December 01, 2012
Dear Mr. Brown,
First of all, congratulations. Your discovery of Eris in 2005 led directly to the reclassification of Pluto, profoundly altering our conception of the solar system. More importantly, in the process, you simultaneously broke the hearts of sentimental saps and/or third graders everywhere.
I should know: I used to be one of those saps. I have to admit, when Pluto was demoted in 2006, I was pretty depressed. Let me explain: I’ve always felt a certain kinship with Pluto. Like Pluto, I live in a far-flung, cold area that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. It is called Minnesota. At 5’6” and one-hundred-and-something pounds, I am also pretty small. You could say that I was the Pluto of my high school football team. Everyone publicly admired me for my pluck, but in private, my teammates rolled their eyes at my feeble attempts to fit in where I so obviously did not belong.
The same is true for Pluto, of course. It may be tiny and cute, but it’s clearly the little orphan child of the solar system. Your discovery just made it clear that Pluto’s not alone; there’s a veritable orphanage of Pluto’s tiny misshapen brethren out there.
Plus, the more I think about it, the more irrational my former Pluto-love seems. I mean, we usually depict Pluto as a cute, well-meaning character. But we don’t even know if it’s actually cute. Even with the Hubble Space Telescope, our best photos of Pluto are drab smudges. For all we know, Pluto could be a bitter, malevolent chunk of rock covered in Confederate flags and littered with empty Jack Daniels bottles.
On Twitter, you go by the handle @Plutokiller and you’re often referred to the “man who killed Pluto.” If I ever got such an amazing title, I’d run with it. Given your Pluto-killer moniker, I’ve got a couple of questions for you.
First, since you killed Pluto, have you considered making Pluto your trophy, like the Predator does with the skeletons of his quarry? Given that our New Horizons probe won’t actually reach Pluto until 2015, disemboweling Pluto and festooning your office with its rocky innards is probably impossible for now. Nonetheless, maybe at some point in the future you could just steal its smallest moon. Then to keep the other dwarf planets in line, you could launch it into one of them, maybe Eris.
About Eris: As I understand it, before Eris and its moon Dysnomia received their official designations, you referred to them as Xena and Gabrielle, obvious references to the TV show, Xena: Warrior Princess. Did you discuss this beforehand with Lucy Lawless and Renée O’Connor, the stars of that show? I could conceivably see the actresses taking your gesture the wrong way. I mean, you named heavenly bodies after the actresses’ heavenly bodies. And let’s be honest, by definition, astronomers spend a good portion of their time peering through massive telescopes; viewed uncharitably, your profession can be seen as a little stalker-y. (The only difference is the direction the telescopes are pointing.)
As I dabble in stargazing, I have a little experience in this regard. My house faces south, so I usually have to stargaze from my front yard. This is weird enough in itself. The problem is, my house is located in a cul-de-sac, so everyone on the block can see me. Plus, if the object I want to observe is relatively close to the horizon, I have to aim just above my neighbors’ houses.
This has led to strange encounters with my neighbors, who probably think I’m some sort of creep. When someone spots me stargazing, I half-expect them to come back out with a firearm. If that were to occur, I somehow doubt that yelling, “But I only want to honor your wife’s beauty!” would make them put down the shotgun.
Finally, one last question. As you killed Pluto, I have to ask: have you ever played Mortal Kombat? Given your skill at dispatching actual planetary objects, you’d probably be pretty good at killing virtual enemies. Then again, Mortal Kombat was probably a generation or so after your time, but you played Asteroids, right? I bet you were either really, really good at it, blowing up everything, or really terrible, as you were trying to get as close to the asteroids as possible to study them.
Thanks again for your discoveries, and let me know what you think.
P.S. What is your view on the brontosaurus?