Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mercury Retrograde Defeats Pluto's Moons

Back in February of this year, I posted about how the naming of two newly discovered moons orbiting Pluto were put up for public vote by the lead of the discovery team, Mark Showalter. Styx and Cerberus made the most sense, as they are a direct link to the Pluto/Underworld mythology. They led the voting by wide margins at the time.

And then William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, skewed the voting with a Twitter campaign, and suddenly the winners were Vulcan and Styx. (Vulcan, as everyone knows, is Spock's home planet.) Showalter submitted the two names to the IAU (International Astronomical Union) for consideration. (The IAU is the official governing body that votes to approve or disapprove an object's name).

So Mercury retrograde rolls around, and the IAU takes up the vote on July 2, 2013. Vulcan was tossed out (similar to how Pluto itself was ejected from planetary status) in favor of Cerberus. From the NY Times:
The favorite name turned out to be Vulcan, which is both the Greek god of fire and, perhaps more significantly, the home planet of Mr. Spock, the “Star Trek” character played by Leonard Nimoy. Dr. Showalter submitted the names Vulcan and Cerberus — which was later changed to the Greek spelling Kerberos to avoid confusion with an asteroid — to the Working Group for Planetary Nomenclature and the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature of International Astronomical Union. 
The astronomical union rejected Vulcan because it had already been used as the name for a hypothetical planet between Mercury and the Sun, and it had no connection to the mythological underworld. Instead the moon-namers chose Kerberos and the next runner-up, Styx. 
It was not the first time that citizens with stars in their eyes had been disappointed by the astronomical union, which has a tangled history with Pluto. It was the union that, back in 2006, tossed Pluto out of the club of planets, after years of debate that reached into classrooms and planetariums.
So justice is served after all, thanks to Mercury retrograde. Relevant from the IAU press release:
The IAU acts as the arbiter of the naming process of celestial bodies, and is advised and supported by astronomers active in different fields. On discovery, astronomical objects receive unambiguous and official catalogue designations. When common names are assigned, the IAU rules ensure that the names work across different languages and cultures in order to support collaborative worldwide research and avoid confusion.
After the discovery, the leader of the research team, Mark Showalter (SETI Institute), decided to call for a public vote to suggest names for the two objects. To be consistent with the names of the other Pluto satellites, the names had to be picked from classical mythology, in particular with reference to the underworld — the realm where the souls of the deceased go in the afterlife. The contest concluded with the proposed names Vulcan, Cerberus and Styx ranking first, second and third respectively. Showalter submitted Vulcan and Cerberus to the IAU where the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) and the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (WGSBN) discussed the names for approval.
However, the name Vulcan had already been used for a hypothetical planet between Mercury and the Sun. Although this planet was found not to exist, the term “vulcanoid” remains attached to any asteroid existing inside the orbit of Mercury, and the name Vulcan could not be accepted for one of Pluto’s satellites (also, Vulcan does not fit into the underworld mythological scheme). Instead the third most popular name was chosen — Styx, the name of the goddess who ruled over the underworld river, also called the Styx.
After a final deliberation, the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature and the IAU Committee on Small Body Nomenclature, in charge of naming dwarf planets and their systems, agreed to change Cerberus to Kerberos — the Greek spelling of the word, to avoid confusion with an asteroid called 1865 Cerberus. According to mythology, Cerberus — or Kerberos in Greek — was a many-headed dog that guarded the entrance to the underworld.
The IAU wholeheartedly welcomes the public’s interest in recent discoveries, and continues to stress the importance of having a unified naming procedure following certain rules, such as involving the IAU as early as possible, and making the process open and free to all. Read more about the naming of astronomical objects here. The process of possibly giving public names to exoplanets (see iau1301), and more generally to yet-to-be discovered Solar System planets and to planetary satellites, is currently under review by the new IAU Executive Committee Task Group Public Naming of Planets and Planetary Satellites.

So why exactly is this relevant to astrologers? Because it's not a coincidence how the bodies are named, and it underscores the subsequent symbolism for astrological interpretation based on those naming conventions. A new discovery and new symbolism expands the vocabulary of astrological interpretation, giving a wider descriptive pool to draw from than just the seven traditional bodies. It also makes the symbolism and interpretation easier to understand, without having to resort to unscientific gimmicks to give the bodies their symbolic qualities (e.g. nocturnal/diurnal, masculine/feminine, terms, faces, etc.). Following the logic of astronomers makes for better, simpler, and more streamlined astrology, because the myths are the same for everyone, regardless of methodology or nationality.
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