Posted by: bullyforme | August 5, 2009

The Pluto Entry (or Who Died and Made You King of the Universe?)

Who Died and Made You King of the Universe?

I’m not sure if anyone finds it very newsworthy, but Pluto has just become the “former” ninth planet of our solar system.

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I’ve always liked astronomy. I had a thing for planets as a preteen, and most kids do at some point. My youngest son’s room is decorated with a space theme, some of the items culled from my oldest son’s former decor. My father and brother are die-hard Star Trek fans. I fell in love with Ed Harris when I first saw “the Right Stuff.” He’s cute and an ASTRONAUT TOO? What is there NOT to love?

Anyway, most kids are drawn to Saturn, for its rings…or Uranus, for its humorous possibilities (“Why is the Starship Enterprise like toilet paper? Because it’s always circling around Uranus looking for Klingons”)…or Jupiter for its big red eye. I on the other hand chose Pluto as my favorite planet. I loved dogs as a kid, and Mickey’s dog Pluto was of course the ideal pet. Floppy hound dog, good nature, big bump on top of head… I couldn’t help associate the adorable cartoon dog Pluto with the planet Pluto. The fact that it was the farthest out there and didn’t orbit in a traditional circle had an almost human attraction for me – have I not always been the farthest out there, circling in my own peculiar orbit? That it was the smallest planet held an appeal to me too. I’ve always loved things wee in nature. Mercury too hot, Mars too overplayed, Earth too familiar, Venus too boring, Neptune – isn’t that some cranky guy from the Little Mermaid?…Pluto was a natural as my planet of choice.

Now “they” have decided that Pluto can no longer be a planet. They’ve kicked the little underdog right out of the clique. I was shocked! I don’t pretend to follow modern astronomy. I love looking at the constellations on clear nights, staying up for meteor showers, and knowing that our little planet is circling with all our brothers and sisters right around our communal sun, every day, every year, and all is well in…well…the universe. I don’t know much more than that if it’s not broadcast in the news – which this little tidbit about Pluto happened to be.

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I started thinking to myself. Now, who on Earth could “they” be…”those” so powerful that “they” could decide to kick out a planet that has been with us for centuries? Did God Himself come down two days ago and deliver the message? I decided to do a bit o’ googling today. Here is what I discovered.

Pluto’s planet status has been “hotly” debated for decades. Apparently the tension over the subject grew to unbearable proportions. (Who knew?) This quote is taken from the New York Times:
“Two years ago, the International Astronomical Union appointed a working group of astronomers to come up with a definition that would resolve this tension. The group, led by Iwan Williams of Queen Mary University in London, deadlocked. This year a new group with broader roots, led by Owen Gingerich of Harvard, took up the problem.

According to the new rules a planet meet three criteria: it must orbit the Sun, it must be big enough for gravity to squash it into a round ball, and it must have cleared other things out of the way in its orbital neighborhood. The latter measure knocks out Pluto and Xena, which orbit among the icy wrecks of the Kuiper Belt, and Ceres, which is in the asteroid belt.”

Okay, that made me feel a little better. Some random telescope enthusiast didn’t just ring up the news stations and declare that Pluto wasn’t after all a planet. And better – the decision wasn’t arbitrarily made by the President because he could push around such a tiny planet so far away from him. There is an official International Astronomical Union, with appointed leaders, made up of members from around the globe. Out of respect or science or possibly fear of world uprising, poor li’l Pluto wasn’t abolished completely, but simply demoted to “dwarf planet,” along with two other little ones previously ignored in bed-in-a-bag sets and school space dioramas.

I guess I’ll just have to trust their judgment. After all, I routinely get my Dippers confused and can’t really tell Aries from Aquarius (don’t tell my kids). I have no real formal education on the subject save an astronomy class I signed up for and then dropped when I realized math was involved (what the flim-flam?).

So I can rest easy, and not worry too much about my son’s Planet Map being a bit off kilter. I can Sharpie over little Pluto, or Sharpie in the new guys. Pluto’s decal will remain on the wall. Pluto’s 3-dimensional ball will remain on the mobile (taking him off would cause it to tilt). Pluto will continue to hunt Chipmunks with Mickey. Pluto will actually gain a little power in the process, forcing taxpayers everywhere to pay for new school textbooks…

Hey…do you think the IAU is in cahoots with the Teacher’s Union?

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Responses

  1. http://tinyurl.com/m35t64

    Hey Pluto may get a second chance!


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