Andrew J. Bevan, QHP, DMS Astrol. (c) 1989

The discovery of Uranus

Uranus was discovered by Sir William Herschel on March 13th, 1781 at Bath, England. The exact time of discovery is uncertain, but Herschel records that the new object was sighted on his last attempt of the evening. This would have been quite some time after darkness at 20.30 hrs, but it could not have been much after 23.00 hrs when the rising of the Moon would have made the conditions for stargazing less favourable. Herschel must have had enough time to detect the planetary motion, because in his notes he recorded the new object as a round, nebulous disc, moving slowly against the starry background. Herschel assumed he had discovered a new comet and wrote to the Royal Society announcing it as such. However, a few weeks of observation proved that the new object had an almost circular orbit and lay at a distance of approximately 19 times of that of the Sun and the Earth.

In his book "Uranus", John Townley presented a hypothetical chart for the discovery of Uranus. The chart is cast for moonrise at approximately 23.00hrs, but unfortunately the chart is calculated for London instead of Bath. The discovery was made in Bath. The chart in its new version is calculated for the correct longitude and latitude, but I have also elected a time slightly earlier in the evening, namely 22.35 hrs. We could well imagine Herschel saying to himself at half past ten: "Well, half an hour and the Moon will be up. I'll just have one more look to see what I can put my eye on".


The sign of Leo is on the midheaven and the Royal fixed star Regulus would culminate at 22.38hrs. When Herschel's discovery of the new planet was confirmed, he decided to call it "Novum Sidis Georginium", or "George's new Star" after the British sovereign George III. Some astrologers suggested that Scorpio is the sign of Uranus' exaltation. I am not sure whether it is correct to dignify the outer planets in this fashion, but then the Scorpio ascendant does offer an interesting case. As will be seen in the discovery charts of the other outer planets, the sign of co-rulership is located on the meridian axis, and found either on the MC or the IC, whilst the sign of suggested exaltation always appears on the ascendant (William Lilly says that a planet is located in the sign of its exaltation it is stronger in matters of combat and war, than when situated in the sign of its natural rulership). The fixed star called the Southern Scales is in the ascendant. One of its tributes is that of an immortal name. Uranus is the first planet beyond the mortal sphere of Saturn. A selection of various books on zodiac degrees indicate that the 10th, 10th and 12th degree of Scorpio possess strong Uranian qualities. They are supposed to be prominent in the charts of many astrologers and occultists, and was supposedly in the ascendant of Rudolf Steiner.

Chiron casts it' antiscia to the discovery MC. This suggests the restless nature of the planet Uranus and how it's discovery opened doors to a new era. Uranus is involved in a T-square in the chart with Saturn, Mars and the Sun. Uranus opposite Saturn shows how the two planets represent realities that are worlds apart. Uranus opposite Mars suggests the sometimes rash and vicious action that may come unexpectedly from an outside source. The Saturn/Mars conjunctions symbolises the maximum tension through effort, which occasionally is known to be expressed as destructive behaviour. Because Uranus is not a planet of the mortal sphere of experience, the person with a prominent Uranus often meets a lot of friction in society. The square between Uranus and the Sun strongly accentuates the ego and individuality, but because the square occurs through signs of short ascension, disruptiveness can more easily be channelled into a source of creativeness and inspiration.

There was much turmoil concerning the name of the new planet. The name "Georgian" was used in the Nautical Almanac up to 1850, but the objections outside England had been strongly opposed to this streak of British patriotism. Lalande suggested it went under the name of "Herschels planet", which is still of some current use, but the first and ultimately final name, Uranus, was suggested by Herschels friend and correspondent Johan E. Bode. Nine years prior to Uranus' discovery, in 1772, Bode had released his own book "Anleitung zur Kenntis des gestirnnten Himmel". This book contained a presentation of Johan D. Titius Law discovered in 1766. Titius' Law described the mean distance between the planetary orbits and the Sun in terms of the average distance between the Sun and Earth. Titius had correctly predicted the orbit of the new planet.

Bode had found the name Uranus in classical Greek mythology. All the other planets that were known from ancient times carried the names of mythological gods. Bode reasoned that since Saturn lay in the orbit beyond Jupiter, and Saturn was the mythological father of Jupiter, then the next planet up from Saturn should be the mythological father of Saturn. Hence arises the name of Uranus. Bode also suggested a symbol for Uranus; the Mars symbol stood upright with a dot added to the centre. Landale suggested that Herschel’s own initial be incorporated in the symbol. Both symbols are in current use.

Sir William Herschel was born under the name Frederich Wilhelm Herschel on Nov. 15, 1738 at Hanover in Germany. He had lived in England for 14 years before the discovery of Uranus, but it doesn't seem too unlikely that the discovery of Uranus played a part in his change of name to William. Naturally, the English would like the discoverer of the new planet to sound British.

Herschel was the son of a musician in the Hanoverian guard. Following his fathers footsteps, Frederich became a musician and in 1757 he was sent to England to make a living. In 1766 he gained a post as an organist at Bath and in the coming 5-6 years he became the leading authority on music. Astronomy was Herschel’s passionate interest and he would devote any time he could spare to the study of the heavens. Telescopes of those days were very expensive to obtain, and also not very efficient. Herschel had a small 2-inch Georgian reflector. Finding it impossible to obtain a telescope of his own requirements, he decided to cut his own; - a very toiling job indeed. However, in 1774 his home-maid Newtonian telescope stood complete with a focal length of 6 feet. After the discovery of Uranus, Herschel was invited by George III to become Royal Astronomer in 1772. Herschel accepted and moved first to Datchet and then to Slough in 1786. In 1789 Hershel built a 48-inch reflector that became the largest telescope of its kind for over half a century.

The discovery of Uranus completely disrupted the traditional view of the Solar system; consisting of the Sun, Moon and five planets. Although it was accepted that the Earth itself was a planet orbiting the Sun, the two lights and the five planets still represented a divine picture. For surely it was true that Man was created in the image of God? There were two sexes, man had two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet, etc... all a reflection of the Sun and the Moon. In addition he had five senses, five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot, five extreme points on his body. Surely nobody was suggesting that Man had a sixth sense??? Well... actually, those people with excellent eyesight do claim it is possible to see Uranus with the naked eye...., although it does remain invisible to the rest of us.

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