Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto sent down to Minors

Pluto sent down to Minors
Former planet hurt by lack of size, disgruntled fan base
By Mark Newman /

08/24/2006 4:25 PM ET

Pluto has been sent down.
It was only a matter of time.

Small body, never got hot, kind of distant.

Astronomers made the decision at their version of the winter meetings, the International Astronomical Union in Prague. The news was announced to inhabitants of our own planet on Thursday, possibly the biggest news story in our lives (think about it) but a crushing blow to the hopes and dreams of the little guy.

"Pluto is dead," said Mike Brown, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology. "Pluto is not a planet. There are finally, officially, eight planets in the solar system."

Pluto is now officially a "dwarf planet," meaning it is one of those round objects that "has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and is not a satellite." Relatively speaking, it only had a cup of coffee in the big leagues. It was discovered in 1930 by a birds-eye scout named Clyde Tombaugh. But Pluto had its chances, coming back year after year just like a Major League Baseball season.

It could never be Mercury, leading off and constantly hot. Venus was all about love and self-sacrifice, a natural 2 spot in the order. Earth, the prototypical No. 3 hitter, the ultimate fantasy pick, the people's choice. Mars, the oft-feared big red machine. Jupiter always had the sweet spot in the lineup. Having Saturn in the order always meant a ring. Uranus, always the team prankster and playing jokes to keep it fun.

Year after year, Pluto tried to leap past Neptune at the end of the order. Because of its eccentric orbit, Pluto actually was able to reach closer to the sun than Neptune during a portion of its orbit. But again and again, Neptune, the savvy veteran (discovered in 1846), would deny the kid. Pluto never really had a legitimate chance.

The youngster with the cold streak also suffered from poor marketing. Initial suggestions for the planet's name had included Zeus, Athene, Atlas, Cosmos, Hercules, Perseus, Prometheus and Vulcan. Instead, it wound up with a name on the back of its jersey that became synonymous with a floppy-eared cartoon dog. Pluto made people laugh. It had become more of a mascot in the ballpark of space than a real player.

Finally, enough was enough. Those 424 astronomers who voted for demotion this week did what most managers and general managers would have done: They sent Pluto down. That created an immediate uproar in certain circles, where Pluto has a fan base. It will be hard for some people to imagine Pluto off the roster. Maybe someday another chance will come. For now, there is a bigger question:

How are billions of Homo sapiens now supposed to remember the solar system's batting order? It used to go something like this:

"My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas." Or "My very educated mother just showed us nine planets."

Fortunately, our mother is not just educated. She is "very" educated. So it appears highly probable that she will think of something else to do, since the pizzas are off the menu. From now on, try: "My very educated mother just showed us Neptune."

Neptune, after all, is now the farthest planet from the sun. The last spot in the order.

Pluto, it's been nice knowing you. The former planet will now hang out with its closest friend, and moon, Charon. They're sure to forever spin yarns about how Pluto once played in the bigs.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.