You probably noticed my eerie silence last week on a very disturbing development.
Entire worlds hang in the balance, but I held my tongue. (And that’s awkward; it’s really hard to eat or drink that way … not to mention the damage it does to one’s romantic escapades.)
To set things right—and return feeling to my tongue—I will now address the big controversy: How many planets orbit the sun?
Long-time visitors may recall that more than a year ago, I sounded off on the debate over the name of the newly discovered “planet,” labeled 2003-UB313. I made a good case then for calling it “Wombat,” but that seems so trivial now that planetary scientists have taken this planet stuff the next level, proposing an entirely new taxonomy for our solar system.
And it’s all Pluto’s fault.
The ninth planet, you see, is so unlike the eight “classical” planets that many astronomers say it’s not a planet at all. Others claim it does belong in the club—which, they say, should also admit other celestial bodies.
Last week, it came to a head when an International Astronomical Union committee suggested redefining “planet,” creating a subcategory of outer solar system planets called “plutons,” and adding three new bodies to the planetary roster: 2003-UB313/Wombat, Pluto’s partner Charon, and Ceres (the largest, and roundest, asteroid between Mars and Jupiter).
You might support the proposal, but I’m skeptical.
I’ll admit one benefit: The addition of “plutons” would rejuvenate the stagnant field of astronomical poetry. Imagine the buzz among planet-watching limerick-writers, who can now pen verses about Teutons sleeping on futons while eating croutons.
But beware the dark side of this initiative.
Astronomers may be opening the doors of planethood to fraudulent nominations. The proposed expansion from nine to 12 planets emboldens geeks everywhere to claim planetary status for almost anything large and round. Charlie Brown’s head, the Star Wars Death Star, Pamela Anderson’s breasts … where will it end?
Even worse, the new roster would render obsolete the decades-old mnemonic devices that we used as schoolchildren to recall the planets’ order, like “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.”
All this heavenly hubbub makes that phrase so last century. Now, with three additional planets, we’d all have to learn a new one:
Modern Vexing Experts May Completely Jumble System, Unnecessarily Needling Planet-Confused Xenophobes.
And that’s just astronomically hard to remember.