May 1st, May Day, there’s a lot of hoopla around that, but little did I know that today, May 1st is also Pluto Day.
No, not this one…
planet dwarf planet in our solar system. You know, the one that was so unceremoniously ousted from the roster of planets forever screwing UP the school room chant of “My very educated mother just served us nine pickles.”
What’s a school teacher to do?
Pluto was named a planet on May 1st, 1930. Oh, we knew about it long before then, it was theorized as far back as 1906.
In 1840, using Newtonian mechanics – not the greasy hand kind, but math stuff – a Frenchman named Urbain Le Verrier predicted the position of the then undiscovered planet Neptune, because it was disturbing the orbit of Uranus. (Seriously, I can’t make UP stuff this funny!) Scientists decided that Uranus’ orbit was being disturbed by yet another unknown body. Sorta like Uranus was being two-timed.
Warping to 1906, Percival Lowell of the Boston Lowells, while
hiding out in Flagstaff, Arizona at his observatory started a project in search of a ninth planet. He just knew it was there. All that disturbance made him sure of it.
The search was conducted, unsuccessfully until his death in 1916. What Lowell didn’t know was that a year earlier, two faint images of Pluto were taken, only the guys taking them didn’t know what they had.
After his death, Constance, his widow waged a ten year legal battle trying to get his million dollar portion of the observatory for herself, shutting down the research for Planet X, as it was then called.
When all that was settled, a 23 year old Kansan took over the research, and in 1930, telegraphed the Harvard Observatory on March 13, 1930. And viola! Pluto joined the ranks of planetdom a month and a half later.
The discovery was a world wide media event. Name suggestions came from every where, including Constance, who wanted it called either Zeus, Percival, or …wait for it…Constance! (If you won’t give me my million bucks, then name the damn planet after me!)
The name Pluto was suggested by an 11 year old girl from Oxford, England who had a love of Greek Mythology – and what 11 year old girl doesn’t? So, Venitia Burney won out, and Pluto it is.
It’s just not a planet any longer.
In the late 1970s, Pluto’s status as a planet began to be questioned. Apparently it doesn’t have the mass of the other eight, and scientists are pretty picky about who they let into the club.
In August of 2006, the IAU, International Astronomical Union, defined what a planet really is. Pluto didn’t make the cut!
It was relegated to the status of dwarf planet and joined the list of Eris and Ceres. You know, sort of like the singers who didn’t get a solo on that We Are The World video.
But, the scientific community – a real barrel of fun I’m sure – is deeply divided on the issue.
There are the Pro-Pluto People who want it brought back into the planetary fold, and there’s the Anti-Pluto Crowd who won’t give it its membership card back.
Either way, Pluto is still out there disturbing Uranus!