Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain in Chicago.
Kuiper Belt Binaries
By Kirsti Melto

IN A REMOTE region of our solar system called the Kuiper Belt fascinating small worlds are wandering in pairs, like dancing couples. These are Kuiper Belt binaries, a relatively recent discovery. At the moment there are about 50 known binary objects in that region, all except Pluto/Charon system discovered since 2001. The fast development in this field has been amazing. The number has been growing rapidly, and it continues to grow as better and better telescopes are trained on the edges of the solar system.

Moons of the classical planets (except our own Luna) are generally not taken in consideration in astrological interpretation, but these binary satellites are not just ordinary moons. Binaries are their own kind of entities; a pair is like one unity, a system of consciousness.

The Kuiper Belt

The Kuiper Belt extends from 30 AU to approximately 55 AU from the Sun. An AU is an "astronomical unit," or the average distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The belt remained for a long time only as theory. It's not quite clear who deserves credit for first proposing its existence. In the 1940s, scientist Kenneth Edgeworth concluded that "the outer region of the solar system, beyond the orbits of the planets, is occupied by a very large number of comparatively small bodies." In 1950s astronomer Gerard Kuiper speculated on a similar disc having formed early in the solar system's evolution. There were others, too. Astronomers sometimes use alternative name Edgeworth-Kuiper belt to credit also Edgeworth.

Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. From the time of its discovery until 2006, Pluto was classified as a planet. In 1978 astronomer James Christy discovered Pluto's companion Charon. Charon's satellite status was finally confirmed when Pluto and Charon began a series of mutual eclipses in 1985. The discovery of Charon was, in retrospect, the discovery of the first trans-Neptunian binary -- and thus (in retrospect) also the first Kuiper object beyond Pluto.

Yet the Kuiper Belt remained for an additional 14 years as hypothesized. Then 1992 the first direct evidence for its existence was found. Two passionate and determined astronomers, David Jewitt and Jane Luu, had spent several years in not always so pleasant circumstances on top of Mauna Kea, searching the sky without any certainty that they would actually find anything from the region. Jewitt had told Luu, "If we don't, nobody will."

Finally, after five years of searching, Jewitt and Luu announced the "discovery of the candidate Kuiper belt object" -- 1992 QB1. It is not a binary, but it pointed to the existence of the Kuiper Belt. This was an important step for astronomers; discovering binary Kuiper Belt objects is the next big step.

A Common Center

A binary planet is a pair of worlds that are usually roughly similar in mass. They orbit around their common center of mass, called the barycenter. The barycenter is the point between two objects where they balance each other. In the case of the Earth and its Moon, the barycenter is located inside the Earth, so the Moon is truly a satellite. In the case of Pluto, it and Charon orbit a common point outside either planet. Two other small objects also orbit that point, Nix and Hydra, so the Pluto system is really four points going around one point external to all of them.

The term binary is frequently used to refer to gravitationally bound minor planets regardless of the mutual size of the components. A "true binary" could be defined as a system where the barycenter resides outside of either of the two gravitationally bound bodies. Because these two objects often have similar size, it's not always clear which is the actual trans-Neptunian object and which is the satellite. There are even contact binaries -- the objects are literally touching each other!

Most binaries are believed to have only two objects involved. The pair may have been born like twins, or may be produced by collisions, where a single body is split in two. Systems consisting of more than two gravitationally bound objects can also exist, for example Pluto with its three companions.

The Pluto/Charon System

The Pluto/Charon system is the largest of the binary systems in our solar system. It is unusual among the binary objects in that the two planets are gravitationally locked, so each keeps the same face towards the other. Pluto and Charon revolve around each other every 6.4 days. The distance between the pair is about 19,500 km. Pluto's two small moons Hydra and Nix were discovered in 2005 from Hubble Space Telescope images. They are not orbiting just Pluto but the system's barycenter, which is located between Pluto and Charon. They are Charon's moons as well.

What's interesting about Pluto is that even before Charon was discovered, the most popular philosophy of Pluto considered it a binary idea -- the work of Isabel M. Hickey, which was emphasizing the dual nature of Pluto.

Hickey published her pamphlet Pluto or Minerva: The Choice is Yours in 1973 and proposed that there was what we normally think of as the Plutonian aspect of Pluto, and then the wisdom aspect, which she described as Minerva. She states that Pluto rules the underworld in us as well as the highest part of us. According to her, "Every growth begins in the darkness and grows toward the light." - - - "Pluto represents that life in the dark. Minerva represents the light that is reached when the life force in the seed breaks its shell and pushes through the earth and grows toward that light."

Quoting Hickey further: "Every energy that challenges us has two poles that act as attracting forces. As individuals we are pulled by both of them until we find the balancing force in the third force which is the center between the two opposing pulls."

Also Jeff Green in his Pluto book from 1985 presented his theory of Pluto's polarity point and, at least philosophically, acknowledged Pluto's binary status and the dual principle reflecting in its symbolism.

There is a tendency in astrology to assume that new planets have a negative meaning. They are typically seen in their shadow expression first, if they are seen at all -- which is probably why they tend to be ignored. What Pluto reminds us is that when a binary is involved, there are two sides to the story. Any energy we feel is represented by the main delineation of a planet that happens to have a binary partner will have a distinct other side of the story. This is crucial to remember when proposed delineations, and even recorded observations, dwell on the negative and the fearful.

The Breakthrough

At the time when the second Kuiper Belt binary was found, Pluto was still considered a major planet, so 1998 WW31 often gets the honor of being referred as the first binary Kuiper Belt object. This Cubewano was discovered in 1998 by Marc Buie, and like 1992 QB1, it hasn't been named yet. The Sabian Symbol for the discovery degree is Taurus 23, a jewelry shop. The Sabian Symbols are a degree-by-degree symbolic reference system that helps illustrate and demonstrate the level of astrology that is symbolic. At the discovery the object was tightly opposite Chiron (facing the planet of awareness) and squaring the Lunar nodes (on evolutionary threshold).

The binary companion was identified in April 2001 by Christian Veillet and Alain Doressoundiram. Within only a year after Veillet's discovery, six other Kuiper Belt objects were found to be binaries. "It's amazing that something that seems so hard to do and takes many years to accomplish can then trigger an avalanche of discoveries," has Veillet stated.

Logos and Zoe

A planet called Logos was discovered in 1997 by Jun Chen, Chad Trujillo, Jane Luu, and David Jewitt. It was discovered in Virgo, a Mercury-ruled sign associated with perfectionism, criticism, analyzing and selecting information. The Sabian Symbol for the discovery degree 6 Virgo is a merry-go-round -- an apt image for a pair circling each other on their orbit around the Sun, as it later turned out to be.

Pluto was square Logos at the discovery; Uranus was quincunx Logos and cubewano Varuna (a presence or influence behind everything) was sextile to Logos. So it appeared with much emphasis by established modern planets.

Zoe, the binary companion of Logos, was discovered in 2001 by Keith Noll and Denise Stephens. Logos became the first Kuiper Belt binary that received a name. The naming took place in 2006.

In English, the word logos is the root of log (as in record) and of logic. Astrologically one of the keywords for cubewano Logos is indeed logic. Logic is a special area of philosophy and it is the essence of critical thinking, the ability to think clearly and rationally. Fair-minded critical thinking requires intellectual humility, empathy, integrity, courage and other intellectual traits without of which the process may result in clever, but manipulative thought serving unethical purposes.

Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC) established the term logos in Western philosophy. His main doctrine was the unity of opposites. He thought that all things are composed of opposites, and because the opposites are at strife with one another, all things are in constant change. The change is governed by logos, a principle of order. He also claimed that everything originates out of the logos.

In later times formal logic has been studied in the context of mathematics. The development of formal logic and its implementation in computing machinery is the foundation of computer science. Logic is essential for a scientist and many of the famous developers of historical inventions have a prominent Logos in their birth chart.

Psychologist Carl Jung used the term logos for the masculine principle of rationality. Zoe, the binary companion of Logos could astrologically represent the Sophia aspect -- the wisdom aspect -- of Logos. The Sophia is the feminine aspects of God and resides in all of us as the Divine Spark.

Science and technology can have their shadow side in spite of the progress they offer, and we need to look for the "other side" -- the wisdom of Zoe.

The First Binary Centaur

In 2006 a discovery of the first binary Centaur was announced. Some astronomers use a broader definition of Centaur that also includes planets with Typhon-type longer orbits. Typhon was found in 2002 and Echidna, the companion, was identified in 2006.The Typhon/Echidna system is more tightly bound system than most other known binaries. This binary crosses the orbits of Uranus and Neptune and thus has encountered those giant planets hundreds of times. The pair should have split apart because of the gravity, but for some reason the two stick together.

In Greek mythology Typhon is a monster who was the source of destructive storm winds and volcanic eruptions. Echidna was his wife. Typhon was so huge that his head was said to brush the stars. His name is considered to be a possible etymology for the word typhoon. Indeed, when observing some charts of the worst natural disasters of the recent years we can find binary Typhon quite interestingly situated. In the case of the Tsunami in 2004, the landfall of Super Typhoon Durian in the Philippines in 2006, and California wildfires in 2007, the scale of devastation is as huge as the mythical Typhon was. When delineating the new planets we need to keep an open mind and always look for the other point of view, too.

The First Contact Binary

Kuiper belt binaries are hard to detect, because the objects are so small and close together at a very long distance. However, in 2004 astronomers Scott Sheppard and David Jewitt managed to identify a peanut-shaped contact binary, 2001 QG298. At the discovery this plutino was tightly squaring Chiron. Perhaps some day this little contact binary is going to reveal something important about the origins of our solar system.

Astronomers are interested in binaries precisely because these intriguing objects are offering them the keys to understand the formation and evolution of the solar system. The number of discoveries is now big enough for interesting statistical information and important patterns to emerge. "The Pluto system never fails to reward us when we look at it in new ways," as Dr. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist, noted. His remark can also be applied to astrology; we just need to keep the door open for new ideas.


New Horizons
Distant EKOs
Asteroids with Satellites
Isabel M. Hickey, Astrology, A Cosmic Science, CRCS Publications, 1992
The binary Kuiper Belt Object 1998 WW31
Marc Edmund Jones, The Sabian Symbols in Astrology, Aurora Press, 1993
Nick Kollerstrom, The Metal - Planet Relationship, Borderland Sciences Research Foundation, 1993
Nick Kollerstrom & Mike O'Neill, Eureka Effect, The Urania Trust, 1996
The Theoi Project