Saturday, September 02, 2006

Is It Or Isn't It?

In a disturbing update to H I’s exclusive coverage of the recent meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Prague, it appears that the issue of whether Pluto is a full fledged planet is not settled. Charges of ‘bad science’, ‘national self-interest’ and ‘election fraud’ are swirling around the IAU.

On the last day of the meeting, 424 of the 2,500 delegates showed up to vote to change Pluto’s status to ‘dwarf planet’. Apparently the rest of the delegates were sleeping off hangovers in the Czech beer capital. In their absence, the insurgent ‘dynamicist’ faction passed a controversial definition of a planet that had the effect of an asteroid hitting the earth. They decided that a planet is “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." The opposition ‘planetary geologist’ faction has gone into its own orbit.

NASA immediately launched a withering attack on the ‘rigged vote’. The US New Horizons mission to Pluto is about 6 months into a nine and a half year flight to study what it thinks is a planet. A high ranking NASA source told H I, “Imagine driving 30 miles to a really nice restaurant only to find out that it’s a McDonalds. Besides, half the people who live in trailer parks in Alabama fit that stupid definition.” It is reported that the White House is considering sending the 101st Airborne Division in to restore democracy to the IAU.

Athanasios Stavrodopolous, of Athens’ Asteroskopeio Dimotikos observatory, immediately demanded €50 billion compensation from the EU. “Pluto is a Greek god and this is a question of national honour. Believe me, Greece will not sell its national honour for less, or certainly not for much less!” Italy responded by threatening to mobilize the marching band of its Astronautica Gloriana Division to defend the Roman god Jupiter.

Defending the Dynamicist position, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a specialist in neutron stars from Northern Ireland, urged the opposition “to look on the bright side”. Apparently even dwarf planets have bright sides. Mickey O’Leary, president of PIRA (Provisional Irish Republican Astronomers) responded ‘Fawk dat, never surrender!” He announced that PIRA was considering a bombing campaign against the Jodrell Bank radio telescope in the UK.

Michael Brown, who started this controversy by discovering a ‘new planet’ called 2003 UB313 was philosophical about the results of the election. “I may go down in history as the guy who killed Pluto.” He was very relieved however, that the other Michael Brown would go down in history as the guy who killed New Orleans.

There is obviously a need for another election. Perhaps Jimmy Carter can be persuaded to observe it. Perhaps the Planetary Geologists Party can stay sober long enough to vote. Or perhaps everyone can agree to let Pat Robertson decide the answer. After all, he is the person who discovered that the entire universe is only 8,257 years old.

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