Pluto, Phone Home
Just when we thought everything in the solar system was going fine—WHAM—Pluto hits the skids. Here on planet Earth, the latest verdict delivered by the International Astronomical Union, a.k.a. the Big Bureaucratic Bang, strips Pluto of all planetary rank, booting him out of the system like we’re running out of space. The frosty little sphere is found guilty on two charges: of being 1) a lowly Kuiper Belt Object and 2) a dwarf. Pluto has been renamed asteroid #134340 and issued the orange jumpsuit. Sentence is pending. Pluto, my friends, is history.
AND THEN THERE WERE EIGHT: THE STORY YOU HAVEN’T HEARD. The distant member of our solar system is abandoned, left to fend for himself in the frozen Kuiper Belt among gangs of wild asteroids that didn’t make the cut. Pluto is canceled, and we can only guess who’s getting voted off the island next. Rumor has it that the rest of the planets are watching their backs. And Mercury is bulking up. Fast.
The judgment has outraged hundreds of scientists and astrologers, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Orbiting Spheres. Around the world, supporters of the ex-planet formerly known as Pluto are sporting bumper slogans like HONK IF YOU LOVE PLUTO; PICK ON SOMEONE YOUR OWN SIZE; MY 8TH HOUSE IS RULED BY AN ASTEROID?; and NO ICEBALL LEFT BEHIND.
Ever since its discovery in 1930, Pluto has been the quirky, controversial member of the solar litter because he was always, well, different. Pluto is puny. Pluto has a tilted orbit. Pluto chews with his mouth open. Pluto’s temperature is minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit during tourist season. And Pluto’s oversized moon is technically a partner, which makes Pluto a binary planet. A Trans-Neptunian binary planet. And we all know where that slippery slope would lead us.
As the Union maintains, it is not that they loved Pluto less but that they loved the solar system more. And pressure from Pluto’s bigger astral neighbors forced a new definition of planetocity, what with all their whining for consideration. So now it’s not enough that a planet be round and revolving around a star. It must also have sufficient gravity to clean up all astral matter clogging its orbit, also known as The Tidy Bowl Proclamation. When opponents pointed out that even the orbits of Earth and Jupiter are littered with astral bodies, the Union added: Especially if the name begins with P.
Maybe Pluto is an asteroid. Or a meteor. Or cosmic dust. But in today’s modern universe, even an orbiting hunk of debris can grow up to be a planet. Astronomers’ Union, it’s time to start thinking outside the Belt. Or where are we going with this? Join us next time for AND THEN THERE WERE SEVEN: THE STORY YOU HAVEN’T HEARD.
Copyright 2006 Patricia Draznin