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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

As we reported on this program yesterday, astronomers are debating the definition of a planet, and when the debate is over, Pluto could be demoted from planetary status. There was a proposal that would have debased that status by the addition of perhaps dozens of more round heavenly bodies of a certain size that circle the sun, but that proved a non-starter with the astronomers.

V: the astrologers. Robert Hand is an astrologer in northern Virginia. Mr. Hand, do you count Pluto as a planet?

ROBERT HAND: Functionally speaking, yes. Our definition of planet is actually the original one, which is a body that can be seen to move with respect to the fixed stars. And we do in fact have the same problem the astronomers have, which is with the advent of all of these new bodies, where do we draw the line? We don't have a standard answer to that question.

SIEGEL: There are people who have consulted astrologers.

HAND: Yes.

SIEGEL: I'll leave that judgment to them to make, but they've been told their future has something to do with Pluto. Can Pluto actually figure in somebody's astrological chart?

HAND: I think the overwhelming judgment of people who do astrology is the answer is yes. However, Pluto is not entirely an independent body. Throughout all of recorded history its orbit with respect to the orbit of Neptune has been, relatively speaking, fixed. Every time the two planets have come together in the last several thousand years, they've come together near the same fixed star in Taurus. So my theory, and this is my theory and it's only mine - I'm not saying that by way of bragging, I'm saying that by way of taking responsibility for it - is that Pluto and Neptune are two aspects of a single entity. And Neptune is what gives it the status.

SIEGEL: Well, let's say that the astronomers' union downgrades Pluto and says that indeed in order to be a planet, you've got to be bigger than that. What do you do?

HAND: Probably not much because our definitions are, of necessity, somewhat independent of the astronomers. You should know that there are astrologers who experiment with all manner of orbiting bodies. Some people use comets. A minor planet called Tiron(ph), which orbits between Uranus and Saturn, is in widespread use. It's really a matter of whether astrologers feel they can meaningful symbolism out of the thing rather than strictly speaking any kind of physical reality.

SIEGEL: You know, one of our listeners heard our correspondent David Kestenbaum's piece yesterday about this controversy and sent us an e-mail saying that he had had his chart done some years ago, and the position of Pluto led the astrologer to conclude that he would never marry. Therefore he wonders whether, indeed, that forecast might be rescinded based on the new status of Pluto, should it change.

HAND: It's not necessary to rescind that forecast. It should never have been made. No planet is capable of indicating absolutely, that a person can't get married. All a planet can do is indicate what a person has to do in order to get married.

SIEGEL: Aha.

HAND: And sometimes that requires so much work on the part of a person that they're not likely to do it, but it isn't actually the planet that's preventing it, it's the person's own inclinations. I consider a forecast like that to be malpractice, and I have a lot of company.

SIEGEL: Well Mr. Hand, thank you very much for talking with us.

HAND: You're welcome. Robert Hand is an astrologer who spoke to us from his home in northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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