If you've ever felt like you don't fully relate to your zodiac sign aka your sun sign — you're not alone. Plenty of people who read their horoscope or their sign's personality profile end up shrugging off astrology for this reason. It also serves to fuel skeptics' hating. But confusion, indifference, or full-on grouchiness directed at astrology usually stems from the fact that people don't realize that what we refer to as your "sign" is just one piece of a large, complex puzzle known as your natal chart or birth chart.
Your natal chart is a visual map of what I like to refer to as your "astrological DNA." Although you can usually determine your sign based on your birthday alone, your natal chart utilizes your exact birthdate, year, birth time, and birthplace to render what is essentially a snapshot of what the sky looked like when you entered the world. And the location of every celestial body — as well as their relationship to the other planets — has something to say about your disposition, goals, challenges, and other aspects of your personal wiring. (To get your natal chart, you can consult a professional astrologer or plug your info into an online service such as astrology.com.)
While it's best to work one-on-one with an astrologer to translate and better understand the unique details of your astrological DNA, a quick glimpse at your natal chart will reveal what's called your "big three," your sun sign, moon sign, and rising sign (or ascendant). And learning more about these natal chart basics can help you begin to gain a more nuanced and empowering look at your personal astrological picture.
Here's what you need to know about your big three astrological signs.
A Quick Primer On Placements
In addition to knowing what sign your sun, moon, or rising/ascendant is in, it's helpful to understand its location or "placement" in the chart — meaning what sign, house, and degree it falls in — because that offers one more layer that makes these signs and their locations even more distinctive. A few key concepts to know:
Degrees: Every person's natal chart is a pie chart split into 12 pieces — one per zodiac sign — with 30 degrees per sign. Depending on where various planets, luminaries (the sun and the moon), and other features or points in the sky were located when you were born, they'll show up at a particular number of degrees within a sign. For example, your sun sign might be in Cancer, but at the precise time you were born, it was located at 11 degrees of Cancer, which helps you better understand when and how you might be influenced by transits (otherwise known as how the astrology of any moment in time will affect you).
Houses: There are also 12 houses in every natal chart, each ruling a different part of your life. For example, the fourth house deals with your domestic life, security, and inner self while the ninth house oversees long-distance travel, higher learning, adventure, and philosophy. By casting a chart that's based on your birth time, you can gauge which house each planet, luminary, and other features or points in the sky are located in your chart — and this will affect how each feature is expressed in your life.
Aspects: This is how planets, luminaries, and other features in the sky interact with one another. For instance, if both the moon and Jupiter were within 10 degrees of one another in your natal chart — say, the moon was at 5 degrees Pisces and Jupiter was at 8 degrees — they'll be considered conjunct, which is another feature of your chart you can learn about in order to understand yourself even better. (Related: What Is the Enneagram Test — and What Do You Do with Your Results?)
Your Sun Sign
Every month of the year, the sun moves into one of the 12 signs of the zodiac. Note: These shifts don't happen at the exact same time every year. The day that the sun moves from one sign to the next within a given month can change from year to year. For instance, some years, the sun moves from Aries into Taurus on April 19, and other years, that switch will take place on April 20. When you're born within three days plus or minus this ingress (the movement of a planet or luminary into a new sign or house), it's called being born around "the cusp." And it's one reason why you can't necessarily determine your sun sign from the month and day of your birth date alone.
Although it's easy to blow off your sun sign as the tip of the iceberg of your natal chart and something you share with millions of other people, it's also a significant, core piece of your personal astrological profile. After all, there's no way to understand the solar system as a whole until you grasp the concept of the sun.
In a person's natal chart, the sun speaks to confidence, self-image, self-esteem, sense of self, and identity. It can also provide intel on your purpose or life path. And looking at not only the sign your sun is in but also its location, or placement, in the natal chart can give you a sense of how you experience all of those aspects of your personality. For instance, no matter what sign it's in if you were born with the sun in your seventh house — which deals with partnerships of all kinds: romantic, platonic, or business-related — you might feel the most vital and on your A-game when your one-on-one interactions and dealings are going well, and you pride yourself on being able to compromise and create balance with others. (Related: How to Decode Zodiac Sign Compatibility)
Then, if you bring the sign into the mix, you'll get an even more detailed sense of your self-image and identity. Maybe your sun is in Pisces, so you see yourself as a creative type, an artist, an empath, a healer, a dreamer, and you aim to make a difference in the world by stepping into your spiritual power.
Your Moon Sign
While the bold, luminous sun deals with core attributes such as your sense of self, the glimmering, romantic moon colors how you feel and intuit. (For example, I'll often refer to your moon sign as your internal emotional compass.) Understanding how it shows up in your natal chart can also help you gain more insight into the experiences, people, patterns, and material items that brings you a sense of security, how you need to be nurtured, and the way you'll relate to others on an emotional level. That's why it's one of the key aspects of a chart astrologers will look to when discussing compatibility, as you obviously want to feel in sync with a partner when it comes to your emotional wiring.
The moon moves about 13.5 degrees per day. By comparison, Mercury and Venus move only about one degree every day, and Mars just a half a degree. This means that it spends about two to three days in a sign — and many days involve a shift from one sign to the next (also called an ingress). That's why knowing your birth time is so important.
Once you have that info, you can figure out your moon sign by looking at your chart or using an online moon sign calculator.
Again, it pays to unpack the many layers of its placement. Say you were born with your moon in the third house of communication (regardless of sign), you'll tend to be extremely curious and compelled to talk through your feelings in order to make sense of them. On the other hand, if it was in the twelfth house, which is spirituality, dreams, and secrets, you might be much more private about your emotions.
Your Rising Sign or Ascendant
Your rising sign is also another reason you'll want to dig up your birth certificate to get your birth time; you'll need it in order to cast your rising sign in your natal chart because it changes throughout any given day. The rising sign is the sign that was ascending (hence, the ascendant) on the eastern horizon at the time of your birth. And in everyone's chart, the rising or ascendant rules the first house of self, which speaks to your "personal brand," perspective on and approach to life as well as early childhood.
While your sun sign speaks to your core identity and your moon sign represents your inner self, the rising sign or ascendant is your external self — the "mask" that people see upon meeting you, so it'll often influence how others see you too. That's why people might often guess that your "sign" is your rising versus your sun (especially if they're totally different elements). If you were born with your sun in debate-loving fire sign Aries but your rising is peacemaker air sign Libra, you might come off as more balance-seeking and conflict-averse than your sun sign would suggest.
In addition to characterizing your external self, your rising sign tells the story of skills, talents, and strategies that you'll use as you move through your life path (your sun sign) in pursuit of your most innate desires (your moon sign). (Related: The Best Sex Position for Your Zodiac Sign)
Astrologers will often look to see what other planets are hanging out near your ascendant in order to better interpret the external self you show the world. For instance, if go-getter, assertive Mars was right on the ascendant or in the first house when you were born, it'll be pretty clear to others that you intend to fight for what you believe in. If relationship-oriented, social Venus was there, you're likely to come off quite obviously as a charming, magnetic people person.
Also interesting: Because it rules external image, your rising sign, or ascendant, can influence how you appear physically. Ruled by expansive Jupiter, Sagittarius risings tend to be tall or have welcoming, gregarious faces. Ruled by the beaming sun and symbolized by the lion, Leo risings, in all their regal, leonine glory, may be very conscious of their manes and often gravitate to yellow gold. And intense Scorpio risings, co-ruled by aggressive Mars and powerful Pluto, may steer toward darker hues and often have penetrating, magnetic eyes.
What to Do Once You Know Your Big 3
Say you just found out that your sun sign is in Virgo, your moon sign is in Scorpio, and your rising sign is in Libra. Not only are you an astrological twin to Beyoncé, but you've also begun to move toward a next-level understanding of your natal chart. After all, every part of your chart is best understood as a piece of the bigger picture, which is why it's so helpful to sit down with a pro to understand how your sun, your moon, your rising sign (and a whole slew of other features of your chart) influence how you're showing up in the world — and what it has in store for you.
Maressa Brown is a writer and astrologer with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to being Shape's resident astrologer, she contributes to InStyle, Parents, Astrology.com, and more. Follow her Instagram and Twitter at @MaressaSylvie