Pluto or not Pluto?

To be a planet or not to be a planet? That is the big question circling the sun these days. Suddenly the Pluto debate is back on the astronomical front burner ... and all us veteran cosmic rockers down here on the 'good planet earth' can do is sit by and wait for the outcome.

Today's big news is that not only will Pluto remain a planet, but that Pluto's moon Charon might also be categorized a planet, as might the asteroid Ceras (located somewhere between Mars and Jupiter) and the odd little celestial body 2003 UB313 (nicknamed Xena - I guess after the female warrior) out beyond the orbits of Pluto and Charon. What a wacky solar system in which we live. Instead of losing a planet, the new heavenly scheme would add three new ones. Gustav Holst better get busy composing!

I, for one, am glad that Pluto will most likely remain a planet. I don't like people messing around with my concept of the heavens. Life is tough enough without people telling me that what I once thought was a planet is now just some celestial rock! Next they'll be telling me that the universe just sort of happened one day out of some sort of big bang!

But enough about Pluto. Let's talk about Mars. Mars - the red planet, our cosmic twin, darting about across our night sky and occasionally going retrograde on us. But can we trust her? After all, she's often been associated with "war" and evil doings. Even Holst's "The Planets" refers to Mars as "The Bringer of War"! Perhaps that's the source of our earthly problems right now - too much Mars and not enough Jupiter and Venus.

Yet, Mars isn't all bad. She gets a bad reputation because she hangs out in a bad neighborhood of the solar system near the asteroid belt. Why not visit Mars for a spell and decide for yourself. Stop by your local library and check out one of these classic books (among my favorites): H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet," and Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles." Wells wrote of Mars during the late 19th century, while Lewis and Bradbury wrote during the mid-20th century. Their take on the red planet is quite different, from Wells' warriors in tripods to Lewis' peaceful Malacandrians. And with Bradbury you'll be surprised to discover who is revealed as the "Martians" as reflected in the waters of a martian canal.

And while you're reading, cue up Holst's "The Planets" on your CD player. "The Planets": Mercury - the winged messenger; Jupiter - the bringer of Jollity; Saturn - the bringer of old age; Uranus - the magician; Neptune - the mystic; Mars - the bringer of war; and Venus - the bringer of peace. What would one compose about the planet called Earth? Perhaps all of the above ... and then some.

Jack Sheedy

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