Sunday, August 27, 2006

Bye Bye Pluto

Pluto, we hardly knew you
Dwarf planet's falling star proves downsizing is universal reality
- C.W. Nevius
Sunday, August 27, 2006

The recent news of the demotion of the planet Pluto to "dwarf planet" status took a lot of people by surprise. With the use of confidential sources, The Chronicle has been able to acquire the exclusive rights to the following correspondence. We feel it adds to the debate of this critical issue.

Memo: To Pluto

From: The Solar System

Subject: Demotion to dwarf planet status.

Dear Pluto:

Whew. This is a tough one. First, I just want you to know that we all feel terrible about this. I think I speak for us all -- Mars, Venus, the whole gang -- when I say you've been like a sun to us. Seriously.

Look, I can't say this is fair. It isn't. Downsizing is just a fact of life these days. It's universal. One minute you're on the "Children's Guide to the Solar System," and the next you're a black hole. Who knows how they make these calls at headquarters?

I do have to say, in all honesty, that there were some problems. A lot of it was just image stuff. We've talked about this before. Like, what makes Mercury so hot anyhow? It is hard to fight perceptions like that.

And, to be brutally honest, you probably could have done a better job with your presentation. There were times when you were seen as distant, aloof, even cold. Nobody saw you much. We ran in the same circles for years and years, but I don't think anybody really got to know you. It wasn't just your "eccentric orbit," you know. There were plenty of whispers that you were "way out there," or "too spacey."

As for the jokes, well, I don't think there was much you could do about that. "Hey look, isn't that Pluto? Out by Uranus?" How many times did we hear that one? No matter how many times we explained that Neptune is the planet next to you, it didn't matter. Sophomoric humor is a force that transcends astrophysics.

At the end of the day, I think we all realize that what it really comes down to is Earth. (I know, who made them the center of the universe?) Earth, with its big, gassy atmosphere and all those peeping pointy-headed scientists with their telescopes.

They act like they created planets. Hello? Big Bang? Ten billion years ago? Frankly, I don't get it. First they name us, then they take it away. For seventy-some years you were a planet. Now you're a "dwarf planet." What's next, changing your name to "Dopey"?

But there was a time, eh, when you were a star. Back in the 1930s, you were mysterious and theoretical. Astronomers on Earth stayed up nights thinking about you. They'd hang around the observatory, just hoping to catch a glimpse of you on a night when you were out with Neptune.

Remember the excitement when they finally saw you? There was all the talk about what your name should be. The New York Times got involved, suggesting Minerva, which sounds like a name for a new kitchen range. And then, an 11-year-old girl from England, Venetia Phair, suggested Pluto, and it stuck. (Personally, I'd say if anyone needed a new name it was Venetia Phair, but that's probably just solar snark.)

And all right, as it turned out, Pluto was probably not the most awe-inspiring choice. Jupiter gets to be the giant of the skies, and you turn out to be Mickey Mouse's dog. A bad break, no doubt about it.

Still, there was a window of opportunity there, a chance to make a name for yourself. And I'll be honest, you didn't do much to help matters. It seemed you were never available for photographs. And you projected a chilly, frigid atmosphere. It wasn't inviting, frankly.

The more they got to know you, the more there were doubts. They said you lacked "gravitas." The whisper campaign began. You were smaller than seven moons in the solar system, even -- and this was a killer -- Earth's moon.

I don't have to tell you how it all unraveled from there. There was sniping about your "oblong orbit." (Hey, we all accept the orbit we're given. It's a universal law.) A low point had to be when that big ball of ice, UB313, was put up for planethood in 2003. Hey, it's a solar system, not a Little League team. Not everybody gets to play, OK?

Yanking your planet status is a blow, no doubt about it. More than anything, I suppose, it is embarrassing. But you'll get over it. The sun will come up again in another 162 hours, just like always.

The good news is, you still have a chance to shine. Earth scientists say they are going ahead with the $700 million New Horizons spacecraft flyby. It is expected to pass you on July 14, 2015.

We're all pulling for you when that happens. We know that when they see you up close and in person they will understand that you are not some dwarf, or a "minor planet," but a key part of the solar system. We'd just say that you should always remember who you are and what we think of you.

You rock.

Seven Dwarfs speak out on Pluto saga

Los Angeles - Pluto may have been cast out to the darkest reaches of the Solar System but will always be a friend to the Seven Dwarfs.

The Walt Disney characters have issued a hard-hitting statement after the world's top astrononomical body decided on Thursday to relegate Pluto to the lowly status of a "dwarf planet".

School textbooks will have to be rewritten - and Mickey Mouse's faithful companion is said by Disney insiders to be anguished over the fate of his planetary namesake.

But the Seven Dwarfs are not taking it lying down.

"Although we think it's DOPEY that Pluto has been downgraded to a dwarf planet, which has made some people GRUMPY and others just SLEEPY, we are not BASHFUL in saying we would be HAPPY if Disney's Pluto would join us as an eighth dwarf," they insisted.

"We think this is just what the DOC ordered and is nothing to SNEEZE at."

Pluto the dog made his debut in 1930 - the same year that a 24-year-old American astronomer, Clyde Tombaugh, discovered what until now was called the ninth and outermost planet.

A white-gloved, yellow-shoed source close to Disney's top dog said: "I think the whole thing is goofy.

"Pluto has never been interested in astronomy before, other than maybe an occasional howl at the moon."

Mickey Mouse was unavailable for comment.


Spitz: Pluto blow has Scorpio seeing stars
By Julia Spitz/ Daily News columnist
Sunday, August 27, 2006

So an underperforming planet gets downsized.

Big deal.

It's a jungle out there, Pluto. You can't keep up with new demands, you get demoted and your job gets outsourced to other parts of the galaxy.

That's the way it works in the real world.

No, I wasn't shedding any tears over the dim orb's boot from the solar system when news of the ouster broke on Thursday.

If Pluto wasn't able to read the signs, like its underling moon Charon trying to take Pluto's place in the universe, well, the ice-ball deserved whatever stockholders, the International Astronomical Union general assembly in Prague, meted out. If management chose to dump Pluto and promote an asteroid like Ceres, well, it was no skin off my hide.

Then I read the front page of The Wall Street Journal Friday morning and realized what a fool I'd been.

My very life is tied to Pluto's fate.

Like roughly one-12th of the world's population, I'm a Scorpio, born between Oct. 23 and Nov. 21, and Pluto is the ruler of my slice of the heavens.

"Scorpios are the most intense, profound, powerful characters in the zodiac," according to "Even when they appear self-controlled and calm, there is a seething intensity of emotional energy under the placid exterior."

You betcha.

Condoleezza Rice, Tonya Harding, Teddy Roosevelt, Marie Antoinette, Pat Buchanan, Charles Bronson, George Patton, Katherine Hepburn, Indira Gandhi, Ted Turner, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite and Bill Gates are an intense lot indeed, all born under the sign of the Scorpion, all ruled by the planet Pluto.

But if Pluto's not a planet anymore, who's our ruler?

Some asteroid called UB313?

A Scorpio like me savors the descriptions "powerful, passionate, determined, forceful, emotional and intuitive" associated with the sign. And like most Scorpios, I like the reputation of having a dark side. Thanks to Pluto's influence, I don't have to make threats. I merely point out my sign and watch people fall in line.

Who's going to be scared of someone under the influence of UB313?

No one. Not even a Virgo.

Sure, some cooler-headed astrologers around the world say Pluto's status doesn't matter.

British astrologer Russell Grant said he "will continue to use Pluto because he gives me the ability to look into people's charts and see where they're coming from psychologically," according to a Reuters article.

Wall Street astrologer Arch Crawford told a Bloomberg reporter he's sticking by Pluto too.

"What scientists are saying is not going to exclude its effect," he said.

I'd like to believe him, but I'm a Scorpio. I'm not all that trusting.

So I decided to call the only astrologer listed in phone books from MetroWest and Milford. Perhaps she saw this brouhaha coming. She's on vacation until after Labor Day.

While most news outlets went with the "no need to panic" approach, The Wall Street Journal article had something deeply disturbing buried on the jump page. There, way inside the A section, were two Web-based stargazers suggesting we should embrace Ceres as a more compassionate and humanitarian influence, "a maternal energy" if you will.

Scorpios are perfectly capable of compassion if it suits our purposes, thank you very much. We're even capable of being humanitarian. But maternal? No. We have a reputation to protect. We're the sexy sign. Hot-blooded. Hot-tempered.

And after Scorpios get mad, we get even.

Laura Bush is a Scorpio. Surely she could convince her husband this is a mistake of nuclear proportion.

If he's busy with other matters, he could assign Hillary's hubby and Laura's father-in-law to undertake another tag-team ambassadorial tour of duty and force those astronomers into a coalition of the willing to admit they were wrong.

Maybe Condi Rice can come to the defense of her fellow Scorpions. She should be able to finesse Pluto back into power with some sort of behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

And if all else fails, we'll rely on our numbers to reclaim our ruler.

Rise up, Scorpios. We need Pluto and Pluto needs us. Whatever it takes to get us back to our passionate, powerful, dark selves, that's what needs to happen.

Pluto, if that means a pay cut or a little groveling, step up and do the right thing. Just make sure you get your title back.

How about planet emeritus?

That should be enough to make everything right with the universe again.

Bye bye, Pluto.

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