This morning on the Metro, as I commuted to my job (which I continue to mention because I am so happy to have one!), I opened up the Express newspaper, which is a free, brief version of The Washington Post handed to DC area commuters on weekday mornings. On the second page of today’s Express is a picture from an anti-de-planetization-of-Pluto protest in Seattle that took place yesterday.
The photo shown in the Express is the top photo on this page. In the photograph, passionate young people exercise their right to speak out on a controversial issue.
Why all the controversy? Personally, it makes no difference to me whether Pluto is considered a planet or not. But I see that there are others who are deeply invested in Pluto’s status.
One theory someone shared with me is that people’s conviction that Pluto is a planet is mostly a trend: something to jump on the bandwagon and care about, a bandwagon driven in part by the fact that Pluto is a Disney character.
I don’t doubt that this is the case for some people, just as so many other ideas and preferences are trendy. But I also think it’s valid that many feel genuinely disoriented by the change in Pluto’s classification. People get attached, understandably, to their concepts of reality, of how the universe works. They may intellectually accept the new information that re-classifies Pluto, but at a perhaps more emotional level, it could be hard to let go.
What does all this have to do with museums? Air and space museums present the public with exhibits about the planets – and they have to make some changes when a planet becomes demoted! The Museum of Science in Boston created a new planetarium show to provide further information to the public. Air and space museums, including the National Air and Space Museum in DC and Virginia, have hosted Mike Brown, author of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. Interestingly, New York’s American Museum of Natural History stirred up controversy in 2001 when it demoted Pluto ahead of its time.
New information gives museums extra work to do, but it’s what science is all about – and it’s one of many reasons museum work stays interesting. Sixty years from now, I hope I can visit a museum about astronomy and see all sorts of information no one knows right now.
Happy Pi(e) Day everyone!