Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pluto is dead – long live Pluto

And now there are eight.

After decades of debate and speculation by astronomers, it's finally happened ¬ one of our planets has been fired.

Anyone born after 1930 grew up knowing there were nine planets in our solar system. (Of course, in the 1950s, every planet was inhabited by brain-sucking aliens dressed in aluminum foil.) And since astronomers didn't start confirming the existence of extra-solar planets until the latter part of the 20th century, nine was a fine number.

Hey, Alpha Centauri, we all thought mockingly. Got more planets than you.

But there was always one planet, one little icy rock way out in the rural area near the Kuiper Belt that fit into the "which of these things does not belong" category. Small, funny shaped and orbiting our sun on a 4.5 billion-year bender, Pluto was like the embarrassing cousin no one invited to weddings.

Until now.

We don't have to worry about Pluto crashing the reception and hitting on Aunt Uranus because the International Astronomical Union no longer officially considers Pluto a planet at all … just because it's different.

The recent decision to bump Pluto from the Planet Club went something like the upcoming Taft Middle School Diversity Awareness Week production of "Not in my neighborhood:"

Our Sun: Pluto, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to let you go.

Pluto (looking surprised): What do you mean, boss? I come to work on time. Every 249 years, as efficiently as a comet.

Our Sun: Yeah, that's just it. You're too much like a comet. All cold and rocky, orbiting me like you've been snorting hydrogen clouds. And you're not round enough. If we keep you, then we have to let in Charon, Ceres and something called 2003 UB313. A numbered planet? Then where would we be?

Pluto (with an air of smugness): This is discrimination. You can't fire me just because I'm not all big and gassy like Jupiter. (Is escorted from the solar system by Europa dressed like security). I'll see you in court. We all will.

Our Sun (turning toward audience): Pfft. Dwarf planets. They're all alike.

But, you're wondering, what does this galactic decision mean to anyone other than astronomers I'm not going to hang out with anyway?

It means everything.

Think of your kids. My toddler will grow up with eight planets, not nine like his old man. Will today's baby feel inadequate about his place in the universe? Or will the Pluto decision just render people like me senile?

"Oh, no," the future 14-year-old boy will say to his friends. "Dad's rambling about dragging his telescope 10 miles in the snow just to see Pluto. Let's go before he starts talking about the face on Mars."

And, what about astrology?

Since astrology is based on planets, shouldn't this decision throw off the entire astrology matrix.* Without Pluto, how can you trust the daily horoscope to accurately say, "your energy is high today; avoid making business decisions without pants; drive on the left side of the road and say 'cheerio' to strangers," without Pluto?

Then there's the Roman factor. Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld. Won't he be a little ticked? Oh, sure, he's still got Pluto the dog in his corner, but we all know about Disney's pact with the devil.

I'm just worried, that's all.

* Here's the Official Jason Astrology Patch. Read your now-incorrect horoscope, multiply any number by .27, substitute the word "lunch" for the word "love," and if you were born on a Tuesday, go to the comics section. Your horoscope is encrypted in the second panel of "Fox Trot."

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