If you’re keeping score at home, we’re now down to eight planets. Turns out that last one was a piece of dirt on somebody’s lens.
There was quite an argument at this year’s meeting of the International Astronomical Union. Surprisingly, it was not about overtime pay. Instead, the discussion held between the fake wood paneled walls of the Constitution Room in the Holiday Inn by the highway had to do with how many planets should be in our solar system.
After both sides presented their theories it was decided that the future of the planet Pluto should rest in the outcome of a best-of-three rock-paper-scissors tournament. Rock crushed scissors, but paper covered rock and that’s why, as of this week, everything you know is wrong.
There are no longer nine planets in our solar system.
There are now eight.
You were probably wondering why you had a feeling of dread for the past century. The answer came this week. As it turns out, you, me and everyone else on the planet (this planet, Earth) has been living a lie. We’ve been calling Pluto the last planet of a nine-planet system. After a light lunch and many free drinks at that Holiday Inn, the International Astronomical Union told us all the truth.
Pluto’s not a planet.
Instead, it will now be thrown into a new category of celestial bodies, called “dwarf” planets. While not a full-grown, major league, certified and bona fide member of our solar system, Pluto will remain under the umbrella of heavenly bodies nearest and dearest to us.
In short, we’ve given Pluto the friendship talk and have promised to stay in touch.
To illustrate the “umbrella” statement to the few unfortunate reporters ordered to cover the event, Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a Cambridge-educated physicist from Northern Ireland who is credited with the discovery of pulsars in 1968, picked up a stuffed, plush Walt Disney Pluto dog toy doll and held it under an opened umbrella.
I told the people at the Holiday Inn they should have made it a cash bar. Did they listen? Scientists, people like this group who decide really important matters like who gets to stay in the solar system and who is banished to the land of unimportant ice balls, do not make much money. Big degrees, yes. Pay check? Not so much. They’re all working on grants. Had the hotel where the meeting was being held made them pay for their drinks, they’d have remained sober and stodgy, the way the world likes its scientists. Instead, this group of brainiacs got stinko and started changing laws left and right. Pluto was gone before you could say, “Make it a double.” By the time the stuffed animal came out, it was far too late.
It’s bad news for the Clyde Tombaugh family. Tombaugh was 24 when he discovered the planet, er, former planet, back in 1930. From what I hear, even that accomplishment could not help him get laid. Eventually his mail order bride arrived and he procreated. The Tombaugh offspring have lived these many decades hand-to-mouth from the kindness of strangers by offering up the fact that Clyde changed the solar system. “My Great Grandfather discovered Pluto!” has been the offering at many last calls in bars around the country. Up until this week, it worked. Now the Tombaughs will have to go to work. Nobody gives free drinks to the descendants of a guy who discovered just another ball of ice.
Thanks, International Astronomical Union.
It’s also not exactly a welcome announcement for me. Back in 1968, about the same time drunken Irishwoman Doc Brunell was making the whole “pulsar” thing up, I was busy making papier-mâché balls. I painted the biggest yellow. It was the sun. I painted one of the middle-sized ones blue. It was the Earth. The red one was Mars. One of them had a 45 record of The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” dissecting it down the middle. That was Saturn. By the time I got to Pluto in my Science class project, “Our Solar System”, I was out of paint. Pluto’s surface, therefore, looked like the comics section of the newspaper. Even then, back in the middle ages, Pluto got no respect.
Once assembled and speared by coat hangers, my mobile of the nine-planet solar system garnered a passing grade.
This morning the phone rang. On the other end was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Cooper, who is now 139 years old. She rang to inform me that unless I had a new model of the planets on her desk by Monday morning, I would have to repeat third grade science.
Thanks, International Astronomical Union.
Thanks to your little drunken luncheon, thanks to you all needing to show off your brain power, thanks to you, appointing yourselves as the namers and classifiers of everything, I have to spend the next couple of days trying remember not only how to make papier-mâché, but trying even harder to remember all eight of the planets’ names. Even with the elimination of Pluto, it’s not that simple. Most of them are named after cars. There’s Saturn, Mercury, Camry and Lexus. And the big one is Jupiter. Of course, there’s Uranus. Nobody ever forgets that one. Earth, Mars… Taurus the bull, Gemini, Apollo and the Moon.
Wait a minute.
Hey! International Astronomical Union! Come back! We’ll open the bar again. Drinks are on me!