Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." - Carl Sagan

The only aspect of outer space that strikes us with any sense of familiarity is our cosmic family unit, the solar system. "Our" solar system. We learn the order of the planets in grammar school, through various absurd mnemonics, and all know bits and pieces of scientific lore about each: Mercury oppressively small, Mars close, dusty and red, Saturn with its elegant rings, and Jupiter a giant of swirling red clouds. Some of us have affinities and distastes -- I, for example, find Venus horrible. We know "our" planets, see them as our fellows, as odd-coupled roommates in the neighborhood. We feel, au fond, territorial.

Which is why, perhaps, any changes in the established order can irk us fantastically. Take Pluto, for example. Long a beloved member of the solar system, its 2006 demotion from planet to dwarf planet ignited ire among thousands, who saw the move as needlessly draconian, as well as an affront to the harmony of our solar system. 54 members of the California state assembly proposed a resolution condemning the International Astronomical Union for "scientific heresy," and for inciting "psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe." Of course, Pluto continued to exist, unconcerned.

UNIVERSE | There Goes the Solar System
Image from Sharp Bokeh.

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