The Bonus Round – How We Can Thwart The Evil Plot To Keep Pluto Away From Its Rightful Place Among The Planets
“My very excellent mother just slaps ugly naked people”. This sentence might go some way to explaining my unruly behaviour as an adult. If it were literally true. Which it isn’t. It’s actually just a mnemonic. An aid to memory that I have used for many years for recalling the planets of our Solar Sytem. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
It’s just one of those lists that you absolutely have to know when you regularly attend pub quizzes. The other obvious one being the actors who played The Magnificent Seven. Turning up at a pub quiz without this information is like turning up wearing just your underwear. You’re going to get laughed at and thrown out of the building. Only if you are a man, of course. If you’re an attractive woman you’ll probably just get free drinks all night.
Since August 2006, I have had to use a different version of my mnemonic. I’ve had to change it to “My very excellent mother just slaps ugly naturists”. Because in 2006, the International Astronomical Union declared that Pluto was no longer a planet because it didn’t fit criteria that they had only just made up. This is a bit like the United Nations deciding that Lichtenstein is no longer a country because all it does is store other people’s money and manufacture false teeth.
But the IAU did it anyway, despite only 237 of its 10,000 members voting in favour of Pluto’s demotion.
I was really rather upset about this at the time. I still can’t watch any science documentary with Neil DeGrasse Tyson in it without shouting at my television screen. And I watch a lot of science documentaries.
No-one had seen anything other than a vague, fuzzy image of Pluto back in 2006 of course. It was assumed that Pluto was just a misshapen speck of icy cosmic debris. Now, thanks to the New Horizons probe, we now know that Pluto looks like this:
Don’t know about you, but that looks pretty much like a planet to me. It’s turning out to be an absolutely astonishing planet too. It should be covered in craters. It’s not covered in craters. It shouldn’t have mountains. It’s got mountains. It shouldn’t share an atmosphere with its largest moon, Charon. It shares an atmosphere with its largest moon, Charon.
(Charon is revealing itself as even weirder than Pluto. Though the fact that the presenters on The Sky At Night insist on pronouncing its name “Sharon” is somewhat spoiling the excitement for me. Somebody please make them stop.)
They’re not mis-pronouncing Pluto though, and Pluto is turning out to be a far classier act than we could ever have imagined. It’s main surface feature even looks like planet’s Disney cartoon dog namesake. See?
The 237 members of the IAU who voted to demote Pluto must be feeling pretty shabby right now. The feeling is probably akin to that moment when you head out to the local store to get some milk while you’re wearing your grubby 1990 Nirvana tour T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. And you bump into that ex-girlfriend you dumped, who turns out to have matured into an absolute stunner. She’s now way out of your league and your brief, uncomfortable conversation reveals that her new boyfriend works for Medecins Sans Frontieres and she earns twice as much money as you do.
That’s how these scientists should feel. They probably don’t though. They are about as likely to change their minds about Pluto as a traffic warden is to change his mind about the ticket he’s just issued you with.
I think that while they are busy not changing their minds, we should make them feel as uncomfortable as possible about that fact. Not by trolling them or anything, but by signing as many of the “Make Pluto A Planet Again” petitions as humanly possible. Use a bit of “Pester Power”. If enough people do that, then perhaps the IAU will reclassify Pluto back to being a planet again.
And I can once more proudly proclaim that “My very excellent mother just slaps ugly naked people.”
(The Magnificent Seven, by the way, were : Yul Bryner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan, James Coburn, Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholz. If you got all seven without Googling them you have won a bonus pint and an extra ticket to the meat raffle.)
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015