The Plutonic Ice Lassoing of New Horizons


The Plutonic Ice Lassoing of New Horizons

by Mark Damon Puckett

“The pictures coming back from Pluto are a bit fuzzy.  But just wait.  As of Monday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was almost six million miles away—about 25 times the distance from Earth to the moon—but is closing in fast. . . . Ever since a young astronomer named Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto 85 years ago, it has been a little more than a dot in the night sky.”

The New York Times, July 7, 2015

Hmmph.  That’s rich.  “Little more than a dot in the night sky” indeed.  I was once a planet, my friend, and they first thought I was bigger than Jupiter back in the day.  And don’t get me started on quote-unquote spacecrafts.  Let’s take this New Horizons ship that is supposedly passing by me soon which has taken NINE AND A HALF YEARS to get here (if it doesn’t get whacked by my debris).  Nine and a half years is pretty slow but no slower, I guess, than it took them to figure it out that I had been faking my planetness for a long time.

I’d always had trouble with my identity, trying to be something I wasn’t.  The pretense was killing me in my icy core, so in a way, I felt glad in 2006 when more scientists who didn’t know what they were doing were, like, Oh, sorry, you’re a plutoid now.

But a plutoid?!  Really?  You’re serious.  A plutoid?

Now they call me a “minor” planet.  Or a “dwarf” planet which is not very politically correct.  I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.  On the one hand I don’t feel like I’m lying to myself all the time trying to live up to what they think I might be.

I mean, it’s a lot of pressure being a planet.  Have you ever met Saturn?  Jerk.  Saturn is on steroids; he’s been juicing for years.  When I was still a member of Planet Fitness, I used to see him in there all the time gulping down some protein shake.  Suuurre, real natural to gain nine million pounds of muscle in a month.  Subtle.  No one notices at all.

At any rate I’m amazed I got away with it for as long as I did.  We do weird things out here on me, like people have seven and a half fingers so we don’t give high fives but high sevens and a half.  Or seven and a halves.  Or however the hell you’re supposed to say it.  We also have the only factories that export onion rings because we are the only ones who can seem to fit those onions into the crispy parts.

Anyway, yeah, that’s me, once the ninth planet in the solar system now demoted to this icy pariah, caught somewhere between a god and a cartoon character.  Named after the god of the underworld, but who knows, maybe I was named after that idiotic Disney dog with the flappy ears instead.  I need to check the dates on that.

By the way you can’t trust scientists.  They are usually wrong.  Take my moons for example.  For a while I had just one, Charon, and what is UP with naming us after all the “hell” things.  Pluto!  Charon!  Ridiculous.  And I have five moons, girlfriend!  Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and, of course, more hell naming:  Styx.  I am surprised they never called me Hades.  To hell with their naming.

It all started when they found out I was just one of many in the Kuiper Belt.  Don’t get me started on the Kuiper Belt which ruined my reputation.  See, scientists like to think they know everything, which they don’t, obviously.  Then they get mad and name me and my moons hellish things.  But I like the other neighbors here in the Kuiper Belt except when they yell over at me, “Hey!  Plutoid.”

Anyway this really slow New Horizons will pass by me on July 14, 2015, to do what?  Take pictures.  Tourists.  I can’t stand them.  Nice almost-ten-year road trip.  What did you build your spaceship out of?  Gum?

So let me just get this all straight in my head.  Some farmer named Tombaugh accidentally discovered me in 1930 because he just happened to be at an observatory in Kansas.  A lot of time passes then I’m a planet, the famous ninth.  Okay, I’m good so far.  In 1992 some naysayers started to doubt this status and by 2006 I’m relegated to a plutoid.  Stop calling me plutoid!  Now a spaceship, which has taken almost a decade to fly here, is coming by to, um . . . take pictures?

I’m sort of the human equivalent of famous actors who win an Oscar in the 1940s only to end up selling denture cream on television later in life.  It is lonely being neither here nor there, having had a taste of the beauty of admiration, everyone staring at me.  Then I was nothing.  Or reduced from what I was, and it just wasn’t the same.  I didn’t fit in the planetary world, they revoked my membership at Planet Fitness (Earth, FYI, very unhealthy planet) and yet I didn’t fit in the Kuiper Belt either.

But, see, people on Earth are extremely strange.  They make up all sorts of fictions to delude themselves.  I don’t want to delude myself anymore.  I didn’t choose to be chosen as a planet and I didn’t choose be demoted as one.  I have always been myself, well, for the most part.  I’ll admit I liked the attention; it was beaming and lovely and magnetic.  I was more electric than the sun.  I was discovered then maligned and this gave me dimension.  It’s amazing, though, how so many people talk at me.  No one asks me how I feel, but I watch it all.  Ohhh, yes I see everything and my perspective is telescopic.  I don’t think it’s fair to label people anyway when identities revolve on axes all their own.  My identity is a revolution of self, a literal spinning, each spin the same but giving me a new 360 photograph, panoramic and splendid and five-dimensional.  I was a planet, yes!  A planet.  What better thing is there to be and what a worse thing to fall from.

Here’s the irony.  I hated it.  I didn’t like my planet status.  It was false.  Unreal, not real.  It lacked reality.  All it was was a renaming and how can a name be so potent?  How can a name fix you in space?

“Shut up!  I am not plutoid!”

Sorry, some annoying brats from the Kuiper Belt.  If you don’t give it right back to them, they just keep up the bullying.  Little punks.

Well, anyway.  The sluggish New Horizons spaceship will be crawling by here soon in its flying gum machine.  It’s July 11 so I guess that’s three days.  I need to check in with my moons; we never talk anymore.  Except for Charon which was discovered earlier, the rest of them are sore at me for getting all the attention.  Now, their star is rising (I’m mixing metaphors—kind of hard not to in space) and they have some real attitude, let me tell you.  They are like the Kardashian sisters inheriting latent stardom, and now their step-father, Bruce Jenner, is also changing his identity to Caitlyn.  Of all the people on Earth I like this Caitlyn nee Bruce Jenner person who seems like the only honest person down there.  Or maybe it’s just that I identify with what it is like to hide who you really are from the world then suddenly to reveal to them that you are not what you seem.  The difference between me and Caitlyn Jenner is that my identity was changed without anyone asking me, and she got to choose hers.  However, it took her a long time since Earth is so filled with odd things, like milk.  Milk scares me.  I still don’t understand it.  Also:  the 1980s.  What the heck happened then?  Bus bathrooms are also an enigma.  A bathroom on a bus!

Sorry, when I talk about Earth I feel guilty.  It’s sort of like indulging in pint of ice cream at midnight.  Where was I?  Oh, EXACTLY WHERE I’VE ALWAYS BEEN.  Only, my name was changed for me.  I didn’t change my name or my identity.  I have been here all along, constant as I ever was, but the universe has shifted its perspective of me.  Some would say I have been judged unfairly.  That I rose too fast, too early.  I was young then, sure, but I wouldn’t change it.  I guess I’m actually more like those child stars who become famous on shows then die young of a drug overdose.

I will say that I kind of felt like that when the scientists changed who I was to a plutoid.  I was a disgrace to the big planets (egomaniacs, especially Neptune, I never liked Neptune).  I was right back to where I started in a home I had always hated.  Stuck in the middle I decided to ignore my Kardashian moons and just be by myself for a while.  I had a good break.  New Horizons will come by and take some photos, and who knows, maybe in thirty more years they will re-decide I am the center of the universe.  Actually, Uranus and I are pretty close.  I like Uranus.  Uranus is pretty cool.  You should take a closer look at Uranus sometime.  You might be surprised.  Uranus, by the way, is the only worse name in the universe than plutoid.

Hang on, I’m getting a text message from Venus.  What!  I mixed up the dates and it’s actually July 13 so this New Horizons gum machine will be here tomorrow?  Time blurs out here in the Kuiper Belt sometimes, and maybe I don’t know who I am anymore.  Plus, I need to upgrade my iPhone.  On occasion I still feel like I’m a planet who longs to have that mythomaniac status once again, but after letting this melancholy pass I realize it’s just ego.

What’s this?  Saturn calling?  IGnore.  I can’t stand Steroid Saturn.  He’s probably jealous that New Horizons is visiting me and not him.  Go eat a protein something.

July 14—New Horizons Visit

Well, here it comes.  I’m giving this dawdling gum machine a very icy stare, but there is some paparazzo taking photos of me, bulbs flashing like supernovae.  Venus keeps texting and Saturn won’t stop stalker calling.  I should really text Uranus about this spaceship because Uranus would like to be in the know.  Uranus and I are closer than I am to Saturn.  No, like we’re really closer.  Since we are in different orbits, we don’t get to hang out.  However, I would like to hang out more often with Uranus.

I’m not sure what NASA wants me to do here besides sit here and revolve and look pretty.  Apparently they have been taking long-range photos of my moons on their journey toward me.  While I’m waiting I guess I could text my friend VNLC in the Kuiper Belt, but let’s face it:  the Kuiper Belt is boooooooring.  They think I’m stuck up, that my head is in the clouds.  Look at how jealous they are, except for VNLC who co-writes crossword puzzles with me that we send to The New York Times.  Will Shortz, the crossword editor, never accepts them, but he will mention Pluto every once in a crossword.

The truth is that I’m in love with Venus, but she’s too close to the sun.  And how can you compete with the sun?  She loved me when I was a planet, but now we’re “just friends” since my plutoid demotion.  “I can’t be seen with a plutoid,” she once texted.  And who can blame her?  Venus basically is a round beach since she tans all the time being so close to the rays of the sun.  The sun is also on steroids though.  He and Saturn, just because they’re big, think they can bully the rest of the solar system around.  And I suppose it is the “solar” system eponymously named for old sunny boy there.  Whatever.  I’m lucky because I get to keep my distance and stay far away from the chicanery, machinations and inane palaver that exists the closer you get to the sun.  The sun makes people act all craaaazy.

Hey!  New Horizons!  Don’t get so close, man!

VNLC and I have our BB guns and we’ve been shooting dings in the side of New Horizons.  Maybe they’re perturbed.  Ahh haa, look at the photographer trying to figure out why his window is slightly cracked.  I need to text VNLC not to use the pump-action so much on his BB gun.  “We just want to scare them, buddy,” I text.  I love texting.  It is a very efficient way to send messages these days.  Soon, New Horizons will pass and I’ll feel bad for shooting BBs at it.

I mean, this is like a second act, right?  Who gets to be a planet then still remain on the A-List even after falling from grace?  The world is still intrigued by Pluto, but I won’t let it go to my head this time.  Last time, when I was at the acme of my planet stature, well . . . let’s just say I did a stint in rehab afterward.  It was too much pressure.  Rehab was all right, but Lindsay Lohan never wore deodorant and she kept asking me to paint her toenails.  I don’t have any hands, damnit!  She did give me a friendship bracelet, but, again, no hands Lindsay, can’t wear it.  Also, she doesn’t floss.

I guess the main purpose of New Horizons is to investigate my atmosphere.  The funny  thing about this gum ship is that NASA is sooo proud of it, but their concept of “close” is to get about 8,000 miles from me for these photos.  Yeah.  Real close, guys.  I’m ready for my 8,000-mile-away close-up.  Ridiculous.  And from what I can tell the ship is not very big, a bit smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle.  Good thing it only took you since 2006 to get here.  Funny thing is that New Horizons will fly on to the Kuiper Belt which is just this nimbus of ice fragments in the third zone.  What a bunch of suckers, NASA.  You basically just drove to North Dakota to take a picture of some asphalt.

So here I sit, liminal, always on the threshold of my quondam planetary identity and my place in the Kuiper Belt.  Who am I?  I was Pluto the Planet.  Now I am just Pluto.  Down there you will project whatever neologisms and portmanteaus you want onto me, irrespective of my own ontology, my own telos.  What is my telos, you ask?  Perhaps it is to stay put in the middle of this doorway of the universe and observe matters correctly, precisely.  Nobody in the Kuiper Belt knows what it was like for me to be a planet, just as no planet in the solar system knows what it’s like for me to now be a part of the Kuiper Belt.  I have the rare chance to revolve between two worlds and be their journalist.  I still have some growing up to do.  Who doesn’t?  I mean, I really should stop shooting BBs at New Horizons because I think I not only just cracked a window but shot the paparazzo in the side of the head (relax, it missed the eyeball).  I can always blame it on VNLC.  Not very mature, I realize.

Well, it looks like Steroid Saturn has finally stopped harassing me with his calls.  But what’s this?  Venus has just texted that I should “come over.”  Come over?  How am I going to come over when I’m in a different orbit?  I’ve explained this to her at least five times.  When I think about it, our relationship has occurred only through texting, but as I am to understand it, this is a common practice on Earth where people “communicate” all the time but never actually meet.  I’d like to go to Earth one day and meet Will Shortz and ask him why he never accepts my crossword puzzles.  By the time I get to Manhattan I imagine they will have telescopes everywhere that can see me, but if I leave my orbit they never will.  One day I will fly from this threshold and have beers with Uranus, punch out Saturn and swoop up Venus on my way to New York City and she and I will dive into the Hudson where we will reside with convenient access to New Jersey and Manhattan (she has relatives in Jersey).  Yes, I will one day secede from this sky and do what I want, leaving all the judgment behind me.  Smell my methane as I transcend here.

And now we come to the final plan I’ve been withholding this whole time, which is to lasso New Horizons after weakening it with BBs and hitch it back to Earth.  There is so much ice and nitrogen out here that I figured out a way to create rope from them and now . . . I have . . . just about flung it over the gum ship.

Who knows?

It may take me the wrong way farther out into the Kuiper Belt abyss into the fourth or fifth zone, and I might find myself lost in the frost rubbish of darkness, but there’s a slight chance I can turn New Horizons around and aim for Central Park.  I see that city before me, giant black rectangles shot from the ground filled with urban lights, the Hudson glowing behind this vertical beauty.

I am coming, Manhattan, let this icy lasso last.