Friday, January 22, 2016

My Planet Problem

Caltech astronomers report they may have found a new ice or gaseous planet, 10 times the size of the Earth, way out in the nether reaches of our solar system.

Depending on whether you believe Pluto is a planet -- and the debate continues -- this is either the ninth or tenth planet.

I do hope this gets resolved quickly because one of my favorite mnemonics is at stake. It is this:

My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas.

If you can remember this, you can name all the planets, for the period from 1930 to 2006 anyway, in order of distance from the sun.  Let me demonstrate now:

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

For a non-cosmologist to rattle off this list is an amusing and, in some circles, impressive parlor trick. 

I can adjust the sentence if Pluto is disqualified.  (Astronomers voted at a 2006 convention to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet, one of many in the Kuiper Belt, but people still argue.)  Here is my non-Pluto memory aid:  

My very excellent mother just served us nachos.

See?  It's not particularly mellifluous, but it works.  I'm very flexible about these things.

Unfortunately, the astronomers seem to be planning to take their time deciding whether this newest potential planet is the real deal.  Worse, no name has been advanced for the planet/non-planet, except the term Planet Nine.   Let's see if we can come up with a sentence:

My very excellent mother just served us plain nachos.

Hmm.  Would potato nachos be better?  Peach nachos?

Here's my thought; I'm not going to waste time revising my sentence until we get a more definitive ruling than "maybe-maybe not" from the research community.

So -- get on it, scientists, I say.   Make up your minds, and soon.

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