Centaur

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Mythological centaurs[1]

Creatures from Greek mythology with the lower torso of a horse and a human upper torso, arms and head.

Astronomy

The decision by astronomers to adopt the word centaur as an alternative word for planetoid can in part be attributed to the names given to them by astrologers. They are planetary bodies with characteristics that lie somewhere between asteroids and comets. Robert von Heeren names the following criteria as being necessary to fall into this group: "Next to the...possible bridge-function between asteroids and comets or/and as precursors to comets, observation of the centaurs has shown that they share the following characteristics:

  1. An orbital mean which lies somewhere between Saturn and Neptune.
  2. An eccentric orbit which crosses one or more of the orbits of the outer planets."

The orbital path is also relatively unstable due to the often close proximity to the giant gas planets (in particular Saturn). Over a period of millions of years, the centaurs will be moving to different orbits or leaving the Solar System altogether. The centaurs can also display a coma (a cloud of gas and dust evaporating from the surface) similar to comets when in close proximity to the Sun. The centaurs probably originate from the Kuiper Belt which lies beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto. Besides the four giant planets, Chiron and 10199 Chariklo, also a centaur, are the only other bodies in the Solar System known to have rings.

Eighteen planetoids have been discovered since 1977, but only a few have been named after mythological centaurs, including Chiron, Pholus and Nessus.

Mythology

In mythology the centaurs' form by itself already reveals an important aspect of what they symbolise, namely the conflict of mind, reason and wisdom on the one hand and animalistic drive, rampancy and daring on the other. Most of the centaurs gave in to their animal instincts. They loved using alcohol to get intoxicated, were hot-headed and raped or started brawls. This moral conduct caused them to have many enemies, none more so than Heracles who killed many of them.

Chiron was a healer, sage and teacher of the gods and embodied the polar opposite of these instinctive drives. Pholus was also more subdued in nature. Chiron, Pholus and Nessus (an opponent of Heracles) are the three main centaurs.

Astrology

The centaurs occupy a key position between the material world symbolised by Saturn on the one side, and the spiritual world symbolised by Uranus, Neptune and Pluto on the other.

Whether or not this group of planets will become firmly established within astrology is still open to question. Some astrologers fear that the continual increase in horoscope factors could end up distracting attention from the more essential elements in the horoscope. And whereas Chiron has become fairly widely accepted, Pholus and Nessus have remained in relative obscurity.

Robert von Heeren, one of the main supporters of the inclusion of the planetoids in horoscope interpretations, has said in regard to the reservations held by some astrologers: "Regarding the understandable fear of being overwhelmed by all the new factors and the danger of arbitrary interpretations, I myself believe that we now live in a time in which we are penetrating deeper into the complex structures of life. Is it therefore not only logically consistent that we as astrologers rise to the challenge of learning to recognise the unique and complex aspects of the horoscope in order to reach a greater and more differentiated understanding of the horoscope? Indeed, this process represents an opportunity to achieve more clarity and depth in horoscope interpretations."

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Notes and References

  1. Illustration from a German schoolbook, 1902