The Rising and Setting….of Pluto

By Qin Sun Stubis

Growing up in China, I remember there were always nine planets in our solar system. As a child, I was fascinated by their names: Mercury ( 水星 ) – the Water Star, Venus (金星) – the Gold Star, Earth (地球) – the Earth Ball, Mars (火星) – the Fire Star, Jupiter (木星) – the Wood Star, Saturn (土星 ) – the Dirt Star, Uranus (天王星 ) – the King of the Heavens Star, Neptune (海王星 ) – the King of the Sea Star, and Pluto (冥王星 ) – the King of the Underworld Star.

Every time I looked at the night sky, alive with all its twinkles, I envisioned Mercury as a giant swimming pool, Venus wrapped in solid gold, and Jupiter, a giant wooden ball floating in the sky … but of all the planets, Pluto got my attention the most. After all, to a child’s mind, nothing was more gruesome and exciting than a planet associated with the Underworld!

Naive questions came to me: Do all the dead fly to Pluto? Otherwise, how does the king gather up his dead subjects? I was eager to get a glimpse of this deadly dangerous planet. When I was told that it couldn’t be seen by the naked eye, I was very disappointed. At the same time, Pluto’s mystery only grew within me.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about Pluto: how it is a dwarf planet, the furthest one from the sun and the smallest, with only about one sixth of the mass of our moon. It is reclusive and eccentric in nature, made mostly of ice and rock, with an orbit unlike the others. It is definitely one of a kind – my kind.

I just love Pluto’s being different. Cold, dark, distant and mysterious, it is crowned with a perfect name, “King of the Underworld Star.” I adore my runt planet. And, so what if it doesn’t orbit the way others do? In my opinion, our solar system would be a bore without Pluto.

However, six decades after its discovery in 1930, many similarly sized celestial bodies have been found orbiting in the same area as Pluto, part of what is called the “Kuiper Belt.” Scientists started to question its validity as a ninth planet, its size, and orbital habit. Soon enough, its planet status was jeopardized. Many went so far as to have Pluto removed from their planetary models.

For scientists, our solar system is finally in conformity. But for people like me, the debate shall continue until we put Pluto back to where it belongs, and where it has always been.

You can always reach me at qstubis@gmail.com.

(This column was originally published in The Santa Monica Star)

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