide as well as a place for religious ceremonies.

A late medieval map of star constellations by Albrecht Dürer, 1515

Astrology is the belief that the position and movement of planets and other bodies outside the Earth, has an effect on the lives of human beings. This belief stems from an incorrect theory that the Earth was the centre of the universe and that everything in space revolves around the Earth. This is easily understood because that is what appears to happen when looking into space from any point on the surface of our planet. This model of our solar system was challenged by Nicolaus Copernicus, born in Poland during Richard’s lifetime, who proposed the modern theory of our solar system: the Sun at the centre with planets orbiting around it.

The Catholic Church opposed astrology for centuries, but it became a popular belief during the Middle Ages. The Church’s view was that it was wrong to try to foretell the future: only God could decide human fate, and, on the whole, mankind had free will. But, if someone important fell ill, then astrologers might be consulted to ask if the position of stars and planets could be influencing the illness.

Comets were thought to be signs of something bad about to happen like a famine or war. The most famous comet, named after Edmund Halley, appeared just before the battle of Hastings in 1066 at which William of Normandy defeated Harold, King of England. So that coincidence must be proof?

Your Task


Make a star map based on where you live, for any day at midnight.

Find out and illustrate the stories behind the names of constellations.

Medieval Astronomical Observations

Apart from the stars which seem to have fixed positions in the rotating space, there were seven ‘heavenly bodies’ which apparently moved across the sky in front of the fixed stars; the Sun, the Moon and five planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Their movement was believed to give clues to the mind of God and foretell what might be about to happen on Earth. A strange effect was the ‘retrograde’ movement of a planet when it appears to reverse its direction of travel. Can you explain this weird behaviour?


Carry out an investigation to test whether the advice from a popular astrologist is valid. This will take two weeks.

Week 1: match predictions with star signs as a control.

Week 2: mix up predictions to test if these still seem valid.

Only you must know what you are doing otherwise this will introduce bias into the results.

Find out the birthdays of everyone in your class.

Work out their astrological sign from this list.

Choose any newspaper that has an astrology column or use this website.

Remove the star sign and hand out the horoscope to every member of your class for their own star sign.

After one week ask them if their horoscope was valid and record this as either mostly true, mostly not true or a mixture of true and false.

In any other week do the same experiment but this time distribute the horoscopes differently making sure that no one receives the horoscope for their own star sign.

After one week ask again if the horoscopes seemed valid and record the results as either mostly true, mostly not true or a mixture of true and false.

Summarise your findings and draw a conclusion based solely on the evidence from this investigation.

If there is a set of twins in your class, did they report the same findings?

What is the significance of your investigation?