Discovery - Chart
Naming | See also: Neptune - Pluto
The discovery of Uranus
It has often been remarked that the discoveries of the outer planets were shadowed by events characteristic of them; perhaps they could not be discovered until the world was ready for them. Uranus, which is occasionally visible to the naked eye, must have been seen many times before its discovery. The first recorded sighting was in 1690 by the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed, who failed to notice its motion, and so entered it into his star catalogue as 34 Tauri. In the course of the next century several other astronomers recorded its position. The most unfortunate of these was P. Le Monier, who observed Uranus eight times in four weeks, but failed to realise it was a planet because it was in its station.
The discovery of Uranus is attributed to William Herschel, who first saw it on 13 March 1781 when trying out a new telescope. This was powerful enough to show it as a disk rather than a point of light, so it was clearly not a
fixed star, and Herschel announced that he had found a comet. But the French comet-hunter Charles Messier pointed out that it did not look like one, and by May it was realised that a new planet had been found. Although Herschel had not initially realised the significance of his sighting, the chart is clearly meaningful. Its most striking feature is the T-square involving Uranus opposite Mars and Saturn, squared by the Sun. One may say that the Sun brought the new planet to light, and Saturn brought it down to earth. The Uranus-Saturn cycle is associated with the natural sciences and Herschel had been born at a previous opposition. There does seem to be something inhuman about this T-square; the fact that the Moon, Venus, and Mercury are all unaspected makes it worse. The chart can be read as the nativity for the age of scientism: intellect (Uranus in Gemini) without feelings (Moon and Venus) or reason (Mercury), compounded with arrogance (Saturn-Mars-Uranus).
The discovery of Uranus has often been connected with both the American and French revolutions, but there was an important distinction between them. The Americans, acting before the discovery, created a new state based on existing principles; the French, in the full spirit of Uranus, attempted to create an entirely new society, with new laws, weights and measures, calendar, and religion. At the time of the declaration of the French republic, directed Uranus in the discovery chart had reached the square of radical Neptune, while by transit it trined the radical Mars-Saturn midpoint: clear indicators of fanatical ideas ruthlessly applied.
The discovery chart also demonstrates the association of Uranus with aviation. The Montgolfier brothers launched their hot air balloons in 1783, with Uranus transiting the square of radical Mercury. When the Wright brothers made their flight in 1903, transiting Uranus opposed its radical place. In 1961, when Yuri Gagarin made the first space flight, transiting Uranus was trining the radical Mars/Saturn midpoint.
The Naming of Uranus
Herschel first called the new planet the Georgian Star, after King George III, and that name was used by the Nautical Almanac until as late as 1850. The name Uranus was proposed by Johann Bode when the planet was discovered, on the basis that Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus constituted a sequence of generations in mythology. It did not catch on with British astronomers until John Adams persuaded the Nautical Almanac to change, while British astrologers continued to call it by the name of its discoverer for many years.
The Greek name Ouranos refers to the sky. In one account, all the gods were said to be descended from the earth and sky, Gaia and Ouranos, a myth found in many parts of the world. Ouranos was too much of an abstraction to have much in the way of mythology, other than the story of his castration and deposition by his son Kronos (Saturn). Robert Chandler ('Uranus and Prometheus', Astrological Journal, vol. 38, no. 1) has pointed out that the myth is actually shown in the discovery chart: Saturn opposing Uranus with the aid of Mars (surgery).
Unlike the modern friends of the asteroids, earlier astrologers did not rely on the mythological associations of the name to determine the nature of Uranus. When John Varley and John Corfield did that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was by observing its effects in nativities.
Source for chart data: Nick Campion's Book of World Horoscopes
David McCann is an authoritative expert on the history and philosophy of astrology. His articles have been published in many international journals of astrology and he was a regular contributor to the Traditional Astrologer magazine, where this article first appeared.
© David McCann