Another Week, Another New Planet


Let's welcome Sedna, the newest member of the cool-kids clique we call our solar system.

Here are its specs. Sedna is the largest solar-system object discovered since Pluto was first spotted in 1930, and it is only slightly smaller in mass than Pluto, with what appears to be its own moon. It is also the furthest-out known object in our solar system, three times as far from the Sun than Pluto or Neptune, with an eccentric elliptical orbit taking 10,500 years to complete one cycle. And for reasons currently not understood by astronomers, it is also the reddest object we've seen since the 'red planet' Mars itself. A significant discovery indeed.

But what do we astrologers do with it?

It was less than two years ago I found myself writing a similar announcement about the first sighting of Quaoar, another previously unknown but significantly large and faraway solar-system body. At the time, my work on this website was fairly new, and Quaoar's discovery was unquestionably the most newsworthy astronomical announcement I'd heard since beginning these weekly musings. I excitedly anticipated further astrological extrapolation on the topic of Quaoar's 'meaning', how my peers would over time create a matrix of interpretative symbolism to blend with the astronomical data coming in.

Now I face the same astrological challenges of incorporating another new planet (or is it a planet?) into my work, and I still haven't had much chance to deal with the last one. I question whether my attempt to keep up with the rapidly-changing planetary Joneses is indeed futile.

Chiron, a planetoid discovered back in 1977 orbiting the region between Saturn and Uranus, has only become a regular part of my interpretations this past year. Apart from the official nine solar-system planets we all learn in grade school, Chiron is probably the most widely used celestial body in astrological work. (Click here for some of my comments on Chiron.) But there are also a number of sizable asteroids lurking in orbit of our Sun, many of which are drawn upon by astrologers for additional symbolic insight in their readings and interpretations. The asteroid Ceres, for instance, was a notable enough discovery to assume the label of 'planet' when it was first spotted in 1801. It was only later reclassified as an asteroid once Pallas, another small body with similar features, was found a year later.

Then along came Varuna (2001), Quaoar (2002) and now Sedna, all celestial bodies in the Kuiper Belt region beyond Neptune. How's an astrologer ever to hold a comprehensive symbolic understanding of this spectrum of planets, asteroids, planetoids and are-they-planetoids in our solar system (not to mention beyond our solar system!) if those pesky astronomers keep finding more and more?

I've long belonged to the 'keep-it-simple' school of astrology, focusing my attention on thorough understanding and usage of the most basic and well-studied celestial bodies—Sun, Moon, and the nine planets Mercury through Pluto—and leaving the rest for the specialists. As it is, working with just these 'few' symbols (which don't seem so few when you're an astrologer beginner!) regularly produces more insightful information than I can easily present to clients and readers in a useful fashion. That's why I waited this long to even start using Chiron, though I'd dabbled with its symbolism in my personal astrology work for a while. For me, the practice of astrology has been more about drawing out the most fundamental and clearly communicable observations for the shared benefit of astrologers and laypeople alike, not overwhelming others and myself with too much information.

Yet both information overload and enhanced exploration of the frontiers of space are inevitable hallmarks of the unfolding Aquarian Age. There is no way around it. In the past, we learned what we knew from textbooks, libraries, professional journals, accredited experts, or one of only three major network's evening news broadcasts. Sure, the biases were there, but they were expert biases that most people more or less trusted. Now, in the Internet (i.e., Aquarian) age, there are innumerable sources of readily available information, broadened and flattened into a web of contradictory facts through which we must independently sort, without necessarily knowing which are privileged and who are experts, to formulate our own lessons. Likewise, as our knowledge of space gets increasingly sophisticated in detail, astrologers must sift through a lot of orbiting rocks—some pebbles, some boulders—and decide how to mold their own useful wisdoms from celestial maps with ever-more points.

It is mind-boggling to think how thousands of years of astrological tradition, bound by technological limitation to the solar-system border of Saturn, met such an abrupt break upon the startling discovery of Uranus in 1781. Appropriately, Uranus is the symbol par excellence of such startling breaks from existing tradition, of total revolution in thought and being (as evidenced by the synchronicity of its discovery in chronological conjunction with the French and American revolutions). Uranus is also the ruler of Aquarius, the sign of the coming age, of technology and astrology and space exploration. And since its discovery, we've found Neptune, Pluto, and a zillion asteroids and comets and planetoids and Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs).

This proliferation of newly observed planets and non-planets continues at an exponential rate, parallel to the development of space-related technologies that assist our observations, such that discoveries of Pluto-like bodies have become a regular occurrence (and only about 15% of the sky has been searched for such low-intensity bodies so far). In light of these discoveries, astronomers are vexed by the question of whether Pluto should be considered a proper 'planet' at all, or whether other non-planetary bodies like Quaoar and Sedna should be reclassified as planets. In fact, the debate of what a 'planet' even is by definition continues to rage, a discussion which began when the first exoplanets (i.e., planets outside our solar system orbiting other stars) were identified in 1995, the year Uranus entered Aquarius.

Pluto's astrological symbolism is dark and intense, linked to the painful necessity of deaths in facilitating rebirthing. Therefore, there's some inherent irony involved in Pluto itself undergoing a painful identity transformation—as much as we might loathe to admit it, it's probably not a planet—in response to Sedna's appearance. Larger than that, it seems our whole self-concept as Earth-dwellers in a so-we-thought-we-understood solar system may also be dying and on the way to rebirth, thanks to Sedna.

Sedna's unusual orbit baffles astronomers, who can only explain it in terms of the possibility of another larger undiscovered planet exerting its gravitational pull. What else is out there under our noses? Sedna might also prove to be the first known object of its size in the Oort cloud, a region out past the Kuiper Belt filled with icy comets that likely extends halfway to the next star. In that light, Sedna could be our proto-ambassador to other solar systems, with other planets (or planetoids, asteroids, comets, brown dwarfs…) and other astrologers like me, trying to make sense of the vastness from the perspective of a single measly speck, thinking we know but having no idea.