This month marks the 172nd anniversary of the discovery of Neptune, the only planet in our system that can’t be seen with the naked eye, and this week, it comes to its annual opposition with the Sun.
The conditions of Neptune’s discovery in September of 1846 involved the primary work of two scientists: the French astronomer Urbain Joseph Le Verrier; and the English astronomer John Couch Adams. Independently of one another, Le Verrier and Adams used mathematic calculations to predict the presence of a further celestial body beyond Uranus. Adams’ superiors supported his work, but didn’t anticipate any discovery in it, while Le Verrier grew so restless with the lack of interest on the part of his French colleagues that he sent his calculations to Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory, who then discovered the planet within one hour of beginning his search, based on Le Verrier’s predictions.
Interestingly, there is evidence that Neptune had been seen and recorded at least three times before it was actually realized as a planet: by Galileo 200 years earlier; by Jerome Lalande in 1795, and by William Herschel’s son John in 1830 (William was famous for discovering Uranus).
Mythologically, Neptune is god of waters, and though the planet appears blue in telescopes, this is because of methane in its atmosphere, not because of water on its surface.
Astrologically, Neptune is associated with spirituality, mysticism, and illusion, and when it stands on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun, as it will Friday this week, then it’s like imaginations and dreams shift into overdrive. What you want to be aware of is the same kind of confusion and illusion that surrounded Neptune’s discovery: seeing something but not knowing what it is; anticipating an outcome but not having the support of your peers; until ultimately you break through the clouds and mist into clarity.