I Just Can't Get Over This Pluto Thing

>> Monday, May 31, 2010

Off and on over the past few months, we have been working on decorating the room that will eventually become Toddler's.  At least, it will become Toddler's when he no longer has the compulsive need to press his face into the bedrails so hard that it leaves marks for hours, and all of Mommy, Daddy, and Toddler are ready to move him further down the hall without tears (by any of us).

One of the "decorations" that came with Toddler's new bed comforter/curtain set is a picture of the solar system for the lucky child to color and hang on his wall.

The only problem is that this picture has only eight planets -- no Pluto.  I still can't get over how wrong this is.  I mean, yes, maybe technically Pluto was misclassified early on, and if we had to do it all over again knowing what we know now, we would have called Pluto a "dwarf planet" all along.  But why do we have to do it all over again?  Why can't Pluto just be special?  By itself, the discovery of Pluto is a mathematical achievement reflecting mankind's growing understanding of the space we occupy in the universe.  The planet is not observable with the naked eye, and yet, with math, we discovered it because of the pull it has on the gravity of the other bodies in the solar system.  None of the other "kuiper belt objects" had enough "pull" to produce that effect, so doesn't that make Pluto an extra-special kuiper belt object deserving of a little bit of respect from us?  Doesn't its discover make it ... say ... a little more like Neptune, which was discovered in the same way?

I mean, this is harder than getting used to the idea that we weren't supposed to call Halley's Comet "Haylies" anymore, but instead we were to call it "Hallies (rhymes with Bally's)".  (I'm really giving away my age here, aren't I?) 

Besides, if we demote Pluto, do we then have to name all of the kuiper belt objects, or at least all of the estimated 200 of them that will likely be dwarf planets?  What happens if all the other kuiper belt objects make fun of Pluto because it actually has a name? I guess Pluto could hang out with the other dwarf planets recognized by the International Astronomical Union (Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris), but shouldn't we at least be sensitive to the issue and aware that we might be setting Pluto up for some bullying?  I mean, with Jupiter as your big brother, who will touch you?  Take that away, and it just might be open season on Pluto.  You don't know.  If there is an increase in asteroid attacks on Pluto, just don't come crying to me for help.  I warned you.

If we de-planetize it, will Congess refuse to fund NASA's proposed missions to Pluto?  (Eh, probably.  They've managed to un-fund everything else, why not this?)  In that case, don't we feel like we are kicking some poor hunk of rock out of not only a home, but a job, too?  How far will the madness go?

What does Mickey Mouse's dog think of all this?

The whole problem stems from the idea that we have no universal definition of a "planet".  I'm not scientist enough to be able to say what that standard should be, but whatever it is, we should make an exception to be sure Pluto gets to stay.  I firmly believe that no matter what, Pluto's time as a planet should not be the Amarna period of cosmology.  We should not be able to just erase it from a few King's Lists and  "George Orwell" it out of existence and pretend it never happened.  Let's just own up to it for what it is -- a hunk of rock the citizens of Earth feel a lot of attachment to, even if it doesn't "technically" qualify for it's title.  After all, plenty of people still count Europe as its own continent, even though it is techincally attached to Asia.  Isn't that pretty much the same concept?

A few years ago I finally tossed out a poster from the Smithsonian showing all the planets in a pretty neat 3-D arrangement. A good friend of mine bought it and mailed it to me after I left my copy in a cab, along with all my business receipts and my raincoat.  *sigh*  The poster was looking a little beat up in those last few years, and I decided it was time for a change.  I honestly don't know why it was looking beat up, as I had only had it in my last two dorm rooms at law school and moved it seven times by the time we got it here.  It should have been fine, right?  Careless, I tell ya.  Careless.  Anyway, I tossed it, thinking I could just run down to the Smithsonian myself these days and pick up a new one if I needed it.  Well, if I had only known that the whole composition of the solar system was changing around me, I would never have let the original go!  Think of what it won't be worth in a few dozen years!

Of course, no one listens to me.  Just you wait, though.  They'll find microbial life under the ice on Pluto one day, and then everyone will wish Pluto were still a planet.  Won't they all be chagrined then.  In the meantime, I'll bet someone starts a campaign to kick Uranus out of the solar system because it orbits sideways.


Peggy Sue Brister May 31, 2010 at 11:05 AM  

I took it personally when they deplanetized Pluto. It is a planet to me. It is one of the 9 planets I learned as a kid. I learned the little saying to remember the planets My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. M V E M J S U N P. For Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and PLUTO!! HELLO PLUTO!! Now they changed it and it is just My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos. That is just WRONG! I taught my kids the solar system as they say it is today without Pluto but let them know that Pluto IS a planet to me and they can think of Pluto as a planet too. That Nasa is just a big bully.

Karin Kysilka June 9, 2010 at 2:57 PM  

It seems to me that Pluto has some sort of cosmic lawsuit against somebody.

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