Monday, August 28, 2006

Pluto-nic Love

The smallest and furthest planet in the Solar System has been making the headlines in the 3rd planet from the Sun recently. All News Channels are running specials, all Daily News papers doing special features on poor old Pluto. The relegation of Pluto from the status of a full fledged planet to that of the newly coined term ‘Dwarf Planet’, is probably the biggest galactic headline grabber since Schumacher-levy’s crash landing on Jupiter.

Watching some of the specials about Pluto’s plight on TV, makes you feel really sad for him. It appears people are sympathizing with Pluto just like most of the cricketing world (barring the Aussies) has been sympathizing with Inzamam-ul-haq lately. “This is unfair on Pluto”, said a school boy in a news programme, as if Pluto has been convicted of a crime unfairly. Other news channels have been endlessly debating the impact of Pluto’s relegation on Astrology. Perhaps, it is just us Indians (or should I say, Indian News Channels) who have a habit of making a mountain-out-of-a-molehill every now and then.

Let’s get the facts straight on this. Firstly, the fact that Pluto will no longer be regarded as a full-fledged planet in the solar system is indeed BIG NEWS. Simply because this changes something which every student across the world, has studied in his school text books for the last 70 odd years. Information like the solar system having 9 planets is as deeply ingrained in every person’s mind as the Earth revolving around the Sun. Asking people across the world to stop believing what they have been doing for all their lives is not a joke. As far as this aspect is concerned, the hype is genuine.

Coming to the scientific nitty-gritty’s of the matter, scientists say that Pluto has been relegated from the status of a Planet, since it does not satisfy one of the qualifying conditions, that of having an independent and non-overlapping orbit. Pluto’s orbit overlap’s with Neptune, and Pluto was ‘inside’ Neptune’s orbit for a period of 20 years recently. (This very fact raises 3 interesting sub-plots. One, for these 20 years, Neptune was technically the furthest planet from the sun. Two, the overlapping orbit’s of Pluto and Neptune create a possibility of a celestial collision, if both the planets happen to be at the intersection point of their orbits at the same time. Three, even if they do not collide, but come very near to each other, will Neptune, by virtue of it’s much larger size, pull Pluto out of it’s solar orbit, and make it a satellite of it’s own ?). Also, Pluto’s orbit is in a different plane than the orbits of the other 8 planets.

The scientific reason behind Pluto’s relegation reveals how childish all the worries about it’s impact on humans are. Pluto’s designation has been changed not because Pluto is now behaving in a different way than before, but because it does not comply to a definition. What’s in a Name? Yousuf Youhana has become Mohd. Yousuf. Does that make him a different batsman? NO.
Astrological calculations are based on the gravitational forces exerted by celestial objects on the Earth. Will the gravitational forces exerted by Pluto change as a result of it’s changed status? NO.
So, astrologers of this world can continue using their age old formulae for calculations. Any other impact Pluto might have on life on planet Earth will also be a function of it’s gravitational force. And hence, as long as Pluto continues to have the same mass, and rotate on the same orbit as it has been doing for ages, earthlings do not have any reason to worry.

All said and done, the demotion of Pluto has raised a very pertinent question. Whatever we believe today is the reflection of today’s scientific truth. Scientific truth might change tomorrow, and along with it, it might change some of our most long standing and cherished beliefs.

"5000 years ago humans KNEW the earth was the center of the universe, 500 years ago humans KNEW the earth was flat, and 5 minutes ago you KNEW humans were alone on this planet, Imagine what you'll KNOW tomorrow" -Agent K to Agent J, MIB

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