A Conundrum of Astronomical Proportions

Pluto1Pluto:  As a child, I knew Pluto as Mickey Mouse’s pet dog, you know, the one who doesn’t speak, even though Goofy, another dog in the same cartoon universe, does speak.  But as a children we tend to just accept these things; children subconsciously practice the often touted “suspension of disbelief” that, as an adult, we are encouraged to embrace when we’re watching movies with obvious plot holes. 

I also, thanks to an early exposure to astronomy, learned my planets at a young age.  Pluto, I was told, was the 9th planet, named after the god of the dead in the Roman pantheon.  Now, however, Pluto’s status is, if you’ll pardon the pun, up in the air

Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is — and isn’t — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one. . .

Much-maligned Pluto doesn’t make the grade under the new rules for a planet: “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a … nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune’s. (emphasis added)

Okay, now, just wait one minute.  Wouldn’t both Pluto and Neptune technically be disqualified for the exact same reason?  Why pick on the little guy?  Better yet, why insult the God of the Underworld? 

Pluto, along with two other far-out satellites, Ceres and Xena (seriously, Xena, can you believe that?), now belongs to the classification “dwarf planets.”  Whether a “Gabrielle” or “Jockser the Mighty” dwarf planet is on the way is anybody’s guess.  

While the new classification may not seem like a big deal to you and I, there are ramifications to consider.  For instance, does the song, Illuminating Pluto, by the B-52’s, lose its original intent now?  Did it ever have any?  Will the Tarot decks have to be rewritten alongside the school textbooks?  Both Einstein and Bill Gates were born with Pluto in their 5th house, according to this page.  Maybe we shouldn’t be fucking with this stuff, people.  🙄  Mystical consequences and all that. 

Yes, this new definition of what constitutes a planet is going to shake things up a bit in subtle ways, and force us to ask some new questions, the most important of which is this: 

If we can no longer call Pluto a planet, does this mean we can finally stop calling Whitney Houston a “star?” 

🙂

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