Where are we going? Planet 10! When are we going? Real soon!

The water skiing orangutan Did you know that scientists found a tenth planet in our solar system on July 29? I know, I know, this is nearly month-old news, but I live in South Dakota, okay? Come August, if it ain’t about Sturgis or motorcycles, folks here ain’t done want nuthin’ to do with it. For example, when Iran recently engaged in a potentially catastrophic NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN with the United Nations, the story only made it to page A-8 of the Rapid City Journal, below the fold, and next to an article about a water-skiing orangutan. But I digress.

A view of the sun from Planet 10 Apparently astronomers at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego (yay, Palomar!) discovered a tenth planet orbiting Sol way, way out past Pluto. Though initial data suggests Planet 10 has an abundance of rock and ice and pretty much nothing else, no definitive proof yet exists that it is not home to armies of Red Lectroids bent on stealing our oscillating overthrusters and attacking us through the eighth dimension. Peter Weller, we need you!

According to NASA, the scientists have already suggested a name for Planet 10 to the International Astronomical Union. There is a rumor that the name suggested by discoverer Mike Brown and his team is Xena, as in the warrior princess. No, really. I find this appalling, partly because no planet should ever be named after cheese-ball syndicated TV shows (even the ones about badass gravity-defying lesbian-warlords), but mostly because any geek worth his salt already knows that the planet’s name is Rupert.

Then again, even Xena is better than its current name, which is TNO:2003-UB313. Apparently our new-fangled telescopes are sharp enough to read the bar codes on planets now.

However, the whole “I hereby name thee Rupert of the system Sol” ceremony is being put on hold until scientists can agree on whether Rupert actually is a planet or not. Supporters say there’s no argument: “Rupert is a helluva lot larger than that rinky-dinky Pluto thingy, and, dude, Pluto is a planet, so there.” Detractors, conversely, argue that Rupert should NOT be a planet, because (a) it is extraordinarily far from the sun relative to the other planets, (b) has an extremely elliptical orbit outside the orbital plane of the other planets, and (c) it would totally fuck up the My very educated mother just sent us nine pizzas mnemonic they spent all of seventh grade memorizing. “But,” counter the supporters, “Pluto has these same problems too. Hence, if Rupert can’t be a planet, neither can Pluto, so stuff that in your fancy-shmancy mnemonic and smoke it.”

In an attempt to bring these two camps together, I humbly suggest that TNO:2003-UB313 should be considered a planet, since

  • Douglas Adams and Buckaroo Bonzai can’t both be wrong,
  • 10 planets is a nice, solid number of planets to have, and
  • Moreover, we could retroactively assert a divine, celestial justification of our base 10 number system, citing it as the best damn base out there. This sure beats the the usual — a quite demoralizing — explanation that “It’s ‘cuz we still count on our fingers like morons.”

And if we name it Rupert, we can placate the discontents by only slightly altering the planet mnemonic into My very educated mother just showed us new Planet Rupert. This is actually an improvement over the current mnemonic, as it not only helps cement the planet’s name in the minds of the general public, but also actually demonstrates the mother’s supposed intellectual ability, since discussing the existence of newly discovered celestial bodies clearly requires a bit more book-learnin’ than ordering an excessive number of pizzas from Domino’s.

Yeah, I know: I’m a uniter, not a divider. But I digress. Again.

The International Astronomical Union is putting together a body to determine TNO:2003-UB313’s planetary status, thereby giving an official definition for what constitutes “a planet.” One that, quite possibly, Pluto might actually fail to live up to. Now that‘s gotta be a pretty cool gig for a scientist. It’s not everyday that you are granted dispensation to bestow or revoke planethood from something. How far does such power go? Is it possible that such a group could, say, redefine the Asteroid Belt to be the “chewy nuget center of the solar system?” And if so, how might we convince them to do that, ’cause that’d be sweet?

Anyways, I’m rooting for Rupert or Planet 10 or TNO:2003-UB313 or whatever it’ll be called. The seemingly arbitrary nature of its planetness reminds me of the Simpson’s episode where Mr. Burns is shot: “TNO:2003-UB313 was taken to an international astronomical coalition, where it was pronounced comet. It was then taken to a better international astronomical coalition, where its condition was upgraded to a planet.”

So stay strong, TNO:2003-UB313!

And remember, whatever happens, at least your name won’t be Uranus.

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