Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pluto's Big Brother

Till January 20th, Mike Brown was a massive hate figure. He was the badass astronomer with the twitter handle @plutokiller who got universally booed for reducing our beloved Pluto into an impotent snowball by questioning its very right to be called a planet. Having caused a cosmic uproar, he decided to make amends by discovering Planet Nine with 29-year-old astrophysicist Konstanin Batygin. And what a giant discovery it has turned out to be!

Planet Nine has 10 times the mass of Earth and despite being so huge, the big fella’s got very little gravitational influence on Earth because it’s located far, far away from the sun – at least 250 times the distance between Earth and Sun!

The thing that’s got everyone excited is the obvious question that’s posed when a new-born arrives with a big bang: “So what are we gonna call it?” Mike Brown’s 10-year-old daughter Lilah is already calling it Planet Lilah. Given the godzilla-esque proportions, Mike and Konstanin are informally referring to it as ‘Fatty’. Most researchers are using the placeholder name ‘George’. But the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is in no hurry as the planet might take at least 5 years to get sighted by a half-decent telescope.

But that hasn’t deterred anyone from voicing their suggestions. Some want to call it ‘Mickey’ after Mickey Mouse as Pluto is Mickey’s pet dog in the Disney series. David Bowie fans want it named ‘Bowie’ but that’s a really long shot as the convention is to name space oddities after Roman or Greek mythology characters.

Given this constraint, the list has narrowed down to: ‘Terminus’, the Roman god of borders; ‘Vulcan’, the Roman god of fire; ‘Bacchus’, the Roman god of agriculture and wine; ‘Nyx’, the Greek goddess of the night; ‘Ulysses’, the Greek hero of Homer’s Illiad; ‘Apollo’, the Greek god of light; and ‘Minerva’, the Greek goddess of wisdom.

There have been a few wild card entries. One smart aleck wants the name to change every year to raise megabucks from corporations. One year it could be, ‘Planet Swoosh’, the next, ‘Steve Jobs Was Here’, and then ‘Windows 9’, and so on. Pluto sympathisers feel it’s a sequel after all. Therefore, ‘Plutwo’ should suffice. If you ask me, I’d say, why not a Hindu mythology moniker? Why not ‘Bheem’? That way, future Star Trekkers could go, “Bheem me up, Scotty!”