Planet Rodney Dangerfield (dissing Pluto)
We lost a planet from our solar system this week and it couldn’t get Jon Benet Ramsey off the front page. Talk about lack of respect for a celestial body! I grew up being told that there were nine planets in the solar system. It wasn’t as big a deal as knowing all fifty states and their capitals, but it was very high on any educator’s list of basic facts that most if not all students should know back then. If you could name the planets in order from Mercury which was closest to the sun out to Pluto, you were really doing well. If you could name all the moons, of which Pluto has three so far, they started fitting you for a pocket protector and a briefcase. Pluto, which was “discovered” in 1930 was so much a part of our culture that Mickey Mouse’s (a creation of the 30’s himself) had a dog named for the 9th planet. I never did figure out why Goofy, also a dog, happened to be Mickey’s pal and knew how to talk , but Mickey kept Pluto as a pet. I guess that might have been the first hint that the outermost outer planet might not be long for our worlds view.
No, Osama did not build a suitcase bomb and blow up the smallest planet into asteroids. You see, they'd collected all this plutonium and now instead of being an element, it's just a dwarf element. You build a bomb with plutonium now it's only a weapon of mixed destruction along with c-4, phosphorous shells, and John Bolton.
Back in the 1800’s, Ceres, the largest asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter had status as a planet too. Ceres which is even smaller than Pluto had the misfortune of being the largest object among thousands circling the sun. Not long after its discovery, Ceres got demoted to asteroid status for about a hundred and fifty years until some astronomers decided to try to bring it up to the majors again in 2001 along with a big icy object with the unromantic label UB 313. Instead of promoting Ceres, the association tightened their definition of planet and wound up creating this whole bogus category “the dwarf planet”.
Basically Ceres got brought up out of the asteroid league and poor Pluto got sent down in the process to join Ceres and UB 313 as part of the dwarf division.
To add insult to injury, Pluto’s largest moon Charon which is almost as big as Pluto itself (with two objects, how the heck do you tell which is orbiting which?) also got bumped into consideration for dwarfdom. That has to be the ultimate in being dissed if you’ve gotten used to being a planet to have your own moon catch up with you. One could, however, look at it another way. While Pluto was a planet for seventy five of our years, in Pluto time it was like a third of a year so maybe they never got all that used to being a planet anyway. It's not even baseball season yet on Pluto.
Aside from being a serious insult to dwarves or little people, I’m wondering what the Hades this means? Does this mean Pluto can’t get into galactic bars now? Did Pluto lose its right to vote in interplanetary elections. And how can you have moons and still not be a planet?
I really think that they should have lobbied for "lite" planet instead of dwarf planet. You know, "All the rotations, but now less filling." A dwarf star for instance is in serious trouble compared to a regular star, because the dwarf part means that it's on its way to being a dead star (though not like Jim Morrison). On the other hand, a light year is way better than a regular year. Instead of being 365 days, a light year is way too far to even think about, which when you think about it is like "lite" beer vs. the regular stuff. One is an alcoholic beverage and the other takes way too long to get drunk. Dwarf planet gets you roles in intergalactic productions of the Wizard of Oz. Lite planet, can you imagine the royalties they'd start getting for the Pluto diet?
Anyway, I just never thought astronomers were exactly the sort of guys and (girls) who whispered, “Well to tell you the truth size does matter.” I guess I should have known, they've alwasy been the sort who liked to calibrate and tell. Actually, that isn’t quite true, they're telling everyone they dumped Pluto not because of its size but how it orbits. See, there are always other ways to please astronomers. For about 20 earth years out of 229 it crosses into Neptune’s orbit. In the old days, all you had to be was a big rock orbiting the sun. Now, they’ve got so all these requirements, you have to orbit, be round, win the swimsuit and talent portions. In the meantime, apparently Pluto’s stopped speaking to Neptune entirely which is very sad given that we might not even know about Pluto had it not been for Neptune.
If you don’t know the story, Neptune was the first planet discovered by implication instead of visual observation. Although the three body gravitational problem remains something of a mystery, Neptune’s existence was predicted because Johann Gottfried Galle found eccentricities in Uranus’s orbit. I can just see those scientists in 1846 giggling “There’s something weird about Uranus. Eeewww!”
In turn, they soon figured out that Neptune moved funny too and people started looking for Pluto. I’m still thinking about how this is going to mess up all those astrologers. It just doesn’t sound the same to get told that you're going to lead a long and happy life because Mars is aligned with dwarf planet. Anyway, Clyde Tombaugh started doing time lapse photographs looking for the planet implied by Neptune and became the first American to get credit for discovering a planet in 1930. The only problem was that Pluto was much too small to be the missing planet. When I was a kid, no one knew how big Pluto actually was. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that they figured out for sure that it was the smallest “planet” in the solar system and the one furthest from the sun. Talk about your runt complex. Anyway, now that the drug testing is in on Pluto (you know are you a legitimate planet or are you A-steroid?), Tombaugh is just the first American to discover a dwarf planet. Even more amazing, Tombaugh’s widow is still alive. Now the lady can’t get into her local observatory without a reservation anymore.
What if there turns out to be intelligent life on Pluto? Are we going to have to say,”Sorry we can’t get excited about you guys because you’re not from a real planet?”
Of course, the beings of Pluto, who maybe really do look like Mickey Mouse’s dog, could come back at us and say “You know what? We’ve been watching you longer than you’ve been watching us and Earth doesn’t count because you don’t have real intelligent life just some sort of dwarf intellect. Give it another couple years and do what you’re doing and there’s going to be an asteroid belt between Venus and Mars and you won't even be a dwarf planet, you’ll be like blastocyst planet. Woof woof.”
In the meantime, can you imagine all the lawsuits now? There are all these kids who got a C in science because they could only name eight planets and then didn’t get into the college of their choice. Not only that, the outer edge of our solar system just shrunk by several million miles. They must be in a frenzy at the interplanetary title company.
What next? Someone’s going to tell me that the United States isn’t a democracy any longer?