Friday, March 2, 2012

Declaring a Planet

I miss Pluto.
When I grew up our Solar System had nine planets. Pluto, the smallest and furthest away from the sun, was always my favorite. I'm not sure why.
Pluto was named after the god of the Underworld, although I've always preferred the Greek name Hades. Pluto is typically depicted as a discontented god, which makes sense. Let's see. I get with two of my brothers and we divide everything up into three realms to rule and draw lots. One brother gets Heaven and Earth (a bit greedy, I think). The other gets the Oceans to rule. I get the Underworld. I suppose someone has to do the job, but it just doesn't seem right, does it?
Pluto and Charon (Wikipedia)
Pluto takes 248 years to orbit the sun. Small as it is, Pluto has a moon, Charon, and three more that were not discovered until the twenty-first century: Nix, Hydra and P4. Since Pluto is smaller than our own moon, the fact that it has moons of its own is sort of cool.
Pluto and Charon share a closer bond than planet and moon. Together they are actually classified as one of the Solar System's binary systems, the sun and Jupiter being another. I don't know how they define that, though. Another interesting tidbit is that Pluto and Charon always present the same face to each other. Honestly, both are so small I'm not sure how they can definitively say that, but there it is. I know for years I was told that Mercury always presented the same side to the sun, but it doesn't. I don't know when the astronomers figured that one out, either. 
They both orbit something else
The spacecraft New Horizons, launched in 2006 should fly close to Pluto in 2015. Maybe the scientists will discover that these little planets don't face each other all the time. Regardless, just the fact that we can send a spacecraft so far into the reaches of space to do exploration is very cool.
I guess the first time I really thought about Pluto, or any planet, as an actual place was when the main character in Heinlein's Have Space Suit—Will Travel  was transported to Pluto and imprisoned there for some time. I read some books on the Solar System at the time, but Pluto was still a planet then.
When astronomers started finding objects that were larger than Pluto in the Solar System realm they started questioning the validity of Pluto as a true planet.
In 2000 the Hayden Planetarium reopened with only eight planets in our solar system. Some people were pretty annoyed at that, but I didn't hear about it then.
I'm not the only one who has a hard time with the demotion of the planet. I'm a fan of The Big Bang Theory and there is an episode where Sheldon makes his feelings completely clear on the subject.
In 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared Pluto was not an official planet. New Mexico and Illinois actually passed resolutions that officially classify Pluto as a planet in the sky over their states. Even though I'm pretty sure they can't see Pluto from there without a lot of help. Still, if a declaration works for them it should work for me.
I officially proclaim that I will always think of Pluto as a planet.
Oh, and a dog.

1 comment:

  1. It's like they're always presenting their best faces to each other! ^.^ What a nice idea. Pluto may not be a planet, but by now, it's at least a planetary mascot. Do people get passionate about Saturn? Neptune? Mars? Or Pluto? Yes, Pluto gets props.

    Plus, it can fetch.