History and Astronomy of Chiron, the Centaur

Chiron in Pisces
April 20, 2010 through February 2019

If you’re new to astrology, you may not even be aware of the heavenly body in our Solar System called Chiron, discovered in 1977. Whether or not it had yet been identified before you were born, Chiron was in the sky. Therefore, it has a position in your birth horoscope.

It is true that for people born after 1977, the connections to Chironic symbolism can have a more conscious influence. How strongly you identify with its messages is indicated by its sign and what other planets it connects with geometrically in your birth horoscope.

Chiron was first discovered on November 1, 1977 by the American astronomer Charles Kowal from images taken two weeks earlier at Palomar Observatory, CA. Chiron’s orbit is erratic, and it skates between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. Astrologers see it as an energetic bridge for the symbolic meanings of those planets.

To make that clearer, if Saturn has to do with responsibility, limits and what commitments an individual conforms to, Uranus celebrates his/her individuality and advocates change. Chiron as the bridge allows a dialogue between these two expressions, if one is open to it

The other major astronomical discovery in 1977 was that Uranus had rings. This is significant because prior to that, Saturn was the only planet thought to have rings. Chiron’s discovery in the same year suggests it is a key for the relationship dynamic between Saturn and Uranus.

Although it was clear to every “thoughtful” astronomer (according to a NASA newsletter) that Chiron was no planet since it was smaller in size than the asteroid Ceres, the press went crazy. Of course, looking back from the perspective of 2010, when Ceres is now considered a “dwarf planet”, the fact the press heralded the discovery of another planet isn’t quite so crazy. But at the time, astronomers quickly dubbed it an asteroid and the press buried it’s demotion.

Kowal’s work however impressed astronomers (if not the press) because the discovery was at the time of Chiron’s aphelion (farthest point away from the Sun). It had been at its perihelion (nearest point to the Sun) in the 1890’s when it was photographed but at that time it was not recognized as a significant object. In the mid-1940’s it was again perihelion, but because of World War II, it again went unnoticed.

Chiron has a slow rotation, a factor that makes a “planet” harder to label, another reason it escaped discovery. However, from an astrologer’s perspective, its existence was revealed at the time in history when its symbolism delivered its message.

Even though the immediate identification was “asteroid” because of its size, astronomers were puzzled. Chiron has a detectable coma like a comet, but at 125 miles (200 km) in diameter, it is over 50,000 times the size of any comet.

Chiron’s orbit is unstable and it travels around the Sun in a period of 50.7 years. That means it returns to roughly the same place as when you were born sometime after your 50th birthday. But you can’t simply divide 50.7 by 12 and estimate what sign Chiron was in when you were born.

This is because Chiron, unlike Saturn, has a highly eccentric orbit. For instance, it will be in the sign of Pisces for nine years, yet it was only in the sign of Aquarius for six. It is also thought to have been in its present location for a couple of million years which is relatively brief compared to the big planets.

It was named Chiron, the king of the race of Greek mythological Centaurs: half-man/half-horse. This was a direct nod to the duality of its comet/asteroid properties. Chiron is now thought to be composed of ice with a dark crust of carbon dust and a coma (cloud of gas and dust) caused by evaporation from its surface. As a result, all astronomical discoveries subsequently found manifesting similar qualities are dubbed “Centaurs”. The present theory is that the Centaurs have escaped from the Kuiper belt, a disk of objects orbiting beyond Neptune.

We astrologers believe the name of a celestial body has great significance. The original myth always provides guidance in understanding the astrological symbolism. In order to understand the symbolism, we need to unravel the myth.