The third Centaur Nessus provisional symbol for Nessus, invented 1997 by Robert von Heeren

Astrologers´ proposals on the naming of the third centaur were officially accepted

© Robert von Heeren, 5/21/1997

(Translator: Andrea Forbes, June 1997. )

A wounded Centaur

Die drei Bahnen von Chiron, Pholus und Nessus im äußeren Sonnensystem

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In April 1997 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) accepted a proposal on the naming of a small planet made by astrologers, for the first time in its history. The planet in question is the third centaur "1993 HA2" discovered in April 1993 (click here for the discovery-chart of Nessus). It has now officially been named "Nessus" (latin for greek "Nessos"). The suggestion having been made by Dieter Koch, Zane Stein and myself. The naming was officially announced by global email on the 22nd April 1997, 22h10 UT from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, USA-MA (diagram 1. Nessus is indicatively located exactly at the third cusp in this natal chart). Nessus is now the third named centaur - after the two formerly discovered centaurs Chiron and Pholus. The centaurs are a tiny group of (to date) seven small planets with unusual properties: neither conventional comets, nor typical asteroids. At the same time, they possess qualities prevalent in both. They travel along extremely differentiated and primarily particularly elliptical orbits in the outer solar sytem. Their origin most probably lies in the Kuiper Belt beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto. Torn out of the belt by the force of Neptune millions of years ago, they were thereupon catapulted into the inner solar system where they assumed their present orbit in time. They generally touch or cross the orbits of the main planets and thus have long orbital periods of 49 (Chiron) to c. 123 years (Nessus).

The origins and reasons behind the naming suggestion

During our work on the book about Pholus, Dieter Koch and I emailed its (as well as Nessus´) discoverers David L. Rabinowitz and Jim Scotti. Scotti answered our queries concerning the astronomical characteristics of Pholus and other recently discovered minor planets in detail. Scotti mentioned, in one of his emails, that he feared the stock of mythological centaur names may run out, as greater numbers of centaurs yet await discovery. We researched over 84 centaur names (which managed to dissipate these concerns) and mailed these to him on the 31st May 1995. We also mailed the names to the director of the Minor Planet Center (a department of the IAU and global centre for discoveries in astronomy) Dr. Brian D. Marsden, who is also responsible for namings.

In this e-mail we proposed that the name "Nessus" be given to the third centaur "1993 HA2" given that the following reasons seemed to predestine such a naming:

  1. The orbit of "1993 HA2" runs extremely elliptically between Saturn and Pluto (diagram 2). It creates a bridge between the two planets. "1993 HA2" guides us from the ordered world of Saturn into plutonic spheres.
  2. The mythology of Nessus has strong associations to plutonic themes: Nessos took revenge for the mortal wounding of his heart through Herakles´ poison arrow by causing great pain to overcome the Greek hero, even whilst fighting with death, through a mean trick. Herakles sees that his end is nigh and sacrifices himself at the stake. This finally leads to the cleansing (from earthly madness) and rise to heaven, saving and immortality of the hero!
  3. Besides Chiron and Pholus, Nessus is the third and last centaur equipped with a substantial, famous mythology which has been a source of inspiration to artists throughout the ages.


The Reactions

Dr. Marsden thanked us for the list and naming proposal, passing it on to the "Working Group in Planetary System Nomenclature". Jim Scotti also thanked us for the list, but voiced concern over the savage behaviour and violent tendencies of the centaur so prevalent in mythology. We heard nothing from mid- 1995 until the beginning of 1997. It looked as though our proposal would be ignored. Zane Stein, the American Chiron specialist, took the initiative again in Febraury 1997 and sent literature about the mythology of Nessus to Dr. Marsden .The latter responded with a pledge to support the naming of the centaur in April 1997. "1993 HA2" is now officially Nessus.

Astronomers and astrologers have not previously co-operated on the issue of naming planets. Interesting, that it was the "bridge planets", the centaurs, which brought the two disciplines a small but significant step closer to each other. This would not have been possible without the openness and support of Jim Scotti and Dr. Brian Marsden.

The latter replied to my email of thanks, subsequent to the event, explicitly thanking us for our support in the research of centaur names and mythologies. He encouraged us to submit proposals for the four yet unnamed centaurs.


A special triad

Curious "coincidences" have often occurred in the history of the discovery and naming of planets. The astronomer Percival Lowell for example, calculated Pluto`s position at c.8° quite exactly, basing his calculations on the disturbances in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. Lowell`s data were not in the least suited to such a task - as was later discovered. Moreover, the name "Pluto" was selected from a possible 100 proposals. The time had come for the discovery and naming of Pluto. Is the "coincidental" naming of the centaur Chiron not similar?

On observing the orbits of the three first discovered centaurs Chiron, Pholus and Nessus more closely, we note a further curious "coincidence": they first connect Saturn with Uranus (Chiron), then Saturn with Neptune (Pholus) and finally, Saturn with Pluto (Nessus), - one after the other - from Saturn`s gate in the inside to the transpersonal spheres of Pluto (diagram 3). Should we not consider these first three centaurs as a group in itself - a triad belonging together? Pholus and Nessus are maybe similar to Chiron, each one in its unique and unmistakeable way a "mentor" in opening up to the transpersonal.


The Centaur Research Project (CRP)

The further research of the centaurs will provide even more interesting revelations as to the deeper meaning of the entire centaur group. The centaurs may even show Uranus, Neptune and Pluto in a new astrological light. The three transsaturnians have, after all, their own "messengers" and "keys"! The astrological importance of Chiron will be clarified through comparison with Pholus and Nessus.

A reliable Ephemeride (see table) may be constructed (already the case with Chiron and Pholus) for Nessus, taking into account the perturbations of the major planets over hundreds of years. Thus nothing hinders further research. But when it comes to the subject of "new planets", one does however encounter two typical reservations, which I would briefly like to examine: Firstly, the frequently presented case of such small planets being irrelevant on the grounds of their indeed being too small. A flagrant error: Size and relevance do not correlate in the world of astrological symbols. This has been exemplified by Chiron - and through us also by Pholus. Incidentally, Pluto has no longer been placed in the same category as major planets in astronomical academic circles for some years, but is seen to be a double-minor planet (with its moon Charon. One reason being its elliptical orbit untypical of major planets).

Secondly, to the understandable fear of a flood of new factors of interpretation and the danger of "arbitrariness of interpretation": It is my opinion, that we live in a time of deeper scrutiny of the multifarious and complex connections in life. Is it not then appropriate, that we focus our attention more on the particular and less obvious, also in the field of astrology? That we differentiate more thoroughly? Therein lies the key to greater clarity and depth of interpretation. Moreover, new planets must not automatically be seen to be general major factors of interpretation. Some may possibly only be relevant to specific issues, a matter yet to be examined in detail. The inclusion of new factors of interpretation does not necessarily, in my opinion, lead to choices seen to be "suitable" but perhaps without substance being made in the selection of "fitting" factors of interpretation (that would be misuse), rather it enables us to fine-tune and complement the interpretation itself. New factors could improve an understanding of the complete picture of a human question. For example: Can the complex issue of wounding / healing / becoming whole be interpreted in an up-to-date and truly differentiated fashion, without the inclusion of Chiron? Or rather: If uranian, neptunian, plutonic etc. people do exist, why then should there not also be people influenced by Chiron, Pholus or Nessus?

Looking new factors of interpretation straight in the eye, as oppose to not being able to see the wood for the trees, is admittedly not an easy task. In the light of the revolutionary discoveries (since 1992, 42 still unnamed transneptunians and plutonians as well as seven centaurs) we will not be in a position to avoid these questions much longer. Besides: What astrologer would not prick up his ears and become curious on the prospect of a centaur perhaps being in conjunction with one of his major axes ?

As ONLY this first three centaurs, of all the new planets, have been named and thus become "tangible" until now, it seems logical to proceed with research on their astrological importance.

In order to promote research on all centaurs, I would therefore like to initiate a "Centaur Research Project". This could act as a centre for the exchange of experiences and gathering of information, as well as encouraging interested astrologers to research one or more centaurs. I would be glad to offer my skills in calculation as well as research materials at "cost price" so to speak, as far as is within my means. If the need arises, I can offer advice and support to particular projects thanks to my knowledge and experience in researching Pholus.

This project should bridge the gap between the non-German-speaking countries and ourselves, increasing the exchange and the possibility of meetings in the future. An article and a lecture on the first astrological findings and astronomical characteristics of Nessus is in preparation.