Design of astronomical symbols & astrological symbols

ebensorkin's picture

What if any hints, opinions, insights etc do you have regarding the design of astronomical symbols & astrological symbols.

It seems to me like it is ideal that they should integrate with the font's style. Do you agree or not? Why?

Whose designs strike you as especially positive examples?

As always, thanks!

mr's picture

I know what you mean by astrological symbols, but what are astronomical symbols?

paul d hunt's picture

I agree. I think it's good form to make all symbols included in the font be able to "work" with the font.


mjr's picture


Astrological symbols are the signs of the zodiac, and all the functions that go with them. Astronomical symbols include the planets, sub-planets (or whatever they're calling Pluto et al these days), comets, etc., and the symbols for their motions. There is some overlap, because planets are used in both, but there are also alternate glyphs for certain celestial objects that are preferred by practitioners of one or the other.

ebensorkin's picture

Thanls for the URLs Paul! Joshua's Symbols are especially interesting to me because they feel right with his font but contrary to my original urge are actually more simplified and actually more like illustrations than type or writing. Which makes me thing similar weights but a genetly different style is actually what's called for. Do you agree? Or what do you see in the example?

Thanks for answering Max's Question Michael.

Anybody else got an opinion or a reference?

mjr's picture

These aren't fonts, they are images I have found. But if you for some reason need to use symbols in running text, you might want to use something like these with a serif font:

and these with a sans-serif font:

Just my opinion.

ebensorkin's picture

These are nice. What is also interesting is the variation. Look at Uranus ( the 3rd from the right at the bottom ) It's a totally different symbol. Take a look at Jupiter ( lower left corner ) It's the same glyph but these are very different. Knowing what the symbol is of seems to be helping me as I am designing mine. Some of them are a bit hard to connect though. Like Capricorn, which looks a bit like a vs in this example ( 4th over 2nd row ). Capricorn is another one with more than one symbol.

mjr's picture

Wikipedia has some fairly good explanations of what these and other symbols mean at the articles on astronomical symbols, more astrological symbols, andastrological symbols.

Some of these symbols are also in the extended Unicode set for some fonts. There may be others that I couldn't find.

Mercury ☿ U+263F
Venus ♀ U+2640
Earth ⊕ U+2295, ♁ U+2641
Mars ♂ U+2642
Jupiter ♃ U+2643
Saturn ♄ U+2644
Uranus ♅ U+2645
Neptune ♆ U+2646
Pluto ♇ U+2647

Other celestial bodies
Sun ☉ U+2299, ⊙ 2606
Moon ☽ U+263D, ☾ U+263E
Comet ☄ U+2604

Zodiac signs
Aries ♈ U+2648
Taurus ♉ U+2649
Gemini ♊ U+264A
Cancer ♋ U+264B
Leo ♌ U+264C
Virgo ♍ U+264D
Libra ♎ U+264E
Scorpius ♏ U+264F
Sagitarrius ♐ U+2650
Capricorn ♑ U+2651
Aquarius ♒ U+2652
Pisces ♓ U+2653

Other symbols
Ascending node ☊ U+260A
Descending node ☋ U+260B
Conjunction ☌ U+260C
Opposition ☍ U+260D

(Modern astronomers usually use Roman letters for the planets, but substitute H for Mercury, after its Greek counterpart Hermes, to avoid confusion with Mars.)

Don't forget, you'll also need Greek letters for star designations (e.g., α Cen, δ Ori)

[In case you can't tell, I'm an astronomy buff in addition to being a typophile.]

ebensorkin's picture

I’m an astronomy buff in addition to being a typophile.

That's awesome. For us especially.

Would you write about how the marks are used? For instance would you ever use them in running text? What about tables? I still don't have a good idea about the range of use they need to work in.

What about the two symbols for Uranus, and the other variations?

ebensorkin's picture

It sounds like I had probably better get started on the greek...

mjr's picture

The symbols are more used in tables than anything else, simply to save space. Astrological and astronomical tables are called ephemerides (singular, ephemeris). There are some examples here and here.

They can also be used to describe planetary and orbital elements in equations and comparisons. For example, the eccentricity of Saturn's orbit could be symbolized thus:

Satellites of planets (moons) are designated by Roman numeral subscripts of the planetary symbols, typically (but not always) in order of discovery. Therefore, Jupiter's moon Thebes, the 14th discovered, would be:

I guess then the following would be accurate, but I've never seen it quite expressed like this:

Stars are usually listed in tables by what is known as their Bayer designation. That includes a Greek letter (usually in order of magnitude or brightness, but there are exceptions) followed by the three-letter symbol for the constellation. So the second-brightest star in Orion (also called Rigel) is listed as β Ori.

Those are just some examples. There are lots of uses for them, mostly in tabular matter and scientific listings.

(If you end up with a good font that has symbols like these, I'd like to get a copy somehow, thank you.)

ebensorkin's picture

This is great stuff. Thanks!

Rest assured one day it will be done. It is a monospace so it is a trifle inelegant for astronomy - but on the other hand it is a also sans ( mostly - a mono cannot be untterly sans) and so it is appropriately very tech. When I have the symbols done I will post them in another thread ( or maybe here ) so you and any of your astronomically inclined pals can have at them.

If you don't mind I would love to know what font you favor at the moment and why.

Are there any books that I might get from my library that would be considered standards for proper Astronomical table making?

I just noticed the 'aspects' as well. It looks like they should be a bit less heavy than the main glyphs. And a bit less tall. Almost like a Upper Case & Lower Case but with weight thrown into the mix as well. Or, is that always so?

Rob O. Font's picture

An important thing that I learned about this is, when you get to the zodiac symbols, whiskers, falling water and nipples e.g. don't scale as well as letters. So if you are trying to address a wide range of sizes, it helps to have a large and small design for these or you get blobs of none-to-attractive ink at small sizes, or in the larger sizes, you get uninteresting signs.


mjr's picture

OK, if you are making a monospace font, you have to remember that certain glyphs, such as for Sun (☉) and Earth (⊕) for example, need to be as circular as possible, so they may be taller than x-height, but not quite as tall as cap height. You can probably sit them on the baseline, but you might want to experiment and see if floating them somewhere between the baseline and the top of the caps works better.

Also, if you're going to do this right, you need the proper symbols for degrees, minutes and seconds of angles, called prime symbols. (In non-technical material, some people try to get away with using either straight or smart quotes. It works, but it isn't quite accurate.)

Proper symbols are: ° ′ ″

Using straight quotes would look like this: ° ' " -- not totally unacceptable, but not perfect, either.

Using regular quotes would be like this: ° ’ ” -- I think this just looks bad.

mjr's picture

Something else I just thought of:

Be careful to make your symbol glyphs distinctive enough from your alphanumerics, both Latin and Greek, because typesetters who use these will likely be mixing them together. For example, be sure the Jupiter symbol can't be confused with a 4. Or Gemini with either two Latin capital I's -- used as Roman numeral II -- or Greek capital pi Π.

ebensorkin's picture

Thanks for the advice David! Those sound like lovely details. No chance of seeing the errr whiskers I suppose... It is true that the amount of detail/complexty is lc g like even before you add say - nipples. BTW if you have answers to the questions I am going to pose to Michael please do spill those beans.


I have my Primes in now, what is the story with the reverse primes? Are they written to the left of a glyph?

You are right about this being a Mono introducing interesting size & proportion problems. I have been able to make the Sun & earth the x-height, no more. But I think it can be managed. What I have been doing is to let a planet or zodiac symbol like Venus ♀ U+2640 be Cap height and then the symbols like the My plan right now is to make the Earth & sun symbols center in with the taller Symbols. Glyphs like Ascending node ☊ U+260A I have been putting in at x height and reducing stroke weight.

I will let you be the judge of this schemes success or failure when the glyphs are done. So far it seems okay & seems to accord with the spirit of the stuff I have seen so far.

BTW you mean ⊙ 2609 no? 2609 is meant to be an outlined ( white) star according to this

desktop's picture

Interesting thread. I once did a design for one of my older web sites where I needed to use planetary symbols in the GUI. Eventually after much searching I just made my own in Photoshop. I still have that old design lying around somewhere.

mjr's picture

I'm not sure what you mean by "reverse primes." The only primes I know of that are used in astronomy are those for angular measurement, such as 32°18′26.5″.

You are correct, my error. Sun is U+2609.

As we are discussing this, I keep realizing new things I never thought of before. Such as, the zodiac signs in astrology are also constellations in astronomy. So where an astrologer would indicate Pisces by ♓, an astronomer would write Psc. Now, astrology doesn't care anything about individual stars, but I suppose if it did, you could mix the two systems so the second star in Aquarius, for example, would be β♒. (Now that's just getting silly!)

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