Thursday, January 28, 2010

If the Moon's made of cheese, Pluto must be nougat

Okay, how did you learn the names and order of the planets? Did your 7th grade science teacher use the usual mnemonic device? Mine did, and that's still how I remember the correct sequence: My very educated mother just served us nine pies. Some people learned the 'nine pizzas' version - perhaps that was for kids living above the Mason Dixon Line? And one version has the educated mother just showing the pies to the kids . . . that doesn't sound very smart, and, in fact, it's rather mean! Anyway, we learned the planets thanks to whichever saying we used: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto! Then a few years ago, Pluto was downgraded leaving only eight planets.

The devolution of Pluto resulted in a new mnemonic: My very educated mother just served us nougat. Nougat? Really . . . nougat? Who eats nougat - besides the Italians and the French? Was that really the best word that starts with 'N'?

I'm hoping that the people who are trying to get Pluto reinstated will be successful - it has lots of supporters and in some circles is even being called "The People's Planet", so maybe we can drop the nougat and return to the nine pies! According to National Geographic, Pluto was demoted because "it does not dominate its neighborhood" and it has an "untidy" orbit. Perhaps with a bit of counseling, it can become more aggressive and sweep up some of the asteroids and comets in its path - then we can once again consider it a planet!

Until then we're stuck with nougat . . . and what two candy bars have nougat (I know, it's not real nougat, but it's close enough)? Mars and Milky Way! So nougat has a space connection after all and maybe it is a good choice for the the very educated mother to serve . . . what do you think?


  1. An untidy orbit...uh oh, then I'm in trouble too.

  2. No one is "stuck with nougat," as there is no reason to not consider Pluto a planet even without the approval of the IAU. Our solar system does not have only eight planets. Pluto is still a planet. Only four percent of the IAU voted on the controversial demotion, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. One reason the IAU definition makes no sense is it says dwarf planets are not planets at all! That is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear, and it is inconsistent with the use of the term “dwarf” in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. Also, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto’s orbit, according to the IAU definition, it would not be a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another is essentially useless. Pluto is a planet because it is spherical, meaning it is large enough to be pulled into a round shape by its own gravity--a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium and characteristic of planets, not of shapeless asteroids held together by chemical bonds. These reasons are why many astronomers, lay people, and educators are either ignoring the demotion entirely or working to get it overturned. Using this broader definition, our solar system has 13 planets and counting: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. For more, see my Pluto Blog at


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