PLACES: Pluto Is (kind of) Like My Junior High Experience

This Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at Vanderbilt. (…And by privilege, I mean I waited in 38-degree weather with about 200 other people for an hour. But it was worth it!)
In case that name means absolutely nothing to you (don’t be embarrassed – I didn’t know who he was either before this week), he’s the guy who officially demoted Pluto.
Ah, Pluto! My favorite little dwarf planet (it prefers “little people planet,” please). I remember the fateful day in 2006, the first day of 8th grade for me – gotta love them awkward years – when dearest Pluto was stripped of its honors as the ninth planet in our solar system. I’ve always been small in stature myself and Pluto was that one planet with which I could connect. Apparently I wasn’t alone. Tyson himself wrote a novel entitled The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet.
Now, I’m not about to call the awkward junior high phase  “America’s Favorite School Years.” But I will admit that there are some striking similarities between this little person planet and my middle school experience.
Firstly, as Tyson pointed out in his very entertaining lecture, while Pluto’s demotion was mourned by all, “Pluto’s happier now!” “Pluto is now a big fish in a little pond,” Tyson stated.
I attended a small, Christian private school from 2ndgrade through 8th grade. My graduating class was the largest in the school’s history: 28 people. Whoa there! Gettin’ crazy. I was the class artist, one of three musicians, and, well, everyone was the class brainiac (SRVCA was pretty nerdy back in my day).
I’m going to take a minute to brag here: the same year Pluto got kicked out of the solar system, I won 1st prize in the 8th grade science fair.  My project was about how fast different chocolates melted depending on their percentage of cocoa. True confession time: I did the entire project the night before. Take that, teachers! And I now hate science. (I’m an English major, dreading the physics lab Vanderbilt requires me to take next semester).
I was a big fish in a 28-person pond. Pluto was once 1 of 9 planets. Now it’s 1 of only 5 dwarf planets in our solar system!
Next, the majority of the time that the scientific world has known about Pluto’s existence, it was thought to be something it’s not. Discovered in 1930, Pluto was originally classified as another planet in our solar system. I’m not really a numbers person, but here’s how I got to that conclusion:
            2006 – 1930 = 76 years
            It’s been 6 years since 2006, so we’ve known about Pluto for 82 years.
            76 years of incorrect assumption / 82 years of known existence = 92% (majority)
For the majority of the time that the world has known about my existence, I was expected to be a math/science kid. Growing up, I dreamed of being an architectural engineer or a cardiovascular surgeon (Imagine my mom’s enthusiasm when I announced I wanted to be a writer and a musician!) Born in 1993, Emma was originally expected to continue with her trajectory of advanced mathematical and scientific thinking.
            I changed my mind in 8th grade (just like Pluto!), so
            2007-1993 = 14 years
            It’s been 5 years since 2007, so I’ve been alive for 19 years.
            13 years of incorrect assumption/ 19 years of known existence = 74% (majority)
Thirdly, there is decreasing discussion of Pluto. Nobody really wants to talk about the little planet anymore. Teachers won’t tell their students about it in the same way they did back in the day because it is no longer a major point of the solar system. And for many Americans, it is undoubtedly still a sore subject (I can tell you first hand that there were numerous outbursts from frustrated Pluto-activist audience members on Tuesday).
Let’s be real: nobody really wants to dwell on the memories of junior high years. It was awkward. Voices got squeaky, people grew (or didn’t), the cool kids hung out at the mall, your mom had to drive you on “dates,” and, worst of all, dances were awful and weird.  There are those occasional moments in the rest of life when you reminisce on the horrors of middle school, which everyone who’s ever been 12 has inevitably encountered. But that’s it.
There is one final way that all of our junior high experiences are like Pluto. One of the most fascinating things that I have ever learned about space is that when you look out into space, you are literally looking into the past (yes, that inspirational scene in “The Lion King” is actually Simba’s dad talking to him from the past). This is because of the time that it takes light to travel; essentially, this conundrum means that we are looking at old light. While Pluto is not that far away from us, so its light we perceive in telescopes isn’t that old, it is still in the past.
And aren’t we all grateful that statement is also true of our middle school dances?
Oh yikes, buddy. 
Happy Thanksgiving!  
(Just in case you’re still in the hell that is junior high, this is for you – ignore everything it says. Lies.)

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