Monday, July 20, 2015

Persephone's spouse gets a visitor

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So, everybody's talking about Pluto, now that the New Horizons spacecraft has gotten close enough to get great pictures like this one. More and more details about surface features are streaming in every day as the decade-old technology in the ship gathers, processes, and transmits information. Once again, the runt of the solar system captures the public's imagination gets some love.

We at WalakaNet have worked the Pluto beat before: in 2006 when the whole deplanetization controversy reached its peak and was resolved, and in 2008 when the International Astronomical Union threw Pluto a bone. Really, we knew so little about the planet that in the recent past astronomical politics comprised most of the coverage. Now that we are actually doing some scientific exploration in Pluto's neighborhood, big-timers like Stephen Colbert are covering the show:

Colbert gives Neil deGrasse Tyson some well-deserved flack for his role in Pluto's demotion - it's a credit to Tyson's charisma that his popularity is so great even with that stain on his record. And as James Thurber said, you could look it up:
Pluto's orbit is so elongated that it crosses the orbit of another planet. Now that's... you've got no business doing that if you want to call yourself a planet. Come on, now! There's something especially transgressive about that. ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
Transgressive, Neil? You don't know from transgressive.  Let poet Fatimah Asghar explain it to you:
Pluto Shits on the Universe
By Fatimah Asghar

On February 7, 1979, Pluto crossed over Neptune’s orbit and became the eighth planet from the sun for twenty years. A study in 1988 determined that Pluto’s path of orbit could never be accurately predicted. Labeled as “chaotic,” Pluto was later discredited from planet status in 2006.

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.
My bad. Your graph said I was supposed
to make a nice little loop around the sun.


I chaos like a motherfucker. Ain’t no one can
chart me. All the other planets, they think
I’m annoying. They think I’m an escaped
moon, running free.

Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.
Fuck your time. Your year? Your year ain’t
shit but a day to me. I could spend your
whole year turning the winds in my bed. Thinking
about rings and how Jupiter should just pussy
on up and marry me by now. Your day?

That’s an asswipe. A sniffle. Your whole day
is barely the start of my sunset.

My name means hell, bitch. I am hell, bitch. All the cold
you have yet to feel. Chaos like a motherfucker.
And you tried to order me. Called me ninth.
Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass
you tried to make me follow rules. Rules? Fuck your
rules. Neptune, that bitch slow. And I deserve all the sun
I can get, and all the blue-gold sky I want around me.

It is February 7th, 1979 and my skin is more
copper than any sky will ever be. More metal.
Neptune is bitch-sobbing in my rearview,
and I got my running shoes on and all this sky that’s all mine.

Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.
I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel. Now all your kids
in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:
wrong. They don’t even know what the fuck to do.
They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other
planets, I fucked their orbits. I shook the sky. Chaos like
a motherfucker.

It is February 7th, 1979. The sky is blue-gold:
the freedom of possibility.

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops. My bad.
But bygones are bygones and this is a big moment for NASA: a chance to add to our knowledge of the solar system and an opportunity to recapture public backing for space exploration. All the hullabaloo and fun has a serious underpinning that we would do well to remember - and support.

New Horizons has actually completed its Plutonian investigation by now - it has sped past the furthest suburb of the Sol system and it heading out through the Kuiper Belt in the general direction of Sagittarius. It's cold and lonely out there: thanks, little rocketship, for helping out a little planet.

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