Survivor: The Solar System

Scientists are apparently in the midst of deciding if Pluto is, or is not, a planet. Their new criteria for this decision hinges on the fact that, in order to be considered a planet, one has to be pretty exclusively in one’s own orbital domain, ie, no getting in some other planet’s space.

It’s been known for decades that Pluto violates this rule; since its orbit is elliptical, it sometimes crosses over Neptune’s orbit path. From all reports, Neptune is usually pretty cool about this, figuring that as Pluto is a giant block of ice, any controlling brains in machines at the core are going to be damned cold and probably distracted now and then from running things smoothly.

This shouldn’t really be a big deal, but it inexplicably bothers me that Pluto might lose its license. I really think size should be the biggest criteria of whether or not something is considered a planet, along with “not in orbit around another planet” distinguishing such objects from moons.

It’s probably a good thing that the guy who discovered Pluto is no longer with us. Imagine spending all that time, looking for a planet and finding one, only to be told, “You didn’t discover a planet. We don’t know what it is—it may just be a floating hunk of trash. But you didn’t discovery any kind of a planet.”

I imagine that would be pretty discouraging. It would be like spending an hour trying to find your car keys before suddenly realizing, Hey, wait a minute. Why am I looking for car keys? I probably don’t even own a car, at least not a good car. I should probably just give up driving anyway.

On the other front, some scientists are trying to get Pluto’s moon Charon, and Largest Asteroid Winner Ceres, classified as planets themselves. Those scientists, eh? They’re always up to something.

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Tentacles

Have you noted how very, very few land-based animals (well, okay, call it none) have tentacles? I mean the kind that wrap around throats and slowly throttle the oxygen out of them. So far as we know, it’s only the ocean-based cephalopods that have these.

I suspect this is because they’re not really muscle-based (through the contraction of tissue), but more hydralic-based (fluid entering or leaving a reservoir). This would tend to limit their usability when not supported by a totally aqueous environment. Naturally, I’m completely guessing, due to the fact that I don’t know and am too lazy to look it up.

This is probably close to one of those arguments against giant ants (there’s a size limitation when you have an exoskeleton). However, I’m not really interested in making arguments against giant ants, they tend to get miffed and you know how that ends up.

UPDATE: Cullen notes that octopi can use their tentacles effectively in the open air. Indeed, I have heard that octopi can cross large stretches of dry land to get from one tide pool to another. However, they’re still sea-based creatures; the ability to operate effectively in an alien environment does not make one a master of that environment, any more than a man who can hold his breath underwater for more than five minutes should expect a call from Superman asking him to join the Justice League. I accord Cullen full marks for accuracy, but maintain that there aren’t any land-based creatures who have (offensively effective) tentacles.

Cullen also notes that octopi are cool. And he gets no argument from me, since he’s right. I’ll go a step further, and say that all cephalopods are cool. There was a news story a couple of years ago where a Japanese sub managed to film a giant squid in its native habitat. If you know anything about the giant squid, you know that the only specimens we’ve ever studied or scrutinized have been sick or dead.

If you know anything about me, you’ll understand when I say that was Story of the Year as far as I was concerned.

Cephalopods rule. Some of my earliest memories concern looking in Time-Life books and seeing paintings of sperm whale-giant squid battles. I know, that as a fellow mammal, I’m supposed to “vote” for the whale. But the squid is both so alien, and yet so right, so familiar.

It would not surprise me if I was one of them. Tossed here on the drylands to observe you all, and make regular reports.

So shape up.

Cullen, your membership card should be in the mail. Yes, it’s snail mail. We like that joke too.