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  Home   |   Articles   |   Book Reviews   |   Star Gazing   |   Astro*Weather   |   Everyday Astrology    


Astrology Articles
Article Title: About Neptune
Date Published:
- by Clarke  Fountain
In Astronomy
The fourth largest planet in the solar system, Neptune, was the first planet in the solar system to be discovered through the application of the laws of celestial mechanics to observed phenomena. That is to say that a number of people noticed that the orbit for Uranus showed unusual characteristics that led them to believe that another planet lay just beyond. The observation was that Uranus seemed to speed up, moving faster than its orbital position should allow according to Newton's laws.

As seems entirely appropriate, given the qualities later assigned to the planet by astrologers, the credit for this discovery cannot readily be assigned to a single individual. With the wisdom that comes with hindsight, we know that Galileo saw Neptune in his telescope in 1613, thinking it was a star. Cloudy skies prevented him from observing that it moved faster than a star should. Neptune continued in obscurity until 1845, when an amateur astronomer named John Couch Adams sent calculations to the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich predicting the location of a planet beyond Uranus. Unfortunately, his lack of prominence led to his calculations being ignored. It was only after the respected French mathematician Le Verrier's work was published, predicting another planet, that the British Astronomer Royal (Sir George Airy) noticed the similarity between Adams and Le Verrier's work and began to search for the planet in the part of the sky both gentlemen predicted it would appear in. His lack of success is attributed to his lack of up-to-date star maps.

Instead, on September 23, 1846, the Berlin Observatory's Johann Gottfried Galle located the planet using a star map of the area where Neptune should be, and the discovery was confirmed a few days later when it was shown that the observed point had moved in the predicted direction. Galle was using only the calculations provided by Le Verrier. Credit for the discovery was in dispute for a very long time.

Aside from its orbit, in many ways Neptune closely resembles Uranus. It, too, has a sizeable rocky core, and is at the same time a gas giant. Both of them have a faint greenish blue color. Unlike Uranus, however, Neptune radiates slightly more energy than it takes in from the Sun. It has a magnetic field that seems to be generated off-center, just beyond its rocky core, and its angle of rotation is on a par with that of the other planets. Like the other gas giants, Neptune also has a set of rings surrounding it, though these are so faint that they were originally thought to be "ring arcs."

Much of what we now know about Neptune comes from Voyager 2 fly-by of August 25, 1989, which took it to the amazingly close distance of 3,010 miles of the planet (4,850 km). At that time Neptune showed signs of a vast planetary storm system resembling Jupiter's "great red spot." Interestingly, the storm did not show in 1994 observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope. It is believed that this great storm system may still be active, but have been masked or hidden by other layers of the planet's atmosphere. The atmosphere demonstrates tremendous wind speeds (2000 km/hour) that are difficult to explain given its distance from the sun and relatively small degree of internally generated heat. In fact, these are the fastest winds in the solar system, and they pose quite a mystery for astronomers.

One of the more unusual things about Neptune is its moon, Triton, which is not only very geologically active, but is in retrograde motion around the planet (it moves in the opposite direction from the planet's rotation). It is the only planet in the solar system in retrograde motion. Due to this peculiarity, Triton is spiraling "swiftly" towards Neptune, and it will soon (as these things go, between 10 and 100 million years) be torn asunder by gravitational forces. Fragments from the destruction of Triton should contribute mightily to Neptune's rings. Triton is one of only two planetary moons known to have an atmosphere; a distinction is shares with Saturn's moon, Titan. It is also one of the few moons known to have active volcanoes.

In Mythology
The Roman god Neptune (whose symbol is the trident) started out as a god of rivers and streams, but got "promoted" when the Romans wanted someone to occupy an equivalent place to the Greek god Poseidon. After wresting control of the heavens from their father Cronos, Zeus ruled above, Hades ruled the underworld, and Poseidon ruled over rivers, seas and oceans - as well as earthquakes and storms.

Many are the stories of Poseidon's amorous adventures, and of his disputes with beings of all types. His warlike temperament served the gods well in their dispute with the Titans, and Poseidon was responsible for the bronze gates which imprisoned the Titans in their exile in the deeps of Tartarus. Poseidon had a very fierce temper, hence the earthquakes and storms he was believed responsible for, but was also the protector of those who were in his favor. For a seafaring people like the Greeks, he was a very important deity indeed.

In Astrology
Neptune is the second of the "transpersonal" planets, and is completely invisible to the naked eye (unlike Uranus which I believe can be faintly seen by those who know exactly where to look). Most modern astrologers consider that it is the ruler of the sign Pisces. Its energy is considered to by "mystical" and "dissolving." It governs grand illusions, oil, drugs (especially the mind-altering variety) and narcotics. It is considered to have the positive quality of spiritual inspiration, and Robert Hand has likened it both to the Hindu and Buddhist deity/principle of Maya (the illusion of the world as we see it) and the transcending of Maya. Neptune's influence causes mere mortals to stumble when they attempt to put it into the service of their egos, as it is adamantly transpersonal. It works better when the ego is entirely set aside, but in those cases has been known to have a devastating effect on the outer or ordinary life.

Close Neptune contacts to inner planets can diminish confidence and vitality, and increase confusion. Dishonesty is one of the principle negative results of Neptune contacts, while principled honesty even at the expense of one's life is a "positive" result. Dire though this sounds, self-deception is the usual form that Neptunian dishonesty takes. Special discernment (a Uranian quality?) is the key requirement for dealing successfully with Neptunian energies. Reconciling personal needs with transcendent principles is perhaps the main dilemma posed by this planet's energies. The worst thing one can do with Neptunian energies is to "immantize the eschaton," or "make gods into demons" by concretizing or arrogating to the material world that which cannot be fixed in that manner. In a slightly more esoteric (!) vein, Neptune is considered to be the "higher octave" of Venus. In this respect, Neptune is connected to music and the making of music, and with higher-order harmonies of all kinds. Certain kinds of creativity (e.g., poetry and composing music) are attributed to the influence of Neptune.

Neptune Astronomical Data
Mean distance from Sun 2,798,800,000 miles (4.5 billion km, 30.06 AU)
Diameter at equator 30,800 miles (49,400 km)
Mass (Earth = 1) 17.15 (or 1.0247e26 kg)
Mean Density (water = 1) 1.64
Angle of Orbit 1.774
Tropical Orbit (days) 60,190 days (or 164.1 years)
Length of Day (hours) 16.7
Obliquity to Orbit ("tilt") 28.80 (compare this with earth's 23.45 degrees)
Number of Rings 4
Number of Moons 8

Moons of Neptune
Name Date Discovered Discovered by: Distance (000 km) Radius (km)
Triton 1847 Lassell 355 1350
Nereid 1949 Kuiper 5509 170
Naiad 1989 Voyater 2 48 29
Thalassa 1989 Voyager 2 50 40
Despina 1989 Voyager 2 53 74
Galatea 1989 Voyager 2 62 79
Larissa 1989 Voyager 2 74 96
Proteus 1989 Voyager 2 118 209

Copyright: Clarke Fountain

Bio: Clarke  Fountain

Clarke Fountain has been studying astrology with varying levels of intensity since the 1960s, is a U.S. Navy veteran, and gave his first professional reading in 1977 in San Francisco. After years of doing every kind of job under the sun, he earned an M.A. in Buddhist Studies from the Naropa Institute (as it was then called) in 1989 and at that time became involved with aspects of publishing. Astrology has been one of the few consistent threads in his otherwise extremely varied life, and he is delighted to have the opportunity to serve the astrological community as the Editor for “Astro Talk Online Astrological Magazine.”

Other articles by Clarke Fountain:

A Quick Look at the Veep-stakes in 2000   
About Jupiter   
About Mars   4/1/2001
About Saturn   
About Uranus   
About Venus   5/1/2001
Getting The Most from Your Computerized Astrology Program   
Interview with Gloria Star   
Interview with Steven Forrest and Jeffrey Wolf Green   5/1/2001
Newspaper Horoscopes, Sun-Sign Guides, and Pure Bunkum   
Pluto Statistics   
Question: Who Are Your Astrological Heroes?   5/1/2001
Symptoms of Virgo…   
The Encyclopedic Chiron   

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