It’s funny, but because Pluto has been unceremoniously dumped from the planet roster and become the Nicollette Sheridan of our Solar System, we have to update an old story (“Planet Highway,” by Tricia Summers, October 2005):
This summer, don’t miss the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s exhibit “The Maine Solar System Model,” the largest scale replica of the sun and its orbiting planets in the universe. The centerpiece is the sun, 50 feet in diameter, on brilliant display in the Northern Maine Museum of Science.
Then, outside the box, the other planets have been rolled into the Aroostook darkness along U.S. Route 1 like beautiful dice.
Venus stands winsomely in the parking lot of the Budget Traveler Inn in Presque Isle, perfectly positioned in 1:93 million scale. “It’s just down the road from Percy’s Auto Sales [where Earth hangs out]. You can’t really see Venus from any of the rooms or anything,” Rick Archer of the Budget Traveler confided to us in 2005. “I weed-whack around it.”
Mercury shimmers “above the garden of Burrelle’s Information Services” in Presque Isle. Uranus enjoys life as it should be “on the edge of a parking lot off Bridgewater Town Hall.”
Looking for Mars? It’s up there, glowing beside the Welcome to Presque Isle sign on mile 1.5. Jupiter, a serious sphere weighing over 1,000 pounds, is “stationed on the edge of Westfield,” adorned with her moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Neptune leaps out of the darkness in Littleton, west of highway mile 36.
It’s a lot to think about when you’re tunneling through the darkness with your high beams on this summer.
By now you’ll have noticed I haven’t mentioned Pluto.
“It’s probably in somebody’s desk drawer” since its declassification as a planet, joked our associate publisher, Jesse Stenbak. “Or maybe in a coffee can.”
Not a bad guess. Since the scale model’s just one inch in diameter, it’s pretty portable. But something’s kept me up at night, wondering what’s happened to Pluto (woodchipper, like in Fargo?). I felt sorry for it when out of nowhere the International Astronomical Union declared it was no longer a planet in 2006–did they think planets, however “trans-Neptunian,” had no feelings?
No one likes to be marginalized. Pluto has an astonishing society backstory. Did you know it was discovered by a group led by Percy Lowell (1855-1916), astronomer, author of Occult Japan, and brother to the marginalized poet Amy Lowell? The very name of Pluto was selected because it begins with the PL from Percy Lowell. How very New England. Think of the champagne cocktails. They probably announced Pluto’s debut in Boston’s Parker House hotel.
And now, poor Pluto–locked in a dark drawer with no air holes, unremembered and unloved… We called to find out.
“Don’t worry,” says Jennet Nelson of the Houlton Information Center. “We’re keeping Pluto. We grandfathered him in. He’s ours.”
That’s so Maine! Even science takes a vacation here. If we like you, you’re in. Because you’re one of us, baby. Meanwhile, “the students of UMPI have added two more dwarf planets, Ceres and Eris.” Try not to run them over if you see them flashing across the road. Ditto for Nicollette Sheridan, who was dismissed by opposing counsel in her suit against Desperate Housewives as never having been a main character either.