LIKE MANY Baby Boomers and pre-Boomers I grew up learning the order of our planets with a little ditty: Mum’s Very Edible Marmalade Jam Sits Nicely Upon Plates.
Of course, that was back in the days when there were nine planets, before the star scientists decided to downgrade poor little Pluto.
That’s why I’m glad to see Pluto back in favour now that NASA’s New Horizons probe is sending back images and data after its nine year journey of more than five billion kilometres across the Solar System.
You have to hand it to the scientific community. They are explaining a complex project in layman’s language and auditioning as stand-up comedians at the same time.
Last night on TV, I watched a laid-back expert explain that we would have a four-hour wait for the ‘phone call home’ as the probe flew past Pluto “because the internet connection speed on Pluto is pretty slow”. It was, he said, a brief message saying ‘Hi, I’m alive. More later.’
Just how exciting is this for the astrophysics community? asked the interviewer. “It’s just Plutastic,” replied the Canberra-based astronomer. “It’s a really cool thing.”
Today, there was another space geek on the radio commenting on the quality of photos by saying that the cameras could pick up a suburban house, adding… “not that we’re expecting to find suburban houses on Pluto”.
At NASA headquarters, staff were handing out stickers: My other vehicle is on its way to Pluto. Now that this vehicle has reached Pluto, they’re celebrating like little kids with more excitement than I had as a kid when I was learning about planets and stars. Bring on the Pluto Pyjama Party, said one.
The fact that all this was happening on the very day 50 years ago when the first spacecraft flew to Mars indicates just how much space exploration has changed the world in my lifetime.
Great stuff. I love it. I want one of those stickers.
Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls