Monday, September 26, 2011

Crazy 8

Mathematician, Keith Devlin, a frequent guest on NPR, entitled his popular book, Mathematics: The Science of Patterns, very appropriately because mathematics is truly concerned with the discovery and celebration of patterns.

A few days ago I noticed what appeared to be a symmetry pattern embedded in the eight recognized planets (poor Pluto, once the ninth planet, got the boot a few years ago). To help remember the planets outward from the sun, many mnemonics have been created such as My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Noodles.

As the above diagram shows the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter divides these eight planets into two groups of four each. Almost 12,000 asteroids have been given names, and over 96,000 asteroids have been assigned numbers for identification purposes.

The four planets inside the belt (left of it in the diagram) are commonly referred to by astrologers as the personal planets. Jupiter and Saturn are sometimes termed the social planets, while Uranus and Neptune are called the transpersonal.

When I began looking at pairs of planets symmetrically located about the asteroid belt, indicated by color coding, some curiosities emerged.


  • The initial letters of these two planets’ names, M and N, are the two middle letters in the alphabet, so as a pair they divide the alphabet into two equal parts.
  • Both Roman gods these two planets are named after carried staffs. Mercury held the caduceus and Neptune a trident.
  • There is a similarity in their glyphs in that each is topped by a semi-circle.
  • In astrology Mercury is associated with the rational, conscious mind and Neptune with the intuitive, unconscious mind.


  • Once again we have initial letters, U and V, which are successive in the alphabet.
  • These are the only two planets whose final syllables (-nus) match.
  • The mythological Venus is the Roman equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite. Greek mythology tells us Aphrodite was born from the genitals of Uranus after he was castrated by his son.
  • Flip over the glyph of Uranus, remove the parallel bars, and you have the Venus glyph.

  • To me, the most striking parallel by far is that these are the only two planets that rotate in a clockwise fashion. All the other rotate counterclockwise.


  • In astrology Saturn is strongly linked to time, and sometimes termed, “Father Time.” Are we obsessed with time here on earth? Several years ago the Oxford dictionary announced that the word ‘time” is the most often used noun in the English language.
  • Saturn’s orbital period is approximately 29.5 years which is a nice numerical match to the orbital period of the earth’s only satellite. The moon’s orbital period is about 29.5 days.
  • Our planet is the only one of the eight known to support life, but oddly one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, has often been regarded as a potential base for microbial life.
  • Tellus is a Latin word meaning "earth," and Terra, the root of the word, “terrestrial,” was the Roman earth goddess. Although it’s a more subtle occurrence, if we use either of these two alternative names for Earth, we again have successive letters in S and T.
  • Saturn is frequently referred to as the Lord of Karma, and is closely associated with karma in astrology. It is not unusual to find references in astrological and esoteric literature discussing a link between our planet and karma as well. Many believe that by our callous abuse of Mother Earth we are incurring a collective, karmic debt that by cosmic law will have to be paid for in the future. The esoteric astrologer, Alice Bailey, has written, “Great waves of karmic impact have beaten upon our Earth.” We humans often joke nervously about karma on our planet with phrases like “What goes ‘round, comes ‘round.”


  • For many people, especially those who lived through the 60s, the pairing of these two planets brings a line from the song Aquarius to mind: “When the Moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars”
  • A similarity that is marginal but still bears mentioning is that the mythological gods, Mars and Jupiter, the latter being the Roman version of Zeus, were powerful gods with a distinctly masculine, dominating energy. Mars was the God of War, and Zeus threw the terrifying thunderbolts.

It may all mean nothing, but it’s something to think about when you’re bored.

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