and astronomy of the 7 Centaurs
© Robert von Heeren, 2000-2006
Foreword to the 7-Centaur-Ephemeris, licensed by the publisher.
Reproduction or copying this article into other websites only with the written permission by the publishers.
In general the Centaurs of Greek mythology are well-known for their wild, uncivilized and raw meat eating behaviour. Their drives typically get out of control after consumption of alcohol – rape is often reported in mythology and ancient legends. In battles Centaurs use branches, whole trees or rocks as weapons.
With only a few exceptions (about which we will speak later), these wild Centaurs are the offspring of the union between Ixion and Nephele. According to the ancient records the wild and passionate Ixion (being a normal human) falls in love with Zeuses wife Hera. She doesn’t like his wild overtures and asks Zeus for help. In the beginning he cannot imagine that her complaints could have a true background. So he decides to test Ixion: he creates a cloud which resembles Hera perfectly and lures Ixion to it. Ixion indeed believes that this cloud creature, named Nephele, is the true Hera. Soon he makes love with her. Zeus now has his proof for Ixion’s sinfulness. As a punishment Zeus binds Ixion on a wheel of fire (sometimes it is also explained as a feathered wheel). Nephele later gives birth to a son named Centauros. Like his father he also is human and with the same domination by his physical urges. He unites himself with the wild mares in the mountains of Magnesia of the ancient greece. Their offsprings are the well-known Centaurs – the lower part of their bodies resemble horses, their upper parts are human.
In astronomy the Centaur group has no absolutely clear definiton. The best consens today is: their more or less eccentric orbits are located somewhere between Jupiter and Pluto. Most of the Centaur orbits cross one or even more orbits of main planets and are unstable over long periods of time. Their origin is the Kuiper-belt, a vast ring around the solar system consisting of minor planets, “icy dwarfs”.
The Greek mythology about Chiron is extensive, so I will focus only on some interesting parts.
Chiron’s mythological life can be split into three important phases:
1. 1. Chiron’s birth and origin
2. Chiron’s work as healer and educator of famous heroes
3. Chiron’s wound, terminal illness and release
According to many mythographs, Chiron’s father is the father of the gods, Chronos, and his mother is the nymph Philyra. Therefore Chiron is immortal (no other Centaur is!). Chronos loves Philyra. But Chronos was caught by his wife Rhea in the act. To avoid his idenfication by her, he transformed into a stallion. In most cases this is mentioned as the reason, why Chiron became half a human and half a horse. Chronos denied his son Chiron – this can be seen as some kind of birth trauma. Chiron later became (maybe just because of this birth trauma) a famous and worshipped educator and teacher, who tought the most important Greek heroes as for example Achilleus, Asklepios, Jason and many more. For some of his pupils he was also like a father (see his relationship with Achilleus). He tought them in the art of war (how to cast spears, self-defence, single combat), art of healing (some herbs like Centaury or Chironium still are named after him) and music (on some ancient vases he is seen, teaching Achilleus in playing the lyra). In many ancient poems Chiron is praised as a wise and honourful teacher and healer. Sometimes he is mentioned as the leader of the Centaurs or the most honourable of them all. Someday Chiron was wounded by a poisoned arrow, shot during a wild and chaotic battle by his friend Herakles. The arrow hits Chiron in his knee. Because there is no antidote and because of his immortality, the resulting situation is hopeless: he has to suffer from endless pain, but cannot cure himself inspite of his tremendous healing knowledge. Chiron retires from the world with his pain into his cave. Thanks to Herakles’ effort Chiron will be released from his pain much later: Zeus agrees to Herakles’ and Prometheus’ proposal: Chiron exchanges his immortality with Prometheus’ mortality. So Chiron sacrifices his immortality in order to finally be able to die in peace.
Meaning of the name: Chiron’s name cannot be translated in the scientific, ethymological sense. Its origin probably is a nearly unknown pre-Greek culture and language (that’s also the case for Pholus, Nessus and Chariklo). Similarities with “Chiropractice”, “Chirology” and so on are of course obvious, but from a scientific point of view without any direct relation. Nevertheless the folk etymological associations show how close Chiron is to themes of wholeness and the art of healing. The reason for Charles T. Kowal’s naming proposal was by the way simply an genealogical fact: Chiron’s orbit is located between Saturn (Chronos) and Uranus (Uranos). Chronos is Chiron’s father and Uranos is his grandfather.
Astronomy: 2060 Chiron (“Slow moving Object Kowal“, preliminary designation “1977 UB”) was sighted for the first time by Charles T. Kowal on October 18, 1977, at 9h08m30s a.m. UT using the Palomar Observatory. As the real discovery date Kowal gave us November 1, 1977, around 6 p.m. UT, Pasadena USA. Discovery position: 3°09’ Taurus. Chiron’s orbit is located between Saturn and Uranus. It crosses only Saturn’s orbit a bit to the inside. For a complete revolution around the sun Chiron needs around 50 years. Within the Centaur group Chiron still is an exemption: he is a giant comet with a long tail. Since the astronomers discovered his cometary activity years after his discovery in 1977, Chiron still has two classifications: it is a member of the comet family like 1P/Halley for example is (95P/Chiron = 95th periodical comet Chiron) and it is also part of the group of Centaurs (2060 Chiron), a class of strange minor planets. But Chiron is not a typical comet at all. With a diameter of 288 kilometers it is by far too big for a normal comet (the famous Halley’s comet has in comparison only 10 kilometers in diameter). Furthermore Chiron cannot have a normal cometary activity, during which water vaporizes due to the sun’s radiation. Astronomers assume a so-called cold vulcanism as the true reason. Chiron’s orbit suffers from time to time perturbations mainly caused by Saturn’s gravity. Therefore Chiron’s orbit is unstable, when observed over long periods of time. Chiron’s orbit for example had a close encounter with Saturn in 720 A.D. during which its orbit changed significantly. We only can assume the shape of its orbit before 720 A.D. Even with the most up-to-date calculation methods and orbital elements one cannot compute with 100% accuracy the earlier orbit. An error in the initial elements would result in a dramatically changed orbit before that year. Therefore it doesn’t make any sense publishing ephemerides or computer software, which give Chiron positions for dates before 720 A.D.
In contrary to Chiron, Pholus is not immortal: his father is Silenios and his mother is an ash-tree nymph (a Meliai). The few stories about Pholus’ life tell us that he lives in reclusion, is civilized and a master in haruspicium (an ancient forecasting method using the intestinies). The mythology around Pholus is in comparison to Chiron’s mythology sparse. It mainly concentrates on Herakles’ fourth labour: he is ordered to catch the wild erymanthian boar alive. On the way to that area Herakles visits the “landlord” Pholus. Pholus do welcome him friendly and gives him roast meat, although Centaurs normally eat unroasted raw meat. But Pholus don’t offer Herakles wine. Herakles knows that Pholus is the keeper of an old jar of wine (a gift by Dionysos to the Centaurs four generations ago) and is angry that he is not getting any of that delicious wine. Herakles opens the jar against Pholus’ will without having a premonition of the consequences. The intense smell of the wine reach the wild Centaurs in the valley. Bewitched by this smell and also very angry about the fact that the jar of wine was opened without their agreement, the Centaurs run armed with their typical weapons onto Pholus’ cave. A battle between Herakles and the wild Centaurs begins. Pholus is only a frightened observer. Inspite of their majority Herakles is able to kill or chase away most of the Centaurs with his poisoned arrows. Finally he continues with his task and catches the boar alive. Meanwhile Pholus pulls an arrow out of one of his dead friends, because he is fascinated how such small arrows could kill so strong Centaurs. But before he is able to study it, the arrow slips through his fingers and falls onto his foot. Pholus dies suddenly due to the poisoned arrow and because of his mortality. On his way back Herakles finds the dead Pholus and is very sad about the fate of his friend. To honour him Herakles buries Pholus under the mountains named Pholoë.
Meaning of the name: The name “Pholus“ (Greek Pholos) cannot be translated. The Greek word “pholis“ (scale, plate) is a bit similar, but there is no etymological proof that “Pholus” has a direct connection to “pholis”. But the “scaling” theme on the other hand often plays a major role during Pholus’ transits. The discoverer initially wanted to name it “Chaos“ (due to its unstable orbit). But members of IAU’s naming comitee preferred to name it after another civilized Centaur, because they believed that Pholus and Chiron together belong to a new class of minor planets.
Astronomy: 5145 Pholus (1992 AD) was dicovered by David L. Rabinowitz on January 1, 1992, at 9h01m22s a.m. UT, Kitt Peak Tucson, Arizona. Discovery position: 0°36’ Leo. Pholus orbits between Saturn and Neptune and crosses both orbits. One can say that Pholus builds a bridge between Saturn and Neptune (as Chiron builds a bridge between Saturn and Uranus). In comparison to Chiron’s orbit Pholus’ is far more eccentric and inclined (24 arcdegrees). Its diameter is approximately 192 km. Pholus is for example 23 years in Capricorn (Aphelion sign) and only 1.5 years in Cancer (Perihelion sign). For one cycle around the sun Pholus needs 91 years. In similarity to all Centaur orbits also Pholus’ orbit is not stable over long periods of time.
Besides of Chiron and Pholus, Nessus is the third Centaur playing an important role in Greek mythology. Although nothing can be found about his parents and ancestors, the most important myth tells us the story of an encounter with Herakles and his wife Deianeira. Nessus (Greek Nessos) is said to be a righteous ferryman at the river Evenus. One day Herakles and Deianeira arrive at this river, which is deep and wide. Nessus makes an offer to Herakles: he would like to bring Deianeira safely on his back to the shore on the other side. For this honour Nessus would waive on his obligatory contribution. Herakles accepts Nessus’ offer. In the middle of the river, Nessus tries to rape Deianeira, so she calls for help. Herakles still is on the shore and shots one of his poisoned arrows towards Nessus. The arrow hits Nessus in his chest and heart. But he doesn’t die immediately: he hauls himself and Deianeira to the opposite shore. Herakles has not yet arrived, so Nessus takes advantage of this moment and simulates his regret. As some kind of compensation for his sinfulness, he „reveals“ a magic: she should collect and keep a bit of his blood. In case she ever is in fear about her husband’s faithfulness, she should collect a small portion of his blood to soak his underwear. Deianeira believes him and follows his suggestion without Herakles’ knowledge. Much later, Nessus has passed away for a long time, the critical situation indeed becomes real: Deianeira receives a message that her husband possibly is betraying her with another woman called Iole. Now she remembers Nessus' “magic“. She puts drops of Nessus’ blood onto Herakles’ underwear, which is a present for her husband. Immediately after Herakles’ has put on this cloth, the poisoned blood burns his skin. With tremendous pain Herakles tries to ged rid of this vest, but it sticks on his skin. Finally Herakles realizes that he cannot escape his death. So Nessus succeeds in his revenge a long time after his death. To Herakles it is finally a release: he ascends into heaven, is purified from his negative emotions and is reconciled with his mother Hera.
Meaning of the name: Again the name “Nessus” (Greek Nessos) cannot be translated. In German there is a fascinating similarity to the stinging nettle (German: Brennessel). Although this is only a coincidence it is nevertheless interesting, because the burn on the skin caused by contact with the stinging nettle gives us a good impression of Herakles’ pain as he came in contact with the poison-soaked vest. Nessus was the first minor planet which received a name proposed by astrologers. See the naming chart.
Astronomy: 7066 Nessus (1993 HA2) was discovered by David L. Rabinowitz on April 26, 1993, 6h45m46s a.m. UT, Kitt Peak, Tucson, Arizona. Discovery position: 4°49’ Scorpio. Its orbit joins the orbits of Saturn and Pluto. But Nessus does not cross Saturn’s orbit. It moves far beyond Pluto’s orbit. Hence Nessus bridges between Saturn and Pluto. This fact was the main reason for the naming proposal. It’s period is 120 years. Diameter: 58 km. Nessus, Pholus and Chariklo have the most reddest color in its spectrum among the Centaurs. Also fascinating: the first Centaur Chiron bridges Saturn and Uranus, the second Centaur Pholus bridges Saturn and Neptune and the third Centaur Nessus bridges Saturn and Pluto!
The fourth Centaur has not got an official name yet. The Centaur Research Project recently made its proposal to the Internationalen Astronomical Union: Pylenor. This was a Centaur mainly wellknown for his unpleasant smell (probably sulfur). In Greek mythology Pylenor is mentioned by Pausanias, Description of Greece, Elis 1, Book 5.5. There Pausanias speaks about legends from the foul-smelling river Anigrus. Some of them tell the story that either the wounded Chiron or Pylenor once came to this river to clean their wounds. They were wounded by Herakles’ poisoned arrows, which were soaked with Hydra’s blood. Therefore Pylenor’s blood also was poisoned. So that was a good explanation for the foul-smell of the river. Its water was for all times undrinkable.
Meaning of the name: “Pylenor“ can be translated in “the man from the door“. I have to note here that the reader should not take it for granted that the IAU will follow our naming proposal. Of course the CRP will follow the IAU’s naming, in case it will decide to choose a different name.
Astronomy: 1994 TA (still unnumbered) is very small (diameter: 40 km) and dark. It was discovered by David Jewitt and Jane Luu on October 2, 1994, at 11h28m36s a.m. UT, Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Discovery position: 18°31’ Aries. 1994 TA moves similarly to Chiron between Uranus and Saturn. But in contrary to Chiron is the fact that 1994 TA does cross the orbit of Uranus instead of Saturn’s orbit. Period: 69 years. 1994 TA can hardly be observed due to its darkness. Therefore there are not enough measurements to derive its orbit with 100% accuracy. The error in positions for 1994 TA can be within one arcminute in 1900, increasing to several arcminutes for earlier centuries.
In mythology Asbolus is mentioned mainly by Ovid in his twelfth book of metamorphoses. Asbolus here is a wise leader of the wild Centaurs and a seer (in Roman an augur = his forecasting based on the flight formations of birds). During the battle between the Centaurs and their relatives, the Laphites, Asbolus tries without success to prevent the Centaurs from carrying on. He feels that this battle will end in a catastrophy for the Centaurs. But on the other hand when Nessus tries to escape the battle, because he is in fear for his life, Asbolus encourages him to continue. Asbolus says to Nessus: "Nothing will happen to you, because your destiny is Herakles' arrow". According to another mythograph, Tzetzes, Asbolus is responsible for the run of the wild and drunken Centaurs onto Pholus’ cave, which finally led to Pholus’ death. As a punishment for killing his friend Pholus Herakles crucified Asbolus some time later.
Meaning of the name: “Asbolus“ (Greek Asbolos) comes from charcoal dust or soot and probably has its origin in the charcoal burners of the ancient greece. They got black from the soot during the production of charcoal. Asbolus and Chariklo both got their names at the same time on September 30, 1999, at 4h55 p.m. UT, Cambridge, USMA. This time also the IAU followed the naming proposal by CRP.
Astronomy: 8405 Asbolus (1995 GO) was discovered by James Victor Scotti on April 5, 1995, at 9h26m20s a.m. UT, Kitt Peak, Tucson, Arizona. Discovery position: 7°46’ Libra. Its very eccentric orbit joins Jupiter’s and Neptune’s orbit. Asbolus does not cross them. Period: 76 years. Diameter: 53 km. The Hubble Space Telescope recently found a very differentiated spectrum for Asbolus which indicates that Asbolus has a big crater on its surface. This is very interesting to the scientists, because they assumed that Centaurs were “primitive” solar system objects. Now they understand that Centaurs are more complex than expected.
Hylonome is one of the very few female Centaurs in mythology. She is only mentioned by Ovid in his already mentioned twelfth book of metamorphoses. In the middle of the terrible battle Ovid tells us a touching and at the same time sad love story (an very early version of “Romeo and Juliet”): Hylonome is a beautiful, well-groomed and civilized female Centaur, who is in love with the also very beautiful young Centaur Cyllarus. He was wounded during the battle by a spear. Although the wound was not deep, he dies in the arms of his beloved. Full of despair about his death Hylonome kills herself with the same spear.
Meaning of the name: the name “Hylonome“ (Greek Ylonome) can be translated into “She, who is living in the forest“. Ovid says also that she is a beauty, who often takes a bath in the forrest rivers. Hylonome is the fourth Centaur, which got its name thanks to the astrologers of the CRP. The official announcement of the naming occurred on July 27, 2000, at 5h23m p.m. UT, Cambridge, USMA.
Astronomy: 10370 Hylonome (1995 DW2) was discovered by D. Jewitt and J. Chen on February 27, 1995, at 10h05m39s a.m. UT, Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Discovery position: 4°42’ Libra. Hylonome has a rare low-eccentricity orbit between Uranus and Neptune. She is one of the very few female Centaurs, which do not move close to Saturn. Due to this unusual property and the low eccentricity – a relative "round " and balanced orbit – it was clear to CRP to propose here a female Centaur. When Hylonome moves through its closest orbit point to the sun (Perihelion) it touches the orbit of Uranus but without crossing it. During its aphelion passage (farthest point to the sun) Hylonome crosses Neptune’s orbit a bit. Period: 124 years. Diameter: 130 km.
Chariklo is Chiron’s wife. On ancient vases and reliefs she is not shown as a female Centaur, but as a human woman. Her noble nature, beauty and culture is emphasized in this depictions with her famous heavenly companions: Iris and Demeter for example. Together with Chiron she has a daughter named Endëis, sometimes also named Okyrhoe or Melanippe. In Greek mythology there is also another Chariklo, which is mentioned with no connection to Chiron as the mother of the famous and blind seer Teiresias. It is not clear whether both are the same Chariklo – probably this is not the case.
Meaning of the name: her name can be translated to: “famous of her grace”. Furthermore it is worth noting that Chariklo is a najade, a nymph of the waters. The ancient Greek mythographs tell us that the water nymphs have foreseeing, wise and healing abilities. It is interesting that just she became Chiron’s wife. And also her daughter obviously inherited her foreseeing talent. (By the way: the name Okyrhoe was mentioned by the CRP to IAU as a good name for the eighth Centaur 1998 SG35 , whose orbit is located between Jupiter and Saturn). And the name for Chariklo also was proposed by CRP. (For the official announcement of the naming see Asbolus).
Astronomy: 10199 Chariklo (1997 CU26) was discovered by James Victor Scotti on February 15, 1997, at 2h51m15s a.m. UT, Kitt Peak, Tucson, Arizona. Discovery position: 6°04’ Leo (involved in a complete hexagram!). With 302 km in diameter Chariklo is one of the biggest Centaurs. Its orbit is unusual in comparison to other Centaur orbits: Chariklo does not cross any other major-planet orbit. Its orbit is nearly a circle between Saturn and Uranus. The neighbourhood to Chiron and the small eccentricity motivated us to propose again a female Centaur. Being very unsual for other Centaur orbits not to cross any other major-planet orbit it made sense to us choosing a name of a water nymph which has a close relation to the Centaur Chiron. Furthermore astronomers found to their surprise typical traces of water ice within Chariklo’s spectrum. Chariklo’s period is 62 years.
 You will find more astronomical data in the tables at the end of this book. Discovery charts, orbit plots and other infos are available at the Homepage of the Centaur Research Project (German-English): http://www.centaurresearchproject.de/menu/home.shtml.
 More mythology to Chiron and Pholus are available in German in my book " Pholus - Wandler zwischen Saturn und Neptun ", Co-author Dieter Koch, Chiron Verlag Mössingen, and in several German and English articles by me and other members of the CRP, which are also available at the CRP-Homepage mentioned before.
 The symbol for Chiron was created by an anonymous American artist. Initially it was a “K” above an “O”-val, representing the abbrevation for the pan “Kowal’s Oval” or “Kowal’s Object”. It is also the half of the Greek letter Kappa in capitals or half of a cross. More than 50 American astrological comitees agreed in a democratic election on this symbol proposal.
 The symbol for Pholus is a half of the Greek letter Phi in capitals which is the first letter in “Pholus”. The Phi is on top of the basis ellipse, representing the eccentric orbit of Pholus. Author: Robert von Heeren.
 The symbol for Pylenor was created by the author on November 27, 2000 but is still preliminary. It is the Greek letter Pi in capitals (representing the first letter in the name Pylenor) above the basis ellipse, which is common to all Centaur symbols.
 Asbolus’ symbol was created by myself and symbolizes the first Greek letter Alpha in capitals on top of the basis ellipse. The A also forms an arrow with its peak to the top/the sky. This reminds us of Asbolus the seer/augur, who red the signs on the sky.
 Hylonome is only mentioned in Ovids book. The name is a Latin version. The Greek version of this name must be written without an “H”, because the Greek alphabet has no "H". Therefore I decided to choose an Ypsilon (for Ylonome) for the symbol, which is located at the top of the basis ellipse typical for all Centaur symbols (representing their elliptical orbits) . The Y symbolizes an arrow with its peak pointing to the bottom or to the inside, to oneself. This is meant as an allusion to Hylonome’s suicide.
 Chariklo’s symbol was created by the Polish astrologer Piotr Piotrowski. It is a “C” or half of the minor Greek letter Kappa on top of the basis ellipse. The “C” also should remind us of the crescent moon and the female nature of Chariklo.