I wrote in this newspaper two weeks ago, the planet Pluto was stripped of its planethood in August of 2006, just nine months after the rocket designed to get to Pluto was launched from Cape Canaveral. It was not a decision made lightly. Many, many scientists considered this problem. It had been found there were hundreds and thousands and maybe millions of objects, mostly made of ice, orbiting the sun beyond the last planet in the solar system, Neptune. These objects, filling a space called the Kuiper Belt, all had been given numbers.
Henceforth, the object formerly known as Pluto would be Object 134340.
It therefore came as a complete shock to me to read all the fawning praise from the media about how wonderful the planet Pluto looked as we flew by. “Mind Blowing Pluto has Ice Mountains and Water”—CNN, “Pluto’s Time to Shine,”—Universe Today “We’ve Made it to Pluto,”—New York Post, “Humankind Just Visited Pluto for the First Time,”—Washington Post. Everyone marvels at Pluto’s beauty. She is, on the outside, indeed ice. But inside, she is rock, possibly with a heart of gold. And she is a perfect sphere. You’d have thought she was a pearl. Her markings were commented upon. Some saw a cross hatch of roads. Others saw a large abstract field. We are not alone in the universe. And here it is, Pluto, our last planet, yet so close that we got there in just 11 years. You just want to reach out and kiss her.
As a newspaperman interested in getting all the facts straight, I was filled with incredibly complicated emotions. I shared the joy of seeing Pluto. I felt amazement we got there. But I was angry at the press lying like this, encouraging this subterfuge about it being Pluto. And I was sad for Object 134340 having to silently go along with this fraud. It was being treated as a rock star. What about the other 2,362,325,222 objects in the Kuiper Belt? Are we to fawn over them too when the time comes? No, we won’t. Pluto was Pluto.
Maybe there will come a day when the scientists will reverse themselves, saying, “All right, all right if you want an eighth planet out there, you voted, this is a democracy and majority wins. So Pluto it is.”
But I doubt it. Hundreds of them got together and decided. These were the facts. So they kicked Pluto out of the solar system.
Well, I say there IS a Pluto. And she is not Object 134340. She is like the other planets—beautiful, solid and perfectly round. She’s even got moons circling her.
So what I think is that Pluto, on the day she was banished from the Solar System, got very sad. And so, she went into seclusion, leaving in her place a stand in, Object 134340.
Well, then she heard her fans calling to her. And after some hesitation, she overcame her sorrow and said to herself ‘I have to stand up for myself. If I don’t, who will?’ So she marched out to where her stand in was and, since she had already given up the exact spot to her stand in, moved around Object 134340 so she was between Object 134340 and the sun casting a dark shadow on Object 134340 as the rocket ship approached.
The early photographs sent back to the Earth, therefore, were actually of Pluto and not Object 134340.
Then, as the rocket came closer and closer and went into its flyby—it took only two hours—Pluto sidled slowly around to keep herself always between the rocket and Object 134340. The pictures would always be Pluto. Even as the rocket flew on into the thick of the Kuiper Belt and outer space, there was Pluto, doing her star turn, blocking any view of Object 134340.
Bye-bye, you folks from Planet Earth. God bless. Come again soon. Well, for now, I’m going back to where I was. Stand-in?
Back to work.