Is Pluto a Planet?
Pluto Demoted! How does it affect us??
In September 2006, as dark Pluto turns direct after months of retrograde motion in conjunction with the Galactic Centre, considerable controversy has been provoked by the decision by the International Astronomical Union in Prague to downgrade Pluto to the status of a "dwarf planet". Astrologer Rob Tillett discusses the implications for astrology and all those who have long thought Pluto to be their planetary Lord!
The planet Pluto, astrologically speaking a generational force of obstruction, transformation and regeneration, is physically located at the outer limits of our solar system, beyond the gas giant Neptune. Astronomically speaking, Pluto, a slow-moving outer planet discovered in 1930, is part of the Kuiper Belt, a collection of icy rocks orbiting at a vast distance from the Sun – so far out that the Sun would appear to be no more than a bright star to an observer based on the planet.
As dark Pluto turns direct after months of retrograde motion in conjunction with the Galactic Centre, considerable controversy has been provoked by the decision by the 26th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Prague to downgrade Pluto to the status of a "dwarf planet". It's worth noting that of the 2700 astronomers attending the conference (out of some 10,000 professionals worldwide), less than 500 actually voted on the resolution, which was put to the assembly on the last day of the conference. Not much of a consensus.
What is a Planet?
In the earliest days of civilisation, when people first began to pay attention to the lights in the sky, they soon noticed that most of these lights seemed to hold their relative positions in a quite steadfast way. These they called the "fixed stars". Others, including the Sun and the Moon, seemed to follow a livelier, more random pattern. These they called "planets", or wanderers. In astrology, the planets, Sun, Moon and other movable points (such as the Moon's nodes) are still all described as "planets", the wanderers of the zodiac.
In astrological discourse, each planet symbolises particular sides of your character; for example, Mars stands for action and passion, Jupiter stands for fortune and higher thought and so on. Planets are located symbolically in the chart: the signs and houses filter their energies through the planets, much as a coloured lens filters the image thrown by a stage-light, or received by a camera. As the Earth is not classed as a planet (being the substantial base from which we view the heavens) there are five visible planets used in traditional astrology, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, plus the Sun and Moon, which makes seven. If we add the Moon's north and south nodes, which are shadow planets also known as the Dragon's Head and Tail, we have nine. These are the planets used by traditional astrologers, notably in India, which still holds firmly to the old ways! Modern astrologers accept Uranus, Neptune and Pluto as planets too, with some including a variety of newly discovered cosmic objects, such as Ceres and Chiron in the planetary fold.
Astronomers, who are generally hostile to and keen to distance themselves from astrology, despite the origins of their science in the bosom of the astrological matrix, have never really defined a "planet" in any scientific way, at least until this latest conference. Basically, they too have accepted the ancient idea that a planet is a "wanderer" as opposed to the "fixed stars", which, to people looking up from the Earth, appear to be stationary.
Modern science teaches that, in our solar system, the planets revolve in their orbits around the Sun, held in place by "gravity". It's a serious matter! No room for levity! There are now officially eight planets orbiting the Sun, from Mercury to Neptune, but Pluto, Ceres and any other round object that "has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and is not a satellite" are classed as "dwarf planets". Chiron is therefore not a planet, and neither are the other asteroids, comets, moons etc (even though Triton is much bigger than Pluto and appears to have been captured by Neptune!). There in fact are countless objects orbiting the Sun, but not all of them can be classed as planets. The advances in astronomy have therefore impelled professional astronomers to come up with a definition, but Dr Alan Stern, who leads the US space agency's New Horizons mission to Pluto and did not vote in Prague, told BBC News:
One of the three criteria for planethood states that a planet must have "cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit". The largest objects in the Solar System will either aggregate material in their path or fling it out of the way with a gravitational swipe. Pluto was disqualified because its highly elliptical orbit overlaps with that of Neptune.
But Dr Stern pointed out that Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune have also not fully cleared their orbital zones. Earth orbits with 10,000 near-Earth asteroids. Jupiter, meanwhile, is accompanied by 100,000 Trojan asteroids on its orbital path.
Stern said like-minded astronomers had begun a petition to get Pluto reinstated. Car bumper stickers compelling motorists to "Honk if Pluto is still a planet" have gone on sale over the internet and e-mails circulating about the decision have been describing the IAU as the "Irrelevant Astronomical Union".
The decision to downgrade Pluto, even if it survives the controversy, is substantially irrelevant to astrology, as the astrological effects of Pluto have been explored in depth since its discovery in 1930. Although some traditional astrologers (including most of the Indian Vedic astrological community) do not consider Pluto, our own research and that of other modern astrologers demonstrates that astrologers and their clients ignore it at their peril.
Lord of the Underworld
Astrologically speaking, Pluto, the lord of the underworld, symbolises the forces of deep transformation in our lives, often through the overcoming of determined opposition and followed by a regeneration of life, relationships and character. Pluto's influence is in general most clearly noticeable as it distinguishes one generation from the next; we can see the changes through an examination of history, comparing events with the transits of Pluto through the signs, but that's for another article. Just in passing, it's curious that Pluto turned retrograde at 26° Sagittarius, in conjunction with the Galactic Centre (at 26° Sagittarius). This point, discovered in 1932, is thought to contain a massive black hole with the mass of some four million times that of our own Sun. It has a significant effect when aspected, inclining people to take a central role in affairs and to have a sense of cosmic destiny, often associated with a crisis of faith. The planet Pluto certainly has taken centre-stage in the cosmic drama – at the 26th General Assembly of the IAU!
In our personal lives, Pluto's significance is found in its house position and the aspects it makes to other planets in the chart. The psychological process is one of being faced with obstruction, struggling to overcome it and being transformed in the process, leading to a regeneration of the area affected by house, aspect and sign. Pluto rules intense energy, signifying the areas in which we consciously or subconsciously seek to exercise power or control. Linked to our karmic responsibility, Pluto also indicates those areas where we need to gain the deepest level of understanding. Transits of Pluto, especially to the Lights are exceedingly potent and signify massive, long-term changes in life. The profound astrological effects of these transits will not be altered one whit by the decisions of a few astronomers, no matter what the academies decide.
Many modern astrologers consider Pluto the planetary ruler of Scorpio, but that is controversial and disputed. The traditional ruler of Scorpio is Mars. My own view is that Pluto may be considered a co-ruler of Scorpio, but definitely a secondary influence to Mars with regard to the Scorpion. Scorpio's can relax, because even if Pluto is officially demoted, you still have magnificent Mars to light your way!
Located in the heart of the Kuiper belt and until recently the outermost known planet in our system, Pluto completes its journey through all twelve signs in around 248 years. Pluto has now been shown to be effectively a double planet, for the diameter of its "moon", Charon (discovered in 1978), is greater than half Pluto's diameter; by comparison, our own Moon has slightly more than one quarter of the Earth's diameter. Interestingly, the Hubble telescope seems to have distinguished two more tiny moons, now (June 2006) entitled Nix (mother of Charon) and Hydra (a many-headed, poisonous monster dispatched by Hercules). Pluto may also have rings, like Saturn, though on a much smaller scale.
The period Pluto spends in each sign can vary from twelve years to thirty-two years, due to the eccentricity of its orbit. So it's a deep and variable creature, but its influence on our lives depends mainly on where it is placed in our charts and what movement it is having by transit. Don't fret about the demotion of Pluto, it's not going away any time soon in the real world!
Exalted: (? no traditional exaltation)
Detriment: (? no traditional detriment)
Fall: (? no traditional fall)
Planetary Node: 20° 02 Cancer
Because Pluto, being invisible to the naked eye, was first discovered in 1930, there is no traditional rulership or exaltation. Modern astrologers generally agree that Pluto is well-placed in Scorpio and may be said to be the co-ruler of that sign, though Mars is definitely the traditional ruler. Traditional astrologers deny any sign-rulership to Pluto.
PLUTO – A 'DEMOTED PLANET'?
- Named after underworld god
- Average of 5.9bn km to Sun
- Orbits Sun every 248 years
- Diameter of 2,360km
- Has at least three moons
- Rotates every 6.8 days
- Gravity about 6% of Earth's
- Surface temperature -233C
- US probe (above) visits in 2015