Pluto’s Hate Mail

I took a year of astronomy in college, and during the introductory course we had to do one of two things for our semester project: make a sundial or write a paper connecting astronomy to a field of our choice. Art and I do not get along well, doubly so in the fall when I have a NaNoWriMo novel to write on top of school, so the paper was definitely the better choice.

All my obviously interesting choices were too broad or overdone: astronomy combined with math or literature (I considered Harry Potter, but there were already several excellent essays on the topic at the time) or history. Luckily, the year was 2007, and Pluto had just been declassified as a planet. Thanks to my obsessive bookmarking habit and knowledge of online communities (and memories of where different reactions happened), I began my research and wrote a paper on a topic that was still fresh: Pluto’s deplaneting and the Internet community.

That’s why I find The Pluto Files so interesting: a documentary about Pluto’s history and change in planetary status. To me, the most fascinating part is the mail that children sent in, angry that their favorite planet had been demoted. These are kids who learned mnemonics like My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas, and some of them sent hate mail to a museum that demoted Pluto before the IAU did. Real mail on real paper!

It makes me wonder: if Pluto had been demoted during my childhood, would my peers and I have taken it upon ourselves to protest? I think so; a lot of us like to root for the underdog, especially since not everyone can be the cool kid. It’s what makes the rooting-for-the-underdog movies popular. We would definitely have asked a lot of questions about our old friend Pluto. But as the last letter says, “That’s science.”

(Oh, and if you’re wondering, the paper got an A. I even presented it at my college’s research symposium that spring.)

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