In loving memory of Pluto: (1930-2006)
Call it the Rodney Dangerfield of our solar system, the product of revisionist history or kicked out of the exclusive planetary club – Pluto, a planet since 1930, can no longer run (or orbit) with the big dogs anymore.
Last week the world’s leading astronomers handed Pluto a celestial pink slip. For now, membership will be restricted to the eight “classical” planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of its planetary status – a status held since its discovery back in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh.
The decision at a conference in Prague, Czech Republic, of 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries was a dramatic shift from just two weeks ago, when the group’s leaders floated a proposal that would have reaffirmed Pluto’s planetary status and made planets of its largest moon and two other objects. Well, that plan proved to be highly unpopular, splitting astronomers into factions and triggering days of combative debate over the cosmos that eventually led to Pluto’s demise.
Astronomers declared that Pluto would no longer be considered a planet, and it was unceremoniously sent down to the minor leagues as a “dwarf planet.” In a nomadic classification similar to what long have been termed “small solar system bodies,” Pluto is now lumped into the same category as asteroids, comets and other small objects. Talk about your downsizing … sheesh!
Going from a heavenly body to a third-class status overnight is not an easy pill to swallow. How elitist of them! It’s enough to make one want to hide in a black hole.
Astronomy has been a passion of mine since childhood and, being raised with nine planets, it was something I just assumed would remain with me ’til death. However, just like our expanding universe (and my waistline), things change. Things got interesting a few weeks back, with the possibility of three new planets being added to our solar system, until the IAU, rather than add three more to the system, decided that size does, in fact, matter and instead demoted Pluto to a forgotten status. But the fallout of this recent decision has farther-reaching effects than just reprinting school textbooks and changing planetary charts in schools everywhere.
What about those who rely on the forecasts from astrologers, psychics and even our daily horoscopes, which map out our day-to-day existence? With Pluto out of the planetary mix, what happens when the planets align to create something extraordinary? And will the omission of Pluto as the ninth planet upset those who predict such things for a living?
Psychic Dayle Schear (who has a show on Tuesdays over at the Horizon) says, “I believe it would matter just a little about planet Pluto. The time of your birth is more important and set in stone, as far as the future goes, no matter if you are gazing at water using the tarot or astrology. In other words, it will all come out in the wash about the same. What is meant to be is meant to be, so who’s counting one little non-planet?”
Ouch. No respect. I wanted a second opinion, so I posed the same question to psychic Sherrie Winnings out of Las Vegas. She says that “Pluto is a generational planet, which means its orbit takes 55 or 60 years to complete. The so-called scientists will find out in time that Pluto will have the same effect whether it is a speck of dust or a full-on planet. Astrologers will not drop Pluto out of astrological chartings because of what the scientist are saying; Pluto is not going anywhere.”
I am still skeptical, though, and will now have to rely on a muse rather than a psychic to determine my true inner happiness (hee hee).
After the decision to demote Pluto’s designation, astronomers applauded the ruling, saying that they have righted a wrong. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a specialist in neutron stars from Northern Ireland who oversaw the proceedings last week, urged those who might be “quite disappointed” to look on the bright side.
“It could be argued that we are creating an umbrella called “planet” under which the dwarf planets exist,” she said, drawing laughter by waving a stuffed Pluto of Walt Disney fame beneath a real umbrella. How coy of her. At least a new definition of what a so-called planet is from these experts will hopefully avoid any future embarrassments should they occur. Still, I have my doubts.
Now that they have gotten their way with this decision, what’s next – renaming the planets? You know if they could, they would work on a new moniker for the planet known as Uranus because, no matter how one pronounces that name, it still provokes chuckles.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.