Sunday, August 27, 2006

Breakfast on...a Dwarf Planet?

I for one am greatly saddened by the news that the International Astronomic Union has decided to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.Not that I give one whit about astronomical taxonomy in the clinical sense, its just our culture is losing something very real by cutting the number of planets in our solar system down to eight. That there are nine planets in the Milky Way is one of the first scientific facts most of us ever commit to memory. How many of us made models with nine planets orbiting the Sun? How many of us learned mnemonic devices to remember the nine planets? ("My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas")

It was one of the basic numbers of life: 9 planets, 12 months, 50 states. (God help us if Puerto Rico ever gains statehood!)

I know I'm being silly. There are plenty of people walking around today who were taught elementary school astronomy before Pluto was designated a planet. But what about the otherconsequences of this rash reclassification? Think of the added burden on our over-taxed school systems! Astronomy texts were probably the only books principals didn't have to reorder every few years to keep up-to-date. Now everyone's going to have to order new textbooks, models and charts. And how many planetariums will go out of business because they can't afford to hire new narrators to update their decades-old voiceovers?

Why can't we just say a planet is whatever we say it is? I mean a year has 365 days except when it has 366, right? i before e except after c? Lets make a friggin' exception here. All planets must clear the orbits of their neighboring bodies, except for Pluto. Done and done.

On a side-rant, I also have to take exception to "Xena," the common name given to 2003 UB313, the trans-Neptunian object (def.: any big piece of space junk beyond Neptune) found by astronomers at Mount Palomar Observatory three years ago. A centuries-old tradition of naming celestial orbs after Roman gods is thrown out the window so some space-Eurkel can give a shout out to his favorite syndicated sci-fi series?! I bet he's waiting by the phone, expecting a call from Lucy Lawless any moment now. Ring, damn it, ring!


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