Did You Catch the Big Astro-News?


A couple weeks ago, on Jul 29, astronomers announced the discovery of a new planet, almost as large as Pluto, in our solar system. And it appears to have a moon. Oh, my… here we go again.

Wait, have I got that wrong? On Jul 29, astronomers announced the discovery of a new planet—and it's even larger than Pluto. Okay, maybe no moon. But surely this one is our long-awaited 10th planet.

Or is it the 11th… or the 12th… or the 24th?

No, fair readers, there's no need to adjust the dial. There's nothing wrong with your signal. Only under typical Mercury retrograde is-it-or-isn't-it?-ness (and with Mercury's opposition to Neptune) would we encounter two different announcements about two different 'new planets' within hours of each other. One is larger than Pluto, and one smaller. Both are way out in the chilly distant reaches of our Sun's sway, at significant inclination to the main plane (or the ecliptic) along which most of the known planetary travel occurs. And once again, astrologers are left to stumblingly improvise in the cough-inducing after-fumes that trail behind technology's unceasing march forward. How could we possibly keep up?

In the three-plus years I've been writing on this site, I've been privileged enough to find myself authoring 'another new planet' reports on more than one occasion (though admittedly without that much to report). In 2002, I welcomed Quaoar. Last year, it was Sedna. Before that, there were Varuna (2000) and Ixion (2001). Just consider: All those thousands of years of human civilization during which sober secularist Saturn defended the outer bounds of astral consciousness and held us firmly in our places, without competition. Then Uranus, like a bolt of thunder from the sky (since that is his way), bursts in our awareness only 225 or so years ago… and the rest is recent industrial and post-industrial, we all live in a yellow submarine global village, and yes time is speeding up can't you feel it history. For ravenous seekers of more and vaster information, these are lucky times indeed. Two new planets in a single day. Geez.

Common astrological wisdom follows the logic that the discovery of a planet (or other cosmic body) coincides with an historical shift in human perception that mirrors the archetypal symbolism of that planet (and its designated nomenclature) in beautiful synchronicity. Uranus showed up in our lives in the late 18th century, along with the electrifying seeds of broader personal freedom, as sought by revolution and prodigiously promoted by technology. Neptune's appearance in 1846 matched our increasingly romantic and east/west-hybrid self-conception of the world as a single unified spiritual body, which only grew more magical with better drugs and hypnotically dazzling popular fantasies to blur the boundaries of perception, promising greater bliss and deeper delusion in the same gesture. (Yes, it's supposed to confound you.) And in 1930 came Pluto, that nasty little twerp with the big stick and the atom we learnt to split by going deeper, into the ugly truths of Will to Power as seen in fascism and other such psycho-complexes, which is why now all we speak of is sex, blood and shit, but without just coming out and saying it. What next?

Well, first off, we don't even know what a 'planet' is anymore. The debate has been raging for years, as more and more of these far-out celestial bodies have hit our screen. We've resisted facing the truth that either (1) Pluto should never have been labeled a 'planet' or (2) that our solar system has a whole lot more 'planets' we already know about but have hesitated to label as such because it's too much to handle. The public refuses to cope with either admitting we were wrong or coming up with a new mnemonic device long enough to catch all those orbital quidbits littering the trans-Neptunian zone.

Until now, we've gotten away with circumventing the issue according to ridiculous rationale: None of the recent discoveries in our solar system were larger than Pluto, so Pluto stays a planet and no other body gets the 'official' honor. So much for that crap. Newbie space object 2003 UB313 (catchier name forthcoming) sure appears to be bigger than our Plutonian pal… and thus forces the 'planet' problem to be resolved. Stay tuned.

Obviously, I have little—more precisely, nothing—to offer you in terms of interpretative insight on either new planet, though I suspect that at least bigger-than-Pluto 2003 UB313 will certainly prove astrologically significant, once we astrologers have a chance to dig our teeth into it. It doesn't even have an IAU-approved name yet (and don't think for a minute that astrology practitioners don't exert their undercover influence on the process)… though I've heard whispers that the one which has been proposed and is awaiting approval immortalizes a certain TV warrior princess. We may learn the name any day, or in a while.

In my humble opinion, one thing that seems pretty clear is our understanding of Pluto has thus far been incomplete. Rather than the lone depth-psychology planetary pioneer freezing in isolation on the outer edge of our sentience, Pluto is one among a grouping of Kuiper Belt objects (or KBOs), including all these other 'new planets', that reside out past Neptune.

Therefore, our astrological reading of Pluto must also be incomplete. Just as we group together the personal planets (Mercury, Mars and Venus) and the social planets (Jupiter and Saturn) to help glean our fullest interpretations, I believe we will need to rethink the 'outer planets' category. Perhaps Uranus and Neptune should be thought of as a pair, like the wacky godparents of Jupiter and Saturn. Perhaps Pluto needs to be rethought alongside its brethren Varuna, Ixion, Quaoar, Sedna, 2003 UB313, the other new guy (2003 EL61), and the countless KBOs lurking out there, some of which are assumed to be Earth-sized.

And if the Pluto archetype requires revision, then maybe we don't know as much as about our own deepest psychologies, our sex and death and other nasty transformative urges, as we thought. Maybe we haven't faced the fullest truths about nuclear physics, or else how could we be both commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, when 140,000 people perished almost instantly at the hands of America, and still arguing about who has the right to these weapons. (Um, none of us?)

Modern astrology must adapt. We have no choice, unless we want to prove our oh-so-much-smarter-than-we-are critics correct in their assertion that our knowledge is antiquated and irrelevant, as if we don't know the constellations that comprise the sidereal zodiac have shifted over thousands of years due to the Earth's wobble. (Hello, out there, smart asses. Western astrologers use the tropical zodiac… and yes, we understand the distinction.)

As I continue to read and study and think and ponder these astro-philosophic matters, I'll be eager to share my adapting astrological knowledge with you. This frontier thrills me, and you haven't heard the last from me on it. Let's plan on exploring its reaches together.