Thursday, August 24, 2006

one for Scott Westerfeld

Planet X
© 1997 Christine Lavin

In Arizona at the turn of the 20th century
astromathematician Percival Lowell
was searching for what he called "Planet X"
'cause he knew deep down in his soul
that an unseen gravitational presence
meant a new planet spinning in the air
joining the other eight already known
circling our sun up there

But Percival Lowell died in 1916
his theory still only a theory
'til 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh
in his scientific query
discovered Planet X
3 point 7 billion miles from our sun
a smallish ball of frozen rock
methane and nitrogen

It joined Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter
Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
our solar system's newest neighbor
two-thirds the size of our moon
a tiny, barely visible speck
cold! minus 440 below
not exactly Paradise
they named the planet Pluto

That same year, 1930, Walt Disney
debuted his own Pluto as well
but a cartoon dog with the very same name
as the CEO of Hell
was not your normal Disney style
most figured he was riding the coattails
of Pluto-mania sweeping the land
(not unlike our modern love
for dolphins and whales)

For the next five decades
mysterious Pluto captivated our minds
as late as 1978 its own moon Charon
was seen for the very first time
but now telescopes and satellites
and computer calculations
say that Pluto may not be a planet at all
causing great consternation

(Some scientists say that Pluto is a)...
"trans-Neptunian interloper"
swept away by an unknown force"
or "a remnant of a wayward comet
somehow sucked off course"
others say that "Pluto is an asteroid
in the sun's gravitational pull"
but if you ask Clyde Tombaugh
he'll tell you it's all "bull"

"I get hundreds of letters from kids every year,"
he says, "It's Pluto the planet they love
it's not Pluto the comet, it's not Pluto the asteroid
they wonder about above"
and at The International Astronomical
Union Working Group
For Planetary System Nomenclature
they, too, say that Pluto is a planet
reinforcing Clyde Tombaugh's view of Nature

Norwegian Kaare Aksnes, professor at the
Theoretical Astrophysics Institute
he, too, says that Pluto is still a planet
and a significant one, to boot
but at the University of Colorado
astronomer Larry Esposito
says "If Pluto were discovered today
it would not be a planet. End of discussion.

He says that "It was not spun off from solar matter
like the other eight planets we know
by every scientific measure we have
is it a planet? No!"
and now twenty astronomy textbooks
refer to Pluto as less than a planet
I guess if Pluto showed up at a planet convention
the bouncer at the door might have to ban it

St. Christopher is looking down on all this and he
says, "Pluto, I can relate
when I was demoted from sainthood
it didn't feel too great"
and Scorpios look up in dismay
because Pluto rules their sign
is now reading their daily Horoscope
just a futile waste of time?

It takes 247 earth years
for Pluto to circle our sun
it's tiny and it's cold but of all heavenly bodies
it's Clyde Tombaugh's* favorite one
'til he was 92 he worked every day
in Las Cruces, New Mexico
determined to maintain the planetary status
of his beloved Pluto

But how are we going to deal with it
if science comes up the proof
that Pluto was never a planet
how do we handle this truth?
as the Ph.D.'s all disagree
we don't know yet who's wrong or who's right
but wherever you are, whatever you are
Pluto, we know you're out there tonight

And in the year 2003 you're going to see
the NASA Pluto Express
fly by and take pictures
of your way cool surface
to send to this web page address:
you've got own web page?
for a little guy
you've made quite a splash

Yes, at the turn of the 20th century
astromathematician Percival Lowell
in his quest for "Planet X"
started this ball to roll
but at the end of the 20th Century
we think he may have been a little off base
so we look at the sky
and wonder what new surprises
await us in outer space
we look at the sky and we wonder ...

*Sadly, Clyde Tombaugh died in January 1997,
after this song was recorded.
This is the re-written line,
and now whenever I sing it
I look up and smile at Clyde.