Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Publisher’s memo: What’s our mother serving now?

August 30, 2006

The bad news came last Thursday. Pluto no longer is a planet, the folks at National Public Radio told me as I drove home after work.

I'd been aware that Pluto's status as a real planet was in danger. And last week, the International Astronomical Union pulled Pluto's membership in the planet club.

Now, they're calling it a "dwarf planet."

That conjures up all sorts of strange images of Snow White and her seven short friends visiting "Planet of the Apes."

I admit I am the last person on earth -- perhaps, the last person in this now-eight-planet solar system -- qualified to comment on anything related to science. I'm a word person, not a science person. I like math, but science? Well, it scared me in junior high. So I ran from it. And I've been running ever since. Proudly.

And while I'm sure there's a concrete scientific reason to yank Pluto from the ranks of such stellar planets as Uranus, I'm a little sad about the decision.

It just doesn't seem right.

A planet one day. Not the next?

A mere 76 years after Kansas University graduate Clyde Tombaugh discovered it, Pluto's off the list. Cast off like a retiree. Even though Pluto's still out there, Pluto is out.

I guess the scientists who voted overwhelmingly last week had good reason to boot Pluto from the planets' club. Its orbit overlaps with Neptune's. For Pluto to be considered a planet, it would need to be able to clear all debris from its orbital neighborhood -- which it cannot.

Whatever that means.

OK, so Pluto is a little weak on cleaning up its neighborhood.

Is that any reason to ban it from The Club?

So it's a little messy. It's not particularly strong. It's a little small.

Is that any reason to beat up on it? And then call it a dwarf, for goodness sake?

That's doesn't seem fair, does it?

And exactly how are school kids supposed to remember the order of our eight planets?

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us ... Nuts? Noodles? Nitroglycerine?

The phrase calls out to be finished with "Nine Pickles!"

At least, that's the way I learned it out in west-central Kansas.

My husband, a graduate of a Catholic school in Lawrence, says: "Nine Pork chops." And my 18-year-old college freshman swears by "Nine Pizza pies."

Obviously, whoever taught them about pork chops and pizza pies didn't fully understand the rules of the game: One word, not two, for each planet.

And so, it must be said, I don't believe I totally understand the rules of a scientific game that casually tosses a 76-year-old discovery into the planet Dumpster.

Perhaps if I'd advanced beyond My Very Educated Mother in my scientific studies, I'd get it. But not me. I'm a word person. And, in a word, I'm sad.

So long, Pluto. Hope to see you around the solar system.

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