Pluto

All you ever needed to know about Pluto and more. So much more.

And that's when you're just halfway down the page

Just The Facts

  1. Pluto is the Roman God of the Underworld. And Death. And Riches
  2. Pluto is a dwarf planet
  3. Pluto is a cartoon character
  4. Pluto is also; the oldest and largest Italian Linux user group and the second Italian metasyntactic variable (yes, indeed), as well as a manga character, the title of a movement added to Gustav Holst's "The Planets" suite and a spring with miracle waters
  5. Pluto has been; a major WWII operation, an American cruise missile project and a car manufacturer

Pluto, the Roman god

Pluto was the Roman God of Death and the Underworld. Pretty impressive-sounding, and not to be confused with Plouto, a Greek nymph whose name is occasionally misspelled and whose greatest achievement seems to have been bearing Zeus a son before presumably returning to the kitchen sink.

He was the son of Saturn and Opis and one of the few children to survive their father's wrath during a particularly nasty family bust-up. Victims of an unhappy childhood, he and his brothers, Jupiter and Neptune, set out to rule the world, or rather, the earth, air and water respectively, which covers just about everything really.

Pluto and Thor
An angry young man

Pluto was associated with riches and originally given the title "God of Metals", but having mined all the metals they could get their grubby little hands on, the humans recast him (see what I did there?) as "God of the Underworld".

Understandably upset at this turn of events and not even slightly placated by the cooler job title, Pluto retreated to his domain Hades, the abode of the dead. Famous for being "misty and gloomy", Hades was also known for its five rivers; Acheron, the river of sorrow, Cocytus, the river of lamentation, Phlegethon, the river of fire, Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and Styx, the river of hate which separated the world of the dead and the world of the living. This inspirational landscape gave Pluto plenty of opportunity to brood whilst walking Cerberus, his three-headed dog.

Needless to say, hanging out in Satan's neighbourhood brought him into contact with a bad crowd, and he started behaving like a real douchebag. Seeing this, the goddess Venus decided that what Pluto really needed was a good woman, and she instructed her son Cupid to shoot an arrow through Pluto's heart so that he would fall in love with the next woman he saw. That Venus, what a riot.

The lucky lady was Proserpina, who just happened to be gamboling playfully with some nymphs near the fountain of Arethusa in Sicily when Pluto and his black horses emerged from Mount Etna for their daily constitutional. As she blithely sat making daisy-chains, Pluto pulled up beside her in his black chariot and abducted her, taking her back to Hades to live with him as Proserpina, Queen of the Underworld.

This new development caused a big hoohah amongst the relatives who, as it happened, knew both parties; Pluto had just kidnapped his niece. (It's always incest with these gods, and then they want us to believe they're so much better than us)

Angry relatives made random curses and neglected their crop fertilization duties, and the resulting mass of starving peasants prayed to their god Jupiter to save them. Irritated by the constant buzz in his ear, Pluto's brother sent Mercury off with a stern message telling Pluto to behave, or else. Faced down by a man in winged sandals, Pluto was compelled to let Proserpina go.

Proserpina's captivity had not been a happy time and she had spent months underground valiantly refusing Pluto's hospitality, in between long bouts of crying. Sadly, by the time she was saved, she had eaten six pomegranate pips, meaning that she had Tasted Of The Fruit Of The Underworld and now had to spend six months of the year underground with Pluto. O-okay.

Pluto and Cerberus
Come on girl, it ain't all bad

Oh, and by the way, that's also why we humans have to endure six months of bad weather every year. Thanks for nothing Proserpina.

Pluto, the dwarf planet

8 planets

History

Pluto was discovered on February 18th, 1930, after a long search for a theoretical planet which was disrupting Uranus's orbit <insert your own joke here>. It was predicted by Urbain Le Verrier, and he was wrong, but no-one would realise that for years. And by the time they did, he was dead, and no-one could have a quiet word about all that time they'd wasted on a wild goose chase.

The forerunner in this search was Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian who'd had an observatory built and named after him in 1894, and who dedicated the rest of his life to finding what he called "Planet X". Lowell died in 1916, after a decade spent searching in vain. Pluto was eventually discovered several years later by a Lowell Observatory employee, 23 year-old Clyde Tombaugh. He was presumably assigned the thankless task of comparing the blurry dots in thousands of images because he was a new employee and it was unlikely to lead anywhere, and yet it took him just a year to find the planet. After the jealous gnashing of teeth verification process, news of its discovery was released to the public on March 13th, 1930.

It was later determined that the Lowell Observatory had already taken two pictures of Pluto in 1915, when Lowell was still alive, but no-one had recognized it for what it was. Sometimes it's hard to get good help.

The discovery prompted great excitement and a worldwide search for a name. One person to put forward a name for consideration was Venetia Burney, an 11-year old girl with an interest in classical mythology and astronomy, and connections. She considered the name of the God of the Underworld the right choice for this newly discovered planet, which people naturally assumed was cold and dark (the dot on the photo wasn't much help). The members of the Lowell Observatory agreed and thus voted to call the new planet "Pluto".

During the next few decades, technological advances enabled us to gather more Hot Facts (and yet more Hot Facts) about Pluto, and its weight and dimensions were revised downwards. Several times.

Then new, larger, celestial bodies were discovered in our Solar system.

Suddenly faced with the possibility of having to recognize and name 7234653246 new planets, the International Astronomical Union gave the matter careful thought and several years' worth of meetings, with pre-meetings.

Despite countless petitions the IAU finally came up with a definition for the word "planet" that did not include Pluto.

On August 17th, 2006 Pluto was declared a dwarf planet, which is a small, round object beyond Neptune that orbits the sun and has lots of rocky neighbours. Unlike planets, which have no rocky neighbours.
Pluto is also classified as:

  • A Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO); anything which orbits the Sun beyond Neptune
  • A Kuiper Belt Object (KBO); anything which orbits the Sun and is in the Kuiper belt region (which is beyond Neptune, making KBOs a subset of TNOs). Most of these objects have a diameter less than Pluto's, but not all, which is what started the whole discussion in the first place

Two new categories specifically dealing with size were also created:

  • Plutinos; All the TNOs with the same orbit as Pluto, but smaller. And Pluto
  • Plutoids; TNO dwarf planets with the same orbit as Pluto, and often bigger. And Pluto

It's almost as if, not wanting a similar debacle in future, the IAU decided to stick it in every category they could think of. Except, "planet".

Then the IAU were forced to explain themselves.

This nice man explains it better:

Controversy

The demotion of Pluto to dwarf status stirred up a heated debate.
Those who were used to using the mnemonic "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" to remember the order of the planets in the solar system, were left feeling .

There were consequences; people protested. Using sandwich boards, passionate rallying cries and song.

Stroppy mail was sent to scientific institutions.


Ouch

New Mexico refused to accept the decision and declared Pluto a planet when it was crossing their night skies.

The Californian State Assembly proposed a bill declaring IAU members to be scientific heretics.

The verb "to pluto" was created (preterite and past participle: "plutoed"). In January 2007, the American Dialect Society chose "plutoed" as its 2006 Word of the Year, defining "to pluto" as "to demote or devalue someone or something".

Future exploration

Why? Ask them.

Astrological connections

In astrology, Pluto, "The Great Renewer", is the ruling planet of Scorpio and co-ruler of the 8th house, with Mars.

Whilst this may initially sound promising, Pluto's philosophy works under the assumption that, in order to to renew yourself properly, you should undergo a "death-like process" in which you will experience total change resulting in a radical overhaul of your personality, after having experienced your worst fears and having dealt with them.

A keyword often used for Pluto is "transformation". That presumably would be the transformation from rational, if slightly dissatisfied, human to raging nutter with a lust for revenge.

Pluto is associated with personal mastery as well as extreme power and corruption; the discovery of the dwarf planet in 1930 coincided with the rise of fascism and Stalinism in Europe, and the inception of World War II. It also coincided with the Great Depression and the rise of organized crime in America. Pluto is also associated with nuclear armament, which had its genesis in research done in the 1930s and 40s, and later gave rise to the Cold War.

This string of coincidences is all the proof we need; there is no doubt that Pluto is connected with some seriously bad mojo. It has even been involved in Bhutto's assassination.

Pluto governs any enterprise which involves digging under the surface to bring the truth to light, such as detective work or mining, as well as big business and wealth. Which explains this:

Pluto, the dog

Pluto and the planets

Don't worry, I'm not a real dog either

Although it has been claimed that, like the mineral Plutonium, the Disney dog was named in honour of the dwarf planet, animator Ben Sharpsteen has been quoted as saying, 'We thought the name [Rover] was too common, so we had to look for something else. [...] We changed it to Pluto the Pup, [...] but I don't honestly remember why. I think we were stoned.'

Pluto made what many believe was his first appearance in the 1930 cartoon "Chain gang", in an unaccredited role as a bloodhound. Later that year, he would figure again in two separate cartoons as Mickey's pet Pluto the Pup, and Minnie's pet Rover. These performances led to a role as Mickey's (adult) pet Pluto in the 1931 cartoon "Moose Hunt" and, pleased with the onscreen chemistry of the stars, the studio bosses decided to make Pluto a permanent member of the Mickey Gang.

Pluto has since appeared (mostly) with his boss in several animated shorts, television series and comics over the 30s, 40s and 50s, and has had guest roles in a few movies since then.

As one of the few Disney characters who is not anthropomorphized (i.e. does not make human facial expressions and speak English), Pluto spends most of his time trying to make Mickey understand something of great importance, and failing. A bit like trying to explain the concept of family planning to Octomom.

There's not that much else to say about the dog Pluto, and he probably doesn't even deserve his own section, but who can resist looking at a picture of a cute canine?

Ren Netherland photo of a groomed poodle
Adorable

Miscellaneous Plutos

Geeky Plutos

Pluto is the second Italian metasyntactic variable. The definition of a metasyntactic variable is "a kind of alias, a name commonly used in examples and understood by hackers and programmers to stand for whatever thing is under discussion, or any random member of a class of things under discussion." It's good to have that cleared up.

If you still don't understand, perhaps the members of P.L.U.T.O., or "Pluto Linux/Lumen Utentibus Terrarum Orbis", could help. P.L.U.T.O. was apparently a collaboration between some students and teachers of the Department of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Padova. I'm not sure why. I don't care.

Pluto is also a feared adversary of "Astro Boy". The "Astro Boy" series was created in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka, the "god of manga", and follows the adventures of a fictional robot named Astro Boy as he fights criminal, robot-hating humans, mad robots and alien invaders.

Pluto is a giant horned robot ordered by his master, the fallen sultan Chochi Chochi Ababa III, to fight and destroy the Earth's mightiest robots them so he can become "king of the robot world".


Astroboy vs Pluto. Wonder who'll win

In 2003, Naoki Urasawa created "Astro Boy for Adults" with his Pluto series, a modern interpretation of "The World's Strongest Robot" story arc from the original "Astro Boy" series. The series follows robot detective Gesicht as he investigates the deaths of various pro-robot humans and robots across the globe. Urasawa's Pluto is significantly darker, capable of murdering humans and robots.


That's more like it

"Pluto, the Renewer"

Holst's Planets Suite CD

From 1914-1916, Gustav Holst wrote The Planets suite, a series of seven movements named after Mars, Venus, Mercury,... (you see where I'm going here. There's no "Earth" movement, in case you wondered). It was an instant hit and is widely considered his best work. After the discovery of the celestial body Pluto however, a few people decided The Planets needed to be updated. Gustav disagreed. Rumour has it that he was sick of going to parties and being asked to play "that delightful little tune you wrote back in 1916". But perhaps he just knew something the others didn't.

The first composer to try and improve on the masterpiece was Clive Strutt, who produced his additional movement for the Holst centenary in 1974. It has, to this day, never been performed. Nice one Clive.

In 2000, the composer Colin Matthews was commissioned by the Halle Orchestra to write a new eighth movement, which he called "Pluto, the Renewer". This one has been recorded four times, and performed about a hundred. That must burn, Clive.

The new status of Pluto as a dwarf planet has led to discussion about the fate of the last movement. When asked to speculate, Matthews said 'I don't know. It's not up to me any more. It will be interesting to see if there is any reaction. I might withdraw it from circulation and ban all future performances.' He didn't, because the piece is still being performed.

The good news for Halle is that the International Astronomical Union has also refused to create any more new planets in our Solar system, meaning that commissions for pieces dedicated to potential new planets could be cancelled. A good thing too, because 'That would have blown the commissioning budget for the next three years,' said a Halle spokesperson.

Pluto Spring and Water

"Pluto Spring" (located not far from Proserpina Spring) is one of a group of mineral springs located in French Lick, Indiana. The springs were famous for the healing properties of their water, which was said to cure everything from constipation to alcoholism.

Naturally, the commercial opportunities presented by the popularity of these miracle waters could not be ignored, and Dr. William Bowles bought up a sizeable chunk of land in the area, commissioning the building of the first French Lick Hotel in the early 1800s. The hotel burnt down, was rebuilt, and was later turned into a resort by Indianapolis mayor Tom Taggart and his 'investors' in 1897.

French Lick hotel
Arson suspect poses in front of new French Lick Hotel

The hotel and resort enjoyed a booming business and were frequented by celebrities such as Al Capone and FDR. Probably at different times.

It was a no-brainer to bottle the miracle too, and Pluto Water was born.
Famous for its laxative properties due to the naturally occurring magnesia in it, Pluto's slogan was:

When nature won't, Pluto will
I'll bet he will

Though the resort and mineral springs are still popular, production of Pluto Water had to stop when the substance lithium, also found occurring naturally in these waters, along with a whole bunch of other stuff, became a controlled substance.

Famous devotees of the water included Harry Houdini and Lance Armstrong, a.k.a. Mellow Johnny.

Houdini at Pluto Spring
Houdini points out the delights of the Pluto spring

Operation Pluto

"Operation Pluto" (Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean) was carried out during World War II and involved.. laying pipe lines under the ocean.

(A bit of) pipeline Pluto
PipeLine Utterly Monstrous Bring Extra Resources, or "Plumber"

British scientists, oil companies and the armed forces got together to construct flexible oil pipelines under the English Channel between England and France, thereby ensuring that the Allied forces on the continent got all the fuel they needed to kick ass. The Allies also needed to relieve their dependency on oil tankers in the region, because these could be sunk by German U-boats or delayed by bad weather, and besides, they were needed in the Pacific, where we were also kicking ass.

I could tell you more, but I'd have to kill you.

Project Pluto

"Project Pluto" was a Pentagon-sponsored program, created in 1957 to develop nuclear-powered ramjet engines for cruise missiles. A lot of painstaking research and development went into producing a system which was test fired twice. On May 14th 1961, "Tory-IIA" the world's first nuclear ramjet engine, roared to life for just a few seconds. Three years later, "Tory-IIC" managed five minutes at full power.


They'll just have to have to wheel it back again in 10 seconds

Despite this impressive display of rampant budget squandering, the Pentagon decided to go with intercontinental ballistic missile technology, which was showing more potential and would still leave enough money in the kitty for a decent staff dinner. On July 1st 1964, "Project Pluto" was cancelled.

Pluto cars

The car manufacturer Pluto was created in 1924 specifically to sell French cars to the Germans and punish them for WWI. It had modest success for a while before having to close down in 1927, ostensibly due to high inflation rates and political unrest.

Rusting Pluto car
Who wouldn't want one of these?