The Tenth Planet

October 20, 2006

Every once in a while someone tries to sell me the Hot Rods of the Gods theory–the idea some time ago in distant history aliens landed on this planet and mated with humans or otherwise influenced our development. As proof they usually point to the pyramids, or at least in a random direction because they’re not always sure where the pyramids are, although they’re pretty sure the pyramids are somewhere East of here. Supposedly humans couldn’t possibly have built the pyramids, but why not? The way I see it the ancient Egyptians had a choice: they could either devote themselves to building monuments or they could figure out how to keep the sand out of their food. So they ended up toothless but with the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that’s still standing. What could aliens do for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves, aside from inventing drywall? And even if aliens did make us who we are it wouldn’t be all the aliens. Somebody has to stay home on Rigel Seven and cook the meals and dig the ditches while a select group went off to a small blue-green planet to muck around with the DNA of some chimpanzees, build the pyramids, paint the Mona Lisa, and invent Velcro. It would be the explorers, the inquisitive ones, the ones who couldn’t get real jobs–in a word, the scientists. I’m not knocking scientists. Scientists figured out how to pasteurize cheese, and this is a lot of fun at parties, but scientists also recently got into a massive argument over whether Pluto was a planet. Admittedly they didn’t clumsily shoehorn two completely unrelated things together like I just did, but I thought I’d distract you with a little stuff about aliens that I’ve had on the back burner for years then sideswipe you with my fury over Pluto becoming a galactic second-class citizen. Never mind that it doesn’t matter to anyone except Percival Lowell’s relatives whether Pluto’s a planet, a planetoid, an asteroid, or an aster.

Discovering a new planet is a reason to rewrite the textbooks, but shouldn’t Pluto get some credit for being a planet for most of the last century? Yes, it’s an oddball–which makes it like a lot of scientists. Obviously when they wrote the rules for planets they didn’t plan it very well. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune don’t even have a surface you can stand on. (I’ll take a moment while all those of you who are mentally thirteen make a joke about standing on Uranus.) They’re gas giants. So is my Uncle Harry, but I don’t hear anyone calling him a planet even though he believes everything revolves around him. But I digress. Scientists should know better than anyone else the dangers of baseless decisions and sloppy classification. For all we know there are aliens living on Pluto, and now that we’ve demoted it they might get mad enough to come down here and take back their pyramids.

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