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Vintage Quantum Spin Doctors

Vintage Quantum Spin Doctors – We weren’t there when it happened, BUT WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN!

Galactic Core, Milky Way

News of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) decision to downgrade Pluto’s status as a planet to a “dwarf planet” was met today at the Galactic Astronomical Union’s (GAU, more commonly known as “Gah!” for Galactic Astronomical Hangout) meeting with a unanimous vote to create a new class of astronomical unions – the “dwarf astronomical unions” – and to downgrade the IAU to “dwarf astronomical union” status.

“Based on the IAU’s decision on Pluto, we all now kind of think of them as dwarf astronomers,” said Dr. Iam A. Realastronomer, secretary general of the GAU.  “So the dwarf association status really kinda fits, if you ask us.”

Meeting this August 24, 2006 in Prague, the IAU voted, over objections, to adopt a definition of “planet” as a celestial body which (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.  Under this definition the solar system has only eight planets, and Pluto, which has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, would be considered part of a new class of objects deemed “dwarf planets.”  ***UPDATE***  In June of 2008, the IAU decided that solar system objects like Pluto – the so-called “dwarf planets” – will be called “Plutoids.”  ***UPDATE***  In July of 2008, the GAU decided that the IAU was being ridiculous, and, in such light, decided that so-called “dwarf associations” such as the IAU will be called “Ridiculoids,” or, more commonly, “Ridicuassociations,” or “Ridicuasses” for short.

“We do have concerns that the “naysay” voters’ position was not taken seriously,” asserts Dr. Realastronomer.

What IAU Voting May Have Looked Like
Are we sure that all of the “NAY” votes were counted?

“Really, however, our greatest concern is that, I don’t know, maybe billions of people who aren’t astronomers WANT Pluto to be a planet, and it doesn’t seem that the majority of IAU members – what, about a dozen people? – care about that.  All THEY care about is “definitions”…sheesh!” exclaims Dr. Gal Axe Eee, director of GAU media relations.  “Who cares if Sedna or Ceres make mincemeat out of the definition of a “planet” when you’re outnumbered a billion to one?”

There's not an empty seat at the 2006 IAU meeting...or is there?
There’s got to be at least a dozen astronomers voting “Aye” to the Pluto demotion…and, showing how important this is to the IAU, there’s not an empty seat in the house!  Well, uh…

“It just seems a bit out of touch for the IAU to act so against the popular consensus,” continues Dr. Eee.  “I know that astronomers are the most important people in the world and all…” Dr. Eee dissolves into a fit of giggling.  “Sorry, I thought I could say that with a straight face.”  He catches his breath.  “And I know that astronomy in general is so popular with the general folk that astronomers don’t have to care about public education or public perception and the like…” Dr. Eee is overtaken by guffaws.  “Sorry, I usually have more control than this.”  He shakes his head.  “I mean really, what kind of outreach did they do?  Did they even listen to the Pluto re-election committee’s message?”

Pluto Campaign Slogan We' re Number 9!
Pluto and Charon’s campaign slogan – We’re #9! We’re #9! We’re #9! We’re #9! We’re #9!

Did anyone at the IAU even CONSULT with a Plutonian?  We doubt it!  We know they’re hard to find (it’s cold out there), and tough to see (the sun isn’t so bright out there), but…

It's OK, we have no idea what Plutonians look like, either.
Well, we’ve never consulted with a Plutonian either.  In fact, we have no idea what a Plutonian looks like.  But we know they look cold.  Really, really cold.

“Anyway, we convened the annual Galactic Astronomical Union meeting,” which is quite an event, given that ‘annual’ in a galactic context is once every 250 million years or so, “which has juuuuuuust a few more astronomer folks in attendance than the IAU…” states Dr. Realastronomer…

This is just one of the committees...
This is just one of the committees…wait…who’s that in the lower left-hand corner?

“And one of the topics up for vote was the definition of ‘astronomical union.’  And let me tell you,” a look of seriousness spread across both sides of his faces, “we debated a lot of things.  Important things.  Like what lunch should be at the next meeting.  Or how to beat the Andromedians in the up-coming local-group cup.  But you know what got the most intense scrutiny?  I mean – outside of the best female video contest? [Editor’s note: Lady Gaga, representing her home planet rather than Earth, won.]  Astronomical unions, that’s what!”

“You see,” continues Dr. Eee, “the membership felt that in order to be a full fledged astronomical union, the union must make decisions without…um, how to say this delicately?  Yes.  Without one’s head up one’s derriere.  Yes, I believe those are simple enough terms that even a member of the IAU could understand.”  He looked thoughtful for a moment.  “But, based upon their Pluto decision, maybe not…”.

With 100% committee support (the Committee For Keeping Astronomical Union’s Heads Out Of Their Derrieres, that is) and overwhelming support from the GAU electorate, the decision as to whether to downgrade the IAU to “dwarf astronomical union” status went to the Galactic Executive Committee.

This is where the GAU executive committee meets
This is where the GAU executive committee meets. Really. They’re just off getting a coffee. Or watching a cup match. Or deciding the fate of a star system. You know, executive committee stuff.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The executive committee voted unanimously to recommend that the Chief Grand Poobah GAH! member approve demotion of the IAU to “dwarf” status.  The Chief Grand Poobah GAH! member, in all of her sage wisdom, gleaned from years of watching the brilliant and the idiotic alike, made her decision.  Who is this all-knowing, all-powerful Poobah GAH! member?  How did she decide?

Well, you know how she voted, duh
Well, you know how she voted, duh

IAU images: The International Astronomical Union/Lars Holm Nielsen, IAU/Robert Hurt (SSC)