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Horsebrook Island

Libra Triangle

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Libra is one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac, lying south of the celestial equator between Scorpio and Virgo. Libra is the Latin term for “balance,” and the constellation is named such because ancient astronomers believed the stars formed the outline of a woman holding a scale. The Roman interpretation is often linked with a concept of equity, since the woman holding the scales is Astraea, the Roman goddess of justice. Libra Triangle is a fitting name for this park, since it is bounded by Justice Avenue.

The ecliptic is the yearly path of the sun through the sky. On the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (March and September 21, respectively), the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator, or the projection of the earth’s equator onto the celestial sphere. The sun appeared to pass through this constellation on the autumnal equinox; when hours of daylight equal hours of darkness. Thus, the constellation was named Libra, meaning balance. The equinoxes are the two days each year on which the hours of daylight and darkness are equivalent, so early astronomers associated the equal hours of light and darkness with the concept of the equilibrium of a balanced scale. Since ancient times, there has been a slow change of direction of the earth’s axis, so it presently tilts differently towards the stars than when the first astronomers were making their observations. Subsequently, the autumnal equinox no longer falls within the Libra constellation, but rather in Virgo.

The notion of justice is linked to the astrological connotations of Libra as well. Each zodiacal constellation corresponds to a month-long period of time, and many people believe that each one carries with it different characteristics. People born during the Libra period, September 22 to October 23, are thought to have qualities such as objectivity, social-mindedness, civility, and harmony. These characteristics are linked to the conception of balance.

The Romans did not use the word “libra” exclusively for astronomy and reference to the constellation. Since it is the Latin word for balance, they used it in their discourse on jurisprudence and commerce as well. The basic unit of weight in the Roman Empire was the libra, which is equivalent to approximately 0.722 pound (0.327 kilogram). The English-measure abbreviation for pound, lb., is derived from the word libra. Additionally, the Roman uncia, which is 1/12 of a libra, is the ancestor of the English ounce.

This site is bounded by Justice Avenue and Broadway. The park is owned by the Department of Transportation, but is maintained by Parks as part of the Greenstreets program, a joint project of Parks and DOT begun in 1986 and revived in 1994. Its goal is to convert paved street properties, such as triangles and malls, into green spaces. The triangle has several small shrubs and a tree on each of the three corners. Libra Triangle underwent improvements in May 1997.

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