Pluto: Demoted But Not Decommisioned

To say that astrologers are currently suffering from a surfeit of ruffled feathers is an understatement. On 24 August the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of its planetary status and consigned it to relative insignificance among the many celestial objects in the suburbia of the Kuiper Belt. This was a bit of a volte-face by the same Union that had one week earlier officially embraced Pluto as the twelfth member of our solar system...

It was the verdict astrologers were dreading. Since Pluto was discovered in 1930 we have taken this planet to our bosoms. Its discovery synchronized with the development of depth psychology, the rise of Fascism and the gathering gloom of Word War II; its mythological roots lay deep in the underworld, thus we came to associate Pluto with the process of death and re-birth, of transformation. Over the years we have become used to finding Pluto in prominence when events of great magnitude take place - the dropping of the first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima on 6 August1945, occurred in the wake of a sun-Pluto conjunction. So, we astrologers were never going to take the demotion of this mighty planet lightly.

The International Astronomical Union came to its decision by agreeing on a criteria that would define all planets.

1)To be called a planet a celestial body must orbit around a star - ergo our sun - while not in itself being a star.
2)A planet must be large enough in mass for its own gravity to pull it into a nearly spherical shape, and have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit. (Note: spherical refers to the planet itself, not its orbit, which one astrologer who I will not embarrass by naming, misinformed CNN viewers on 25th August.)

Pluto was disqualified because its orbit overlapped that of Neptune. And thus it went the way of UB 313 (nicknamed Xena), Sedna, Chiron et al.

Now, it will take astrologers time to absorb the new status of Pluto, but we must remember that it hasn't disappeared from view, so to speak. A rose by any other name is still a rose... Indeed, I said as much when my American husband posed the question at dinner on the night of the 24th, "Well, what are you going to do now that Pluto has become a du-warf?" However, in my researches, I came across an interesting statement by no less a man than Michael Brown, one of the astronomers who discovered UB 313 (Xena) and a member of the aforementioned union:

"From now on everyone should ignore the distracting debates of the scientists. Planets in our solar system should be defined not by some attempt at forcing a scientific definition on a thousands-of-years-old cultural term, but by simply embracing culture. Pluto is a planet because culture says it is... We scientists can continue our debates, but I hope we are generally ignored."

Well, I'm not sure I like the idea of Pluto being a mere cultural term either, but Mike Brown is at least half-way to promoting the idea that changing a celestial body's status from planet to dwarf does not alter its meaning. And if a scientist who was party to redefining Pluto can disregard that decision, might we not go along with him and continue to give as much credence to Pluto as we did before its ex-communication.

On the other hand, with Pluto now relegated to the outer solar system and all that flotsam and jetsam, does this not open the door to acknowledging the influence of those thousands of asteroids, which, I must confess, I have ignored for my entire astrological career?

These are early days in the astrological debate that will follow this controversial decision, but my belief is that we can hold Pluto in the same high regard as we always did; its influence has changed not one iota. We have been observing this planet for seventy-six years, noting its significance in world events and its effect on the cycles of human affairs, and it has more than proved itself. And, let's face it, no self-respecting Scorpio is going to take being ruled by a du-warf without a fight!





Penny Thornton

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