By Julie Loar
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Rumi, Sufi Poet, 1207-1273 CE
In April 2010 an astronomy news story unexpectedly went viral. Astrophysicists J. J. Matese and Daniel Whitmire announced that they had found a “Jovian mass companion” to our Sun in the outer Solar System. If proved, the scenario is breathtaking and would be the biggest news in astronomy since Copernicus informed us that the Earth orbits the Sun. What would this discovery mean to our notion of the Solar System, and what might the impact be to astrology?
As far back as the discovery of Neptune (1846), astronomers have suspected that “something” was affecting the orbits of the outer planets. Although some believed the anomalies were the result of inaccurate measurements at the time, modern astronomers have noticed that comets entering the inner Solar System seem to have been mysteriously kicked out of their orbits and sent hurtling toward the Sun.
Astronomers first postulated the hypothesis for this still-theoretical object in 1987 to account for cycles of mass extinctions that appear in the geological record. In 1984 paleontologists David Raup and Jack Sepkoski examined 250 million years of fossil records and observed that massive species extinction occurred at 65 million year intervals. They could not identify a cause, although it was speculated that the reason was not terrestrial. Two independent teams of astronomers, Davis, Hut and Miller, and Whitmire and Jackson, examined the data and suggested that the Sun had an as yet undetected companion star in a highly elliptical orbit.
The Kuiper Belt, where Pluto orbits, is a band of rocky debris outside the orbit of Neptune. At the far reaches of the Solar System is a sphere of rocky material known as the Oort Cloud that extends to the boundary of the Sun’s gravitational field. Long period comets are thought to originate there. Astronomers believe that the object in question periodically disturbs the orbits of comets in the Oort cloud, deflecting them inward toward the Sun, causing enormous devastation if they impact Earth. This theory became known as the “Nemesis,” or “Death Star,” hypothesis. Nemesis is a Greek goddess whose name means “due enactment,” or “to give what is due.” She was seen as the sinister and inescapable agent of divine retribution, punishing people for misdeeds.
The Nemesis theory fulfills all the requirements prescribed by the Raup and Sepkoski mass extinction timetable. Astrophysicist Richard A. Muller believes that Nemesis is a red dwarf, a relatively small and “cool” low mass star. It’s believed that red dwarfs stars account for roughly 75% of the stars in the Milky Way. Muller imagines that Nemesis would be less than a third the size of the Sun and only 1/1000 as bright. As envisioned by Muller, Davis, and Hut, Nemesis might travel in an elliptical orbit that at its perihelion (closest point), brings it within a half light year of the Sun (one light year is about six trillion miles), and into the midst of the Oort Cloud. The Sun’s closest known neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is about 4.25 light years distant.
Muller thinks Nemesis might be right under our noses, visible with a pair of binoculars, if we just knew where to look. “We see no reason to assume the star is invisible,” says Muller, “since most of the stars in the sky have never had their distance from us measured.” Based on a theoretical orbit derived from original apogees of a number of atypical long period comets, Mueller believes Nemesis will be found in the southern constellation of Hydra, the Water Serpent. The ultimate evidence would of course be finding the Nemesis star, and the WISE telescope (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), obtained an infrared atlas of the whole sky in 2012.
Another group of scientists led by Daniel Whitmire, an astrophysicist with the University of Southwestern Louisiana, and Al Jackson, of the Computer Science Corporation, announced their own theory of a companion to the Sun in the same 1987 issue of Nature as Muller and his colleagues. Although the means of triggering massive extinctions are essentially the same, Whitmire’s group believed that the companion star is invisible: either a brown dwarf, or even a black hole.
Choosing the opposite mythical identity, Whitmire’s team dubbed the object Tyche, goddess of fortune, and the good sister of Nemesis. A brown dwarf is a “failed star” that did not attract enough matter to cause compression that would cause the hydrogen atoms at the core to fuse and ignite. Brown dwarfs cool and fade with time, finally emitting only infrared wavelengths. Currently, Whitmire and J.J. Matese are working at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and published their sensational report in 2010. They believe Tyche is a gas giant roughly four times as massive as Jupiter (not bigger). Whitmire has said that Tyche will probably have colorful spots and cloud bands like Jupiter and will likely have moons.
Scientists estimate that more than 65% of stars have one or more companions that orbit each other, so statistically it wouldn’t be a surprise to discover that our Sun is a binary. At times both stars are massive enough to achieve fusion, and circle each other around a point called the barycenter. At other times, one star achieves enough mass to catch fire. In the case of a brown dwarf companion the smaller body radiates heat and emits a dim glow.
More compelling evidence comes from Mike Brown, head of the Caltech team that discovered dwarf planet Sedna along with Eris, Haumea, Makemake and Quaor. Sedna has an extra-long and unusual elliptical orbit and is one of the most distant objects yet observed, with an estimated orbit of take 10,500-12,000 years.
Brown commented in a Discover magazine article, “Sedna shouldn’t be there. It never comes close enough to be affected by the Sun, but it never goes far enough away from the Sun to be affected by other stars.” He suggested that a massive unseen object is responsible for Sedna’s mystifying orbit, and that its gravity keeps Sedna in its far-distant portion of space. Brown further speculated, “Out to about 1,000 AU where Sedna lives, there could be ten or twenty Pluto-sized objects, and a handful of larger things, too. Some of these suspected worlds could be as big as Mercury, or even Mars.”
Additional support for a binary companion comes from an unexpected quarter. The Hindu Vedas, the ancient wisdom of India, have revealed advanced knowledge that has informed and inspired some of the world’s greatest thinkers. The idea was popularized by Walter Cruttenden, founder of the Binary Research Institute, in his recent award-winning documentary, The Great Year. Hindu cosmology includes an explanation of the phenomenon of Precession of the Equinoxes, through a cycle of ages called Yugas, which are mirrored in the Greek ages.
The mechanism for this is a binary companion of the Sun whose periodic appearance ushers in a golden age, and whose disappearance plunges the world into unconsciousness. In this view, the closer our companion gets, the more light and wisdom increases, so the idea of a goddess who brings good fortune is an apt mythical connection. The Rishis, Hindu sages, taught that this cycle was about 24,000 years, closer to a cycle of Precession, so in this case we would expect the orbit of the star to be much smaller than scientists now believe.
Ancient Indian astronomers went even further, giving a physical reason for how the dual star or binary motion might allow the rise and fall of human consciousness to occur. They said that as the Sun (with the Earth and other planets), traveled along its set orbital path with its companion star, it would cyclically move close to, then away from, a point in space referred to as Vishnunabhi, a supposed magnetic center or “grand center.” Perhaps this is a black hole? This idea is echoed in other philosophies that refer to a Great Central Sun.
Tyche, whose name means “luck,” in Greek, presided over providence, prosperity and the destiny of a city. She was often depicted with a crown that looked like city walls. Holding a rudder, she was the divinity who guided world affairs, and in this respect, she was one of the Greek Fates. Depicted with a ball, she represented the caprice of fortune–unsteady and capable of rolling in any direction. Shown with Ploutos, or the horn of Amalthea, she was the symbol of the plentiful gifts of fortune. Tyche stood on the “wheel of fortune,” which was the zodiac, or wheel of the year. She was Nemesis’s sister and was the positive side of the equation that balanced the dire dispensations of her sibling.
Is Nemesis or Tyche an ominous dark star, a specter of doom, lurking at the edge of the Solar System and making its way toward us, trailing Armageddon in its wake? Or, is this mysterious body a goddess of good fortune, banishing darkness and evil, and bringing the return of a golden age of enlightenment?
The Greeks assigned the heavenly counterpart of Tyche to Virgo, the largest constellation in the sky after the southern constellation of Hydra, the Water Serpent, and Virgo and Hydra share a celestial border. It seems fitting that the largest object orbiting the Sun would be discovered in this region. If Tyche appears in Virgo by Celestial Longitude, she may ultimately and cyclically reveal the deeper significance of this sign, the “hidden light” taught in Alchemy, which must be awakened through spiritual practice.
Hinting at the same knowledge taught in the Vedas, there is another goddess connected with this part of the sky. Her name is Astraea. She was an ancient goddess of justice from a prior golden age who abandoned humanity when the world became too evil. She went to live among the stars, but her myth says she will return when people once again seek her wisdom.
Although the science is still theoretical, if Tyche’s existence is confirmed, I believe its astrological significance will be tied to its identity and nature. If it’s a Brown Dwarf, Tyche may act like a more expansive Jupiter, a goddess of wisdom and good fortune who brings increasing light and wisdom in a cyclical manner as the Vedas indicate. She might be a “failed star” but her periodic proximity to us nevertheless brings the gift of illumination. If Tyche proves to be a Black Hole, then she may act like a more intense version of Saturn’s energy, expressing more in the nature of Nemesis, and bringing tough karmic lessons. And if our star’s companion is a Red Dwarf, then the influence will be like a smaller sun, contributing more intense light, and lessons of the heart, as she cyclically reappears in an ages long cycle.
In late August 2011 NASA released a tantalizing report that WISE’s highly sensitive infrared vision had detected 100 new Brown Dwarfs. In a provocative hint Michael Cushing, a WISE team member at JPL said, “We may even find a Brown Dwarf closer to us than our closest known star.” At a time when the world as we know it seems to be coming apart at the seams, a goddess of good fortune would be welcome indeed. Stay tuned.