Pluto, We Love You. Sorry We Banished You From Our Orbit

Pluto, We Love You. Sorry We Banished You From Our Orbit

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015.

Dearest Pluto,

It was the Roman poet Sextus Propertius who said: "always towards absent lovers, love's tide stronger flows." We see now the prescience of these words. Their true meaning. Now it is too late, we finally understand.

The events of the past few days have caused us to reassess so many things. Our eyes, long closed by hubris, foolishness, a pig-headed compulsion to categorize the uncategorizable, are now open. Pluto, we mistreated you, we see that now. You deserved better. Deserve better. We are truly, truly sorry.

When we met on that fateful day on the 18 February 1930, as Clyde W Tombaugh spotted a flicker in the obsidian blackness of the far reaches of the solar system, it was as if all our dreams had been made solid. A new planet - mysterious unexplored frontiers. But finding you hadn't been easy. Any love worth anything never is.

Bostonian astronomer Percival Lowell devoted the last decade of his life to searching for you, dying unfulfilled. Yes, he gave the hypothetical you a name, Planet X, and perhaps you saw this as our first breach of your trust. But please, please believe us when we say the letter X didn't take on its salacious, pay-per-view connotations until decades later. Our love for you, even then, was pure. And, unlike said smut, free.

Once discovered, our relationship blossomed. The excitement. The thrill of the new. The whirlwind of newfound fascination. This is how we want you to remember us: at our best, when we bathed you in the admiration and respect that you spent centuries believing you would never receive - centuries we gawped at Saturn's ostentatious tiara and Jupiter's junky trunk. You were our ninth planet, but no less exciting for that. That we were able to fulfil your lifelong wish and welcome you into the Sol family remains something about which we remain eternally proud. That we named you Pluto after the mighty god of the underworld - a handle romantically coined by an eleven-year-old Oxford schoolgirl - likewise made us giddy.

But, through no fault of yours, the honeymoon wasn't to last. Human nature, our infernal nitpicking, was to be the undoing of our union.

Firstly, Walt Disney named a cartoon dog after you, an animal renowned for thunk-headed, spittle-chinned boneheadedness and appalling personal hygiene. We don't know how many times we can say we're sorry, Pluto. If we ever manage to thaw our Walt Disney's head, we'll ask him why he did it and demand appropriate recompense on your behalf.

This wasn't all: through numerous revisions, we gradually determined your mass wasn't quite as large as we thought it was. Between 1931 and 2006 our best guesses had deflated from roughly on a par with Earth's mass to 1/459 of Earth's mass. It shouldn't have changed our feelings towards you, but it did. We're coming clean, so hopefully we can start anew - we're petty, short-sighted and enamoured by the new and extreme. This isn't your fault. It is a fault of our nature.

In 1992 the unthinkable happened. We discovered similar-sized objects to you in your area: the hussies of The Kuiper Belt. Did you try and hide them from us? If you did, we understand why. You could feel us slipping through your fingers, and we'd barely laid eyes on you - not really. Nevertheless, in August 2006, the International Astronomer's Union duly stripped you of your planet status: it was the ultimate indignity, our final insult, the sash unceremoniously ripped from the prom queen. We wake up in the night sometimes, distraught about how you must have felt - think about how much more attention we've paid to that idiot Mars simply because it lives next door - and we weep.

But as we long and beg for your forgiveness, we need to to know something: in January 2006, months before the IAU's heartless, gonkish meddling tore us asunder, we launched the New Horizons probe. We'd looked at you for so long, we realized, but we'd never really seen you. Our time together had been precious - more precious than any life blobbing about in Europa's oceans and more precious than all the cheese on the Moon - so we set off on the three-billion-mile journey to come and show you how much you meant to us. Despite everything, we were coming.

That tiny speck you'd seen hurtling towards your face for nine-and-a-half years was us; it was proof we still cared. We'd been hasty, Pluto. Stupid. The beautiful pictures of your surface beamed back by New Horizons - the ash-and-tan wondrousness, the coquettish pockmarks of meteor collisions, the adorable heart motif - showed us this.

We were so wrong to let you go, Pluto. Please, please take us back and things will be just like they were before. You're all over the news - the talk of the town, belle of the ball, just like those halcyon days back in 1930 where we ran wild and free. We're fascinated again, because we've realized what we should have always known: you're brilliant and we love you.

Without you, we're the hollow, necrotic husk of a lush oak that once stood proudly, the initials symbolizing our bond etched into its trunk for all time. (You don't know what an oak is because you're three billion miles away and you have never seen a tree. But you must take our word for it that this analogy is both logically sound and deeply moving.)

Let's not throw away all we had and all we could have again, Pluto. Please forgive us. Let's rebuild, rekindle. Soon we could be laughing at Uranus's ridiculous name together, just like we used to.

Yours until the end of the universe,


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