The Outer Planets Plus One Amazing Asteroid

In This Chapter

► Plugging into Uranus, the planet of electricity

► Imagining nebulous Neptune

► Brooding over Pluto, the dwarf of transformation

► Contemplating Chiron, the asteroid of healing m Mntil 1781, astrologers cast horoscopes using only the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets visible from Earth: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Then William Herschel, a professional musician and amateur telescope maker, made a momentous breakthrough. After years of staying up at night with his devoted sister and obsessively (he was a Scorpio) mapping the skies over Bath, England, he became the first human being in history to train a telescope on the night sky and discover a planet. That discovery — of the planet Uranus — rocked the astronomical world. That oddball planet, identified in the midst of the American War of Independence and only a few years before the French Revolution, transformed the commonly held view of the solar system. In astrology, it soon became associated with revolutions of all kinds, including the personal, political, and scientific.

In the next century, scientists realized that anomalies in the orbit of Uranus could be accounted for by the presence of another planet. In 1846, after a search marked by total confusion (in keeping with the nature of the planet), European astronomers identified that unknown body and named it Neptune. A third discovery further expanded the solar system in 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh, a 23-year-old amateur who was hired to examine photographic plates of the night sky, found what he was looking for: A tiny, distant body, which is now named Pluto.

Poor Pluto's demotion

When it was discovered, Pluto was hailed as the ninth planet. Since then, astronomers have discovered many small, icy, celestial objects orbiting the Sun. And so they've begun to rethink what it means to be a planet. Is it enough to simply orbit the Sun? Well, no. After all, asteroids revolve around the Sun, as do comets. Is it enough to be above a certain size? Or to orbit the Sun from within the plane of the solar system? By those standards, Pluto doesn't qualify. It's small, its orbit is tilted, and it has a peculiar gravitational relationship to its largest moon.

As a result, Pluto, the most idiosyncratic of the traditional planets, has been demoted. In 2006, astronomers dubbed it a "dwarf planet" and turned their backs on it. Astrologers are sticking with it. Okay, maybe Pluto, which is slightly smaller than our Moon, isn't as imposing as the other planets. Size isn't everything. Besides, Pluto isn't the only small object that astrologers heed. Another such body is Chiron, which wasn't discovered until 1977 and is now routinely incorporated into natal charts. (I discuss Chiron at the end of this chapter.)

All these celestial bodies — Uranus and Neptune, as well as Pluto and Chiron — differ from the visible planets of antiquity. The visible planets reflect individual disposition, and were consequently known as personal planets. Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which can found in the outer reaches of the solar system, don't describe personality as much as they shape generations. After all, the Sun swings through all 12 signs in a year — but Chiron takes 51 years to travel through the signs, Uranus requires 84 years to make a single orbit, Neptune needs 165 years, and tiny Pluto requires almost two and a half centuries to complete its tour of the zodiac. These celestial bodies have a minor impact on day-to-day activities. Instead, they define generations, spark momentous events, and bring hidden potentials to light.

The outer planets are also harbingers of change, both external and internal. These planets shake you up (revolutionary Uranus), inspire and confuse you (nebulous Neptune), and push you to the brink (take-no-prisoners Pluto). They represent the invincible, unstoppable, cosmic forces of change.

The generational dates given in parentheses later in this chapter for these planetary placements aren't exact. What actually happens when Neptune, Uranus, or Pluto changes signs is that for almost a year (and occasionally for longer than that), the planet appears to ricochet back and forth between the old sign and the new one. As a result, if you were born during (or even close to) the first or final year of a planet's journey through a sign, you can't rely on the ballpark dates given in this chapter. Flip to the Appendix instead. Or go to the Internet to get a copy of your chart (see Chapter 2).

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