Heather's Columns ....

Pluto’s Plight Due to Peeved Palates

I’ve been stewing about the Pluto situation for a while now.

In case you missed it, last August, as Pluto was orbiting around with its buddies Charon and Triton and minding its own celestial business, a group of scientists with nothing better to do gathered together (in lieu of getting real jobs) to reconsider the definition of “planet.” As if anyone really cares.

And within this re-definition, Pluto suddenly wasn’t. A planet, that is. No performance review, no warnings in Pluto’s personnel file, no “Honey, we need to talk” – just a slam-bam-thank you-ma’am decision to demote poor Pluto to dwarf planet. Dwarf planet?

Admittedly, Pluto’s performance has been eccentric over the past few thousand years. (Not that I really know anything about Pluto’s performance. However I do, like every three year old in these United States, have access to the internet and did a stunning four minutes of research for this column.) But do slight incidents of “erratic behavior” give the IAU (the International Astronomical Union – yes, they have their own union, special handshake, secret decoder ring and all) the right to zap Pluto off the planetary Who’s Who list?

By the way, it is absolutely no consolation to Pluto (who does not speak English as far as I know) that its plight has been elevated to a word: plutoed. The American Dialect Society even crowned plutoed as the word of year for 2006. Well, whoopty do. (This is obviously another group with too much time on their hands.)

Knowing that you, my friends, would be as upset as I am about this matter, I contacted Dr. Schtinken Braunschweiger of the Mt Tamalpais Observatory and Day Spa in Northern California for some answers:

“Hello? Is this Dr. Braunschweiger?”
“Who wants to know?”
“The American public, Dr. Braunschweiger.”
“Sorry. Wrong number.”
“Wait! Don’t hang up!”

(The good doctor’s evasiveness continued until I scheduled a Green Tea facial and Brazilian bikini wax. $39.95. A pittance to pay for journalistic integrity.)

“So. What did you want to know?”
“It’s about Pluto.”
“Ach! Pluto. When will people get over the Pluto thing?”

Dr. Braunschweiger went on to explain – at length -- that the IAU’s heartless decision to pluck Pluto from The Big Nine came after a particularly insipid conference luncheon.

“So, you’re saying the chicken was dry, the salad was limp and the rolls cracked a few teeth?”
“Those baked beans produced more gas than Saturn and Jupiter combined.”
“Unh huh. So understandably, you were all feeling a touch cranky. But does that really justify declassifying an innocent planet?”
“Hey, the guys from Stanford Linear Accelerator were ready to blast a few moons into asteroids. Someone from Wheaton proposed an Intelligent Rubber Band Theory to be taught along with gravity and the Harvard guys were recalibrating the lunar calendar when someone brought up Pluto. All in all, declassifying Pluto seemed to be a healthy compromise.”
“I see. But did any of you consider that this decision would require rewriting all of our science textbooks? Updating a kazillion websites? Not to mention the sixth grade science fair projects that have to be scrapped. And what about that song we all learned to memorize the planets: There Are Nine Planets in the Sky?”
“The one to Twinkle, Twinkle?”
“No. Three Blind Mice. It goes like this. . .”

I sang him my song; he sang me his. Pluto was clearly and prominently featured in both.

“So, who is going to rewrite those?”

Dr. Braunschweiger had no idea. The IAU had not discussed these issues.

“Dr. Braunschweiger, you guys can’t just go around making decisions that will wreak havoc and impact the entire world without some forethought, some comprehensive planning to handle the fall-out!”

Dr. Braunschweiger pointed out that there is plenty of precedent for this kind of decision-making. He gave me a few phone numbers.

“Hello, is this Mr. Cheney?”
“Who wants to know?”
“The American public, Mr. Cheney.”
“Sorry. Wrong number.”
“Wait! Don’t hang up!”

(Mr. Cheney remained evasive until I bought the entire back-list of his wife’s highly erotic feminist literature. $42,572.67. A ridiculous price to pay for journalistic integrity.)

“So. What do you want to know?”
“It’s about Iraq.”
“Ach! Iraq. When will people get over the Iraq thing?”
“Just one question, Mr. Cheney: On March 19, 2003, what exactly did you and the president have for lunch?”