On Pluto, Poop and Planetary Decline
A brief history of the onetime planet, from its days sharing a name with a laxative to its current celebrity status.
In the roaring 20s, the era of pearls and flappers and inexhaustible idealism, men and women of all classes and distinctions associated the term Pluto not with the outer reaches of our solar system or the album by the rapper Future, but with warm and liquid shits.
"When Nature Won't—Pluto Will" went the slogan of Pluto Water, a well-advertised mineral water laxative, bottled at the elysium springs of French Lick, Indiana. Cheekily drawing its name from the Greek god of the underworld, it was the only mineral water that really opened up the sluices, see, to put that extra pep in your morning step. "Make your food pouch right as rain!" said some pre-Depression Pete Campbell in a newsboy cap, probably.
That was the tenor of the ads for Pluto Water, which feature a mischievous devil just winking at you, as if by drinking it you engage in a Faustian deal with the dark lord of the runs. "Know the joy of life!" read the ad for a product that makes you have diarrhea.
It wasn't until after Pluto poop water was a fixture of early 20th-century American lifestyles that the trans-Neptunian ball of ice and rock we now know as Pluto was discovered. After it was identified at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, New Mexico, on March 13, 1930, astronomer Vesto Silpher sent around an "observatory circular" (a 1930s version of a group text, but for astronomers) to the other telescopes around the world asking them to check out this tiny new body in the celestial sky, way out there, glistening in the distance, covered in craters and hope and cash and jobs.
Unaware of the whole American sensation of Pluto poop water, a young girl from Oxford, England heard tale of this new small, listless body in the sky and, considering the godly names of the other planets (Neptune! Mars! Mercury! The other ones!), asked, "Why not name him Pluto?" This little girl's grandfather probably cabled the Lowell University with her bright idea, and that's the rather short tale about how we got a ninth planet in our solar system.
Naturally, if social media existed in 1930, this 11-year-old girl would have been owned online: "lol nice, name the planet after the good poop water" or "More like Shit Planet, right? this kid is an idiot" or "You can't spell 'Pluto' without 'put lo'...ts of crap in this toilet," they surely would've tweeted, especially those without a grasp of Greek mythology. It was a terrifying moment in Pluto PR, the first of many. What if a daily gets a hold of the story, and the newsie on the corner stands on a milk crate and yells, "Extrie! Extrie! New Planet Pluto Just a Little Squirt!"
The excretive puns never stuck, thankfully, and Pluto was out of the gates as the neighborhood new guy with the longest orbit around the sun. Against all odds, he puttered around outside of the clamor of our planets unfettered, bindle over his shoulder, ready to prove his mettle and secure his place in the solar system.
For years he lived a quiet life. He was innocent and alone, save for his sister moon Chyron, as they waltzed together in icy silence. Pluto—the runt of floating satellites, just wanting to belong to the clique of larger planets—was thriving.
Misfortune soon befell Pluto. In 2001, controversy swarmed when Neil deGrasse Tyson, then director of New York's Hayden Planetarium, quietly removed Pluto from the display of the nine planets. Was Pluto a planet... or nah? A nation was torn apart. Whole ways of life would have had to be reinterrogated if Pluto was not a planet.
Much fanfare and controversy followed in the next five years, but the guillotine finally dropped in 2006. After years of being bullied by the press, after being superseded as the "farthest planet from the sun" by Neptune, after several demotions and merciless thinkpieces and "clear, inarguable scientific evidence by renowned astronomers and physicists" on whether or not he was was a planet or not, he was killed by a group of ruthless astronomers at a convention in Prague, who decided that no, actually, Pluto was not a planet. It was a dwarf planet, along with a few others out past Neptune.
Pluto wept. In its brief 75 years as a planet, it didn't even get halfway through its 258-year orbit around the sun. Its agency was stripped. Now shivering and adrift on the far edge of our solar system, the trans-Neptunian body dances on, in its stateless orbit around the sun as a planet non grata.
Earth looks in the mirror and sees a vision of God. She is a blue marble, swirling with clouds. She believes she is perfect. Her beauty is unending, like a thread pulled from God's cardigan. Today her skies are bluer, her oceans cleaner, her soil more fertile, her mountains more majestic. In her eyes, she's more planet than she's ever been, a confident 4.8 million-year-old teen in the prime of her adolescence. Not only is she unquestionably a planet but she is the queen of the planets, unconcerned with the Venusian sulfur volcanoes or the Martian dirt, because she has the birds-of-paradise, the Amalfi Coast, Lean Pockets, and dank memes. She could give a linty fuck about Pluto and its planetary status.
And up until this week, this way of thinking for Earth was perfectly understandable. But two photos revealed of these two bodies have caused an unprecedented shift in the solar system's paradigm, irrevocably altering both Earth and Pluto's self-worth.
NASA's new picture of Pluto: a revelation. No longer the pockmarked aberration of the outer orbit, Pluto is young and vibrant. The photo of him is gorgeous, showing signs of mountain ranges, volcanic activity, a nascent and nurturing piece of rock that may have underground oceans. Scientists were flabbergasted by its appearance, by how he's doing, as if the decade in exile has only strengthened him, like a prison gym rat. He is a comeback story waiting to happen, full of pluck and moxie, ready to reenter the planets with the kind of sentimental fanfare reserved for Disney sports movie climaxes. He's the best looking bachelor in the solar system.
NASA's new picture of Earth: Jesus Christ, what a mess. Turns out that this is the first picture of earth taken in 47 years that wasn't a composite stitched together. Which is basically saying that earth Photoshops every selfie it has taken or only uses a picture from 47 years ago and guess what—the picture now is pretty busted. Earth is using the most basic and duplicitous move one can do when trying to represent who they really are. Earth needs to take a good look at herself and check exactly where she stands in the pool of options here.
Earth, girl, what do you really see? Do you see the holes in the ozone getting larger and the glaciers receding? Do you see what's happening to your forests and oceans? Do you see that you literally have a colossal garbage patch floating in one of your seas like a boil that can't be lanced? You see all that pollution in Asia? That creates a chain reaction to affect weather patterns in the United States. That's who you really are: a poisonous garbage heap full of selfish creatures whose memes are not funny.
Look at that photo. That's the real you with no makeup. You are damaged beyond repair and within 200 years you're going to cry so much you will flood your seaboards. You realize deep down inside that your status as a planet may be in jeopardy after years of mismanagement and lapse in care for your topography. You are starting to see the breaks in the skin, the transition from young to old based on years of inadequate attention. Your mountains perhaps aren't as majestic through the smog, and the sea-life not as fecund through the oil spills, whose irreparable damage to your oceans have not gone unnoticed by those around you. The moon laughs at you now, as it tugs and pushes your oceans around, doing its job, watching you wither exponentially faster into a state of complete, fogged-over decay. It whispers your business to the other satellites, it knows you ain't what you used to be, that the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone is an extinction event waiting to happen, and yes, they all read the New Yorker article about the big earthquake that is set to raze Seattle and kill the decrepit old people. Don't think that didn't get out to the rest of the planets.
Your credit is maxed, your luck has run out, no one likes you, and your slow decline into irrelevancy is now galloping apace, faster than the speed of the universe can keep up with. You will die soon, Earth, with nothing to show for it other than antibiotics, a fjord here and there, and eight installments of the Fast and Furious movies. You need one last hurrah, Earth, a dalliance with a young, fresh solar body, to remind yourself of the hope you were once filled with, before it turned to bitter, barren regret.
Which is why you should reconsider the advances of a young guy from far away, a young guy who's got a name that's tainted with evil and poo-water. Earth, you should finally fuck Pluto.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter.