They have to cut five minutes out of Gustav Holst now.
We lost a planet from our solar system this week and it couldn’t get Jon Benet Ramsey off the front page. Talk about lack of respect for a celestial body! I grew up being told that there were nine planets in the solar system. It wasn’t as big a deal as knowing all fifty states and their capitals, but it was very high on any educator’s list of basic facts that most students should know back then. If you could name the planets in order from Mercury, which was closest to the sun, out to Pluto, you were really doing well. If you could name all the moons, of which Pluto has three so far, you were into serious geekhood.
Pluto, which was “discovered” in 1930, was so much a part of our culture that Mickey Mouse (a creation of the '30s himself) had a dog named for the ninth planet. I never did figure out why Goofy, also a dog, happened to be Mickey’s pal and knew how to talk , but Mickey kept Pluto as a pet. I guess that might have been the first hint that the outermost outer planet might not be long for our world.
No, Osama did not build a suitcase bomb and blow up the smallest planet into asteroids. Back in the 1800s, Ceres, the largest asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter had status as a planet, too. Ceres, which is even smaller than Pluto had the misfortune of being the largest object among thousands circling the sun. Not long after its discovery, Ceres got demoted to asteroid status for about a hundred and fifty years until some astronomers decided to try to bring it up to the majors again in 2001 along with a big icy object with the unromantic label UB 313. Instead of promoting Ceres, the association tightened their definition of planet and wound up creating this whole bogus category — “the dwarf planet”.
Basically Ceres got brought up out of the asteroid league and poor Pluto got sent down in the process to join Ceres and UB 313 as part of the dwarf division. To add insult to injury, Pluto’s largest moon, Chiron, which is almost as big as Pluto itself (with two objects, how the heck do you tell which is orbiting which?) also got bumped into dwarfdom.