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8.24.2015


The Best Day Pluto Ever Had
DEBORAH YARCHUN

The day Pluto was demoted it became a national hero.

It wasn’t Pluto’s fault. The criteria shifted—revealing that, all these years, Pluto was only passing for a planet. We slipped it an interstellar green slip.

It’s hard not to imagine the letter:

Dear Pluto,

No doubt you have impressive qualities. Five moons are a real accomplishment. Reaching temperatures of negative 387 is admirably ambitious. And no doubt, you are massive. But it’s come to light that you are an icy object surrounded by equally massive bodies of ice. Which is to say: we saw you first and gave you a name and cherished you for 76 years. But it was a mistake. We could have looked to the left and seen your neighbor, Eris (who it turns out is actually larger than you).

In short, your importance is actually a human error. You are no longer a planet. You are a Kuiper Belt Object.

We apologize.

Sincerely,
The scientists who decide things, and Neil deGrasse Tyson

There was suddenly a planet-sized (sorry, a dwarf-planet sized) metaphor in our lives. Pluto became the ultimate underdog (Disney pun intended).

“Poor little dude.”

School children wrote apologetic cards. Nova received hate mail. Five-year olds penned vitriolic letters to Neil deGrasse Tyson. People around the world signed petitions. Sufferers of imposter syndrome had their worst fears validated.

It also became the source of a lot of existential questions:
What does the demotion of a planet mean?
Is it like going from published to out-of-print?
Tenure-track to adjunct?
A president to a former president?
Once you see something as a planet, can it ever be unseen as a planet?
Is it orbited by its former planet status?
For how long? Eternity? The end of human memory?

And it became a warning:
Watch out. Even planets can be demoted.

As I write, a few weeks ago, a 15-year-old boy discovered a new planet. There are new planets discovered every week, it seems. In a way, Pluto is bigger than Mars. Being a planet is apparently not so special. But being demoted is universal.

And Pluto went from a planet to an “object.” That’s bigger than the rise and fall of a Hollywood star. Pluto went from being small but celebrated, to a planetary outcast⎯an anti-hero (which in the Western/cowboy way of looking at things is actually ultimately a promotion). There’s no cosmic equivalent. And if there are human equivalents, it dwarfs them.

Pluto—do not despair.

There is now a classification for you: Plutoid. By losing planetary status you became your own category. On July 14, 2015, you were visited (well, within 7,750 miles of being visited—the closest we can reach you, and the farthest object-destination for any space mission in history). Most celestial bodies don’t get that courtesy. The New Horizons flew by you, after nine years and a three billion-mile trip. It carried the ashes of the man who discovered you. And, on behalf of humanity, it reached you, and will keep reaching.




DEBORAH YARCHUN is a two-time Jerome Fellowship recipient. Her plays have been developed and produced across the country and in Canada. Deborah holds an MFA from the University of Iowa where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. She is currently working on an EST/Sloan Commission about the oil boom in North Dakota, and a musical about legendary Jewish singer/songwriter, Debbie Friedman. Deborah is also a micrography artist. You can find out more about her writing at DeborahYarchun.com and on Twitter at @DeborahYarchun.

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