On the last day of their Annual Convention in Prague, a few of the world’s leading astronomers voted to strip Pluto of its planetary status. Having rearranged the solar system, they then went home.....
Well I’m glad that’s been sorted out. I’m glad that’s over. I wasn’t sure how much more I could take of the erudite debate. My head was beginning to hurt.
If you ask me, it was obvious from the start that Pluto didn’t really shape up, not alongside Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and all those other big bags of gas at the International Astronomical Union. It can’t even keep to a sensible orbit around the sun, for heaven’s sake - probably drunk or spaced out on noxious substances. I don’t want to sound like a snob, but it’s a mystery how it ever got into the planetary club in the first place.
“I’m home, dear!”
“Hello darling. Good day at the office?”
“I’ve been in Prague. We demoted a planet.”
“That’s nice. Can you take out the rubbish – it’s Thursday.”
The wife doesn’t really understand science. Not the really big cosmic stuff at any rate. She knows how to change the plug on a toaster, thanks to female emancipation, but that’s about it. Use phrases like “a syncronous orbit” or “geometric albedo” and she says “Shush” and turns up the TV.
It’s a lonely life being a top scientist, especially an astrophysicist. It’s an awesome responsibility. When you’re dealing with the really big questions each and every day it’s easy to get carried away and imagine you’re God. That’s a problem in itself seeing as there’s no scientific proof that He exists. You can become a delusional schizophrenic if you’re not careful: omnipotent one minute, forgetting to pack your pyjamas the next. No wonder I eat aspirins like Smarties.
“What’s for supper?”
“Bangers and mash. So which planet was demoted, dear?”
It is called Pluto. It is the little one on the end. It hangs around in the dark doing indescribable things with a moon called Charon. It does not behave in the way we have come to expect of planets. Worst of all it is miniscule according to the Hubble Telescope. It could almost fit into Texas.
She nods. It is unfathomable, an irrelevance. It was probably the same with Galileo and Mrs Galileo. Down through the ages great men of science have wrestled with the riddles of the universe, seeking order in a world of chaos. All the while their better halves have prattled on in the background about the mess in the lounge, and what will the neighbours think if they happen to pop in to borrow a cup of sugar, not to mention socks on the bathroom floor and how you have been promising to sort out the garage for the past six months.
“Does that mean there are only eight now?”
Eight, and a bit of change.
“Poor thing. What a shame.”
It is a lump of rock, for goodness sake. We have not hurt its feelings. Even in a humungous telescope it looks like a speck. Nobody knew it was there until 1930.
Besides, there’s that unsavoury proximity to Charon to consider. We have standards, even in this part of the galaxy.
“I don’t know what the extraterrestrials are going to think, dear.”
“Didn’t NASA put a plaque on the Pioneer spaceships showing a naked man and a woman and nine planets?”
You’ve got a point there.
“The aliens will think we can’t count, dear, that we’re a load of cretins, a race of innumerate nudists.”
Well there is that, I suppose. But there’s no problem science can’t fix. I’ll phone the lads at NASA in the morning. I’ll do the calculations. Rocket motors are much more efficient these days, they run on unleaded, better consumption, better power output. It shouldn’t be a problem catching up with Pioneer 1 and 2, even with a twenty billion-kilometre head start. We’ll have to think of a name for the new spaceship though. What about Tippex 1?
“Brilliant, dear, I don’t know what we’d do without you.”