Mercury Falling

There are certain things we learn as kids that are supposed to be ironclad. They are our bedrock, the handful of concrete things we can understand in a world controlled by grown-ups.

  • Red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple
  • E-G-B-D-F (lines), F-A-C-E (spaces)
  • Fifty states, thirteen colonies
  • Seven continents
  • Cats chase mice, dogs chase cats
  • Cooties are fatal

And many more, including my personal favorite—nine planets. If anything, that one seemed the most immutable. Planets are big, and they're far away, and they've been around for billions of years, so get used to them.

In third grade, our teacher Mrs. Cronin gave us a worksheet with a handy mnemonic to help us remember the planet names: Mary's Velvet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights Pondering.1 The worksheet had an illustration of a young woman with sultry eyes, which seemed like a puzzling choice by the publisher. I'm eight—those eyes might as well be cootie-bazookas. Why not a picture of Saturn? Saturn's cool, it has rings. And it's not threatening to accelerate my pubescence.

Whatever the case, it worked like gangbusters. To this day, any time I get turned around on which planet goes where, I remember Mrs. Cronin's little sentence.

All that changed with the debate, the fight, the altercation, the (thumbs through a thesaurus) donnybrook, the squabble, the wrangle, the tiff, the kerfuffle, the rhubarb2 over whether Pluto is really a planet.

Two years ago, the International Astronomical Union, a division of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, suddenly noticed that they had no concrete definition for "planet." Rather than risk a bit of confusion down the road, they decided to create a shit-ton of confusion right then and there. Science-types and common folk alike got all in a tizzy. Should Pluto count? It's a lot smaller than we initially calculated, its orbit is weird, and it refuses to wear pants like Goofy does. The final verdict was damning: Pluto would lead a new classification of celestial object. It was no longer a planet.

People got pretty mad, and with good reason. These guys messed with our bedrock. What the hell am I supposed to do with Mary's Velvet Eyes Make John Stay Up Nights? Stay up nights what? Shivering with dengue fever?3 I suppose next they'll be saying that orange isn't a color anymore. It's a coloroid, a trans-yellownian hue with color-like characteristics. While we're at it, mice will chase dogs. And cooties ... no, I can't even joke about it. Cooties will always be fatal.

The uproar eventually subsided, but a piece of recent news has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, something more sinister is going on here. A study published in the journal Science quietly announced that Mercury is shrinking. The planet's molten core has cooled slightly, so it's 1.5 kilometers smaller than the last time we measured, back in the 70's.

Well isn't that just remarkably convenient. Now that we've legislated Pluto out of existence, Mercury starts to shrink.

Can you see the pattern? It's a plot. A silent war being waged right underneath our noses.

The International Astronomical Union wants Earth to be the only true planet.

Oh sure, this Mercury thing may look harmless now, but just wait. Soon the IAU will announce that Mercury has shrunk too far and has been sent to the minors. "Plutoed," if you will. Next they'll start talking about how Venus is looking a little scrawny too, and they'll be all, "Hey, when was the last time we checked its exact diameter?" Then they'll go after the gas giants. Anything below a certain percentage of solid mass won't count as a planet anymore. Jupiter will head up a new classification of "gaslings." Saturn will be a ringuloid sub-gasling.4

As for Mars, why do you think they're trying so hard to find signs of life? As soon as they can quantifiably demonstrate that Mars was once capable of sustaining life, it will be declared an imminent threat. Economic sanctions will fail, forcing our hand. We will have no choice but to invade.

Well I, for one, am not buying it. This has to stop now, before the IAU can strike again. Our path is clear: Mercury's core has to be re-heated, so that it will expand to its previous size. We'll need two space shuttles, a quirky team of misfits, a nuclear bomb, and a machine that can drill to the center of a planet.

I'm almost positive I saw this work in a movie once. It's practically foolproof.

We just need to find the right bunch of crazy bastards to pull it off.

Who's with me? 1It would take several more such worksheets to remember what "mnemonic" meant. 2Rhubarb? 3I think we all know what John was doing. 4Yes, the other gas giants have faint rings as well. But I mean, come on. Quick, grab a pencil and draw Saturn. Now draw Neptune. See?