THE NEW SOLAR SYSTEM

Juan Antonio Revilla


   The recent discoveries of the last decade, such as the trans-Neptunian asteroids and the centaurs, have challenged traditional speculations about alleged large planets beyond Pluto, and have also resulted in a new picture of the solar system which differs from the one traditionally taught at school and still dominant in the mind of many astrologers.

   There are several facts that seem to break the schematism that would like to find "Planet X" and planet "Y" beyond Pluto in order to have a perfect system of 12 major planets.  The first of these facts is the nature of Pluto, which physically and dynamically belongs more properly to the world of minor planets, and poses astronomers with a problem of definition and classification: what is a "major" planet and what is not?  When a planet is "major" or "minor"?

   Pluto has always been a mystery, both to astronomers and astrologers, but it seems to me that the centaurs --his offspring in many ways-- are bringing Pluto closer and closer to us. For example, a few months after the discovery of Chiron, in 1978, Pluto's moon Charon was found, which allowed a more precise determination of its mass and size. It became clear then that Pluto was the smallest of all the planets in the solar system, and that it had been discovered by "chance" or serendipity.

   Recent photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have allowed a more precise knowledge of the relative sizes of Pluto and Charon. The diameter of Pluto is estimated to be 2320 Km, and that of Charon 1137 Km. With a Moon that is only half its size, Pluto is really a binary object half-way between the major and minor planets. No other major planet in the solar system has this binary quality except Earth, but in this case the Moon is 1/3 the size and the mass is 1/81th, while the mass of Charon is between 1/6th to 1/12th the mass of Pluto, and is by far the largest (comparatively) satellite in the solar system.

   Pluto's elongated orbit is identical to hundreds or thousands of smaller proto-planets or planetesimals that share the same orbital space around the Sun, like an orbital ring in 3:2 orbital resonance with Neptune, called "plutinos". Nearly 170 plutinos have been found [as of July 2006], all of them differing from Pluto only by their smaller size. The largest plutinos so far are named Orcus with a diameter of about 1600 Km, and Ixion which is about the same size of Charon, effectively establishing a physical continuity in size between Pluto and the ring of plutinos sharing its orbit.

   Pluto is really in an intermediary position between the world of asteroids or minor planets and that of the "major" planets.  Many astronomers think that soon there will be a time when considering Pluto as a major planet will be a thing of the past. It challenges that type of thinking among astrologers which considers "size" as synonym with importance or "weight", and who use that as criterion for choosing what to include and what to exclude from an astrological chart.

   Beyond Pluto there is the classical "Kuiper Belt" or "Cubewanos", of which around 840 have been discovered now [July 2006], some of them with diameters in excess of 1200 Km, like Quaoar or the still unnamed "2003EL61" and "2005FY9", the last one with a probable diameter of 1800 Km. They have more circular orbits very different to those of Pluto and the plutinos. The Kuiper Belt object named Varuna, of about 900 Km and discovered in December 2000, was the second largest known minor planet to be discovered after Ceres. Together with the large plutinos they all are representative of a different category altogether from what is usually called "asteroids", between Mars and Jupiter.

   Beyond the Cubewanos is the so-called "scattered disk", which surrounds the solar system like an enormous primal elliptical cloud where the "scattered disk objects" have their home (such as 2003UB313, temporarily nicknamed "Xena" and with a diameter of about 2400 Km --actually larger than Pluto, or like the more typical "1996TL66", the first to be found, of about 500 Km in diameter), with periods in some cases extending 1000 years and reaching the "Neptune barrier" or frontier without trespassing it, only to go away to distances never before imagined in a minor planet, of up to 10 times Neptune's solar distance, and return like resurrected mummies from other epochs.  They represent a new type of orbits that was not even suspected before their discovery.

   Centaurs are probably scattered disk objects that have been captured; their orbits are "chaotic" (they are not periodic in the long range) and they cross like giant comets the space occupied by the outer planets, violating the traditional (or "classical") ways of moving of the major planets (minus Pluto).  Pluto, crossing the orbit of Neptune, psychologically penetrating and obsessive, in proximity to death, had been their forebear.
 

CHAOS THEORY

   During the late 80's and early 90's, it was mathematically demonstrated that in just a few million years (5 to 10 million depending on the study) the solar system becomes chaotic, which left behind the old assumption about the stability of the system.  This was added to the realization that the solar system "floats" amidst an ocean of orbit-crossing asteroids with very unstable orbits, and has resulted in a transformation of the vision that astronomers have of the solar system.  The traditional view of asteroids as members of the belt between Mars and Jupiter, with very stable orbits, is now superseded and a more complex and unpredictable (in the very long range) picture has emerged in which the cometary asteroids --unrelated to the main Jupiter/Mars belt-- play a decisive role.

   This transformation has gone parallel to the weakening or actual crumbling of ideological systems which pretended to explain the whole of human existence and the universe.  "Classical astrology" (?)  is one of such "complete" systems of the world, and is being challenged by a new vision of the solar system (chaotic, unstable, populated by swarms of asteroids crossing it in all its extension) to incorporate modern concepts, such as chaos and complexity theory, and the realization that schemes exist everywhere but must be broken and give way to creativity and new forms of thinking.

    The word "chaos", as it is used in modern science, does not imply "disorder" as is usually assumed: it implies that it is not possible to make long-range accurate predictions of the behavior of complex systems, because the movement or flow is not periodic or quasi-periodic, but appears to be ruled by irregular and apparently erratic fluctuations. This does not mean the absence of order or of form; in fact, chaotic systems show a stunning fluidity of form, such as in fractals or in flowing water; it simply means that order cannot be easily discerned or predicted, in spite of the admirable grandeur and beauty of its forms.

   A clear and deliberate application of chaos theory is found in the film "Jurassic Park". The controlled reproduction of female dinosaurs in such a way that it made impossible their breeding outside the laboratory went out of control in a short period of time. The paleontologists invited to admire the project soon realized, and the philosopher/mathematician warned --smiling but visibly alarmed and irritated by the naivetÚ and ignorance of the laboratory engineers--, that "nature always finds its way".

   The scientists and philosophers understood the problem from the start, and a clear distinction was made between them and the genetic engineers that managed and developed the project. From this point of view, classical and traditional astrologers differ very little from the engineers.

   Chaos theory goes hand in hand with complexity theory, and constitutes the next evolutionary step in the modern scientific worldview, after the relativity and quantum physics of the previous decades. This is specially evident in the study of biological, social, and organizational phenomena. It represents a qualitative leap in the natural sciences from a mechanical paradigm based on causality to a new, organical paradigm that transcends it.
 

PREJUDICES AGAINST THE NEW

   The "classical" world went up to Saturn.  Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are not "classical", they are (or were) new.  If we are going to reject the new simply because it is possible to keep working adequately with the old, then, with this argument, we better not use the trans-Saturnian planets, because they are new.  Who defines what is classic and what is not?

   Incorporating the new is not easy.  Each astrologer defines in the course of time and through accumulated experience the particular way of understanding or of incorporating the new in his or her vision of things.  Even today, there are many different attitudes and ways of understanding the role of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto in modern astrology with respect to the older planets.  Do they add new symbolism?  Or do they just require and adaptation of the ancient code, a re-ordering of meanings?  Is Saturn the same after the incorporation of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto?  Or has the meaning of Saturn transformed, suffered important changes?

   It is the same process in the case of asteroids, except that the new is now added potentiated and more challenging, because it is about bodies with physical and orbital characteristics which are different to those of the conventional planets.

   We have the case of Pluto, which was discovered by a combination of     mathematics and "chance".  Many astronomers believe that if at the moment of its discovery its physical characteristics had been known as today, it would have never been classified as "the ninth planet".  Pluto was discovered and was called a "major" planet as a result of notions that were later proved to be wrong.

[NOTE: for an astronomical discussion of this with a list of sources, see e.g. "Is Pluto a giant comet?" http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/cfa/ps/icq/ICQPluto.html]

   The process by which a new planet is discovered, receives its name, and is given astrological characteristics, is heavily mediated by history, culture, and economy.  Each new astronomical discovery that transforms our vision of the solar system has its corresponding historical reality.

   There is a lot in history that repeats itself, but there is also the new, and corresponding to this, new astrological elements appear or are added to the language, facilitating the symbolic representation and manipulation of new social, historical, economical, and psychological realities.

   It would be quite absurd to pretend that, having discovered Pluto and ascertained at that time --as it has been done much later-- that it was not a "major" planet by any means, then all astrologers should have refrained from including it in their calculations simply because it was possible to practice astrology without it, or because nobody knew at the moment what it really meant, or because it was too odd and too small!

   This is clearly the attitude of many astrologers today with respect to asteroids.  Since their meaning is not clear or what others say about them seems trivial, then it follows that they don't mean anything important!  Since I can practice astrology without them, then who needs them?  Since they are so small, then their "influence" must be very weak!  Since they are so many, it would be foolish to pretend working with 10,000 bodies!  We must distinguish the trees from the forest, the branches from the trunk, the wheat from the straw!...

   All these prejudices result from pretending to understand a new element with cognitive tools that are old.  Personal investigation soon destroys the mental equation "size=strength".  Pluto is the first to break this prejudice and teaches us that it is probably its orbit (large eccentricity and very slow "long-wave" motion) what gives Pluto its astrological characteristics and its power.  By the same token, careful work with very slow asteroids of high eccentricity puts in evidence that size has nothing to do with the strength or transcendence of an astrological body.

NOTE: In practical terms --as opposed to merely theoretical-- asteroids do not represent complexity in astrology in contrast with simplicity. It is your approach to the chart or your technique of analysis what makes it simple or complicated.
Many people just keep adding asteroids to the chart and approach it technically in the same way as when dealing with only ten planets. Some even combine them with Uranians, midpoints, etc., and do not distinguish the different domains in which asteroids work. My mind is very alien to that type of mixture, and from my personal perspective, it is wrong.
Technically, I apply a very strict version of Occam's razor, based on the technique of focal determination. For example: an asteroid in very close (less than 1 degree) conjunction with the Sun or the Moon, is the utmost of simplicity and essentiality astrologically speaking. It is very simple and basic Astrology, simpler than using rulerships or using wider (3-4 degrees or more) orbs, not to mention houses, rulerships, minor aspects, hypotheticals, etc.
The question of "simplicity vs complexity" does not depend on using asteroids or not. In my opinion, pretending that the use of asteroids means including hundreds or thousands of new points in a chart is one good example of what I call "trying to understand the new with cognitive tools that are old".

   Homeopathy may be a useful analogy.  The higher the potency (=less "matter") the deeper and stronger the effects.  Homeopathic doses, physically insignificant, can be very powerful.  Likewise, we may die as a result of a mosquito bite.  The immune system and viruses may be another analogy.  Without them or because of them we live or die.  Small size and great numbers do not mean "insignificant" or unimportant by any means...

   Weakness is powerful, and an asteroid in exact conjunction with the Moon or the Sun (for example), is not "waste", nor weak: it is gold.

   The use of asteroids seems absurd a priori because of their great number, but this simply means that the usual methods of analyzing a chart cannot be applied indiscriminately when working with asteroids.  New methods are required, new strategies, a lot of patience, and an open mind willing to investigate and not be afraid of chaos.
 

Juan Antonio Revilla
San JosÚ, Costa Rica, October 12, 2000.
 


 
 
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