Special Pluto Open Thread (Because You Know You Want It): It’s My Happy Heart You Hear





"Sing it loud and sing it clear!"

“Sing it loud and sing it clear!”

It’s Pluto Day!  And aside from the science, which is pretty clearly amazing, we on this blog turn to the politics — where the question is this:

“Do you feel ennobled by this accomplishment?”

You, as a taxpayer, citizen, or even just as a resident of the United States have contributed to our obtaining the photos — and the incredible amounts of other data, some of the choicest photographic examples of which are due to be released as early as about a half hour from the time this is published — that you see here.  It costs tax money, after all — and as various states’ revenue policy choices have shown, all tax money is to some degree related to all other tax money.  So even if you just bought a chalupa in Mission Viejo, you contributed a little bit to this.

So this is a good day to ask: was it worth it?  If you’re ever going to answer “yes,” today would probably be the day, and so a “no” answer today is especially meaningful.

Two sorts of people might be expected to say “no.”

The first are anti-tax right-wing libertarians, who think that if this is worth doing at all it is worth doing solely privately rather than by forcibly seizing people’s assets.  (Note: I’m trying to use their framing here, which in this case isn’t mine.)  Excluded from this group are Heinlein-inspired right-wing libertarian “space survivalists,” who think that there is only one way for humanity to survive and it is out into the void — and they want to ensure that they and their progeny (genetic or ideological) will be able to get out there.

The second are left-wing populists, nominally the opposite of the group above, whose either suspect that the whole thing is a fake — please, don’t, not here, and if you must then use your own name so that you can be more effectively ridiculed — or that the resources expended on this project could have been used more effectively to keep people alive.  The latter view was best and most succinctly expressed, in my view, by the influential musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron in his song “Whitey on the Moon,” which corrosively and incisively questions the priorities of sending Neil Armstrong to dance on the moon while his sister’s face and arm are swelling due to the effect of rat bites.

Here, it you haven’t seen it, you gotta.  It’s short and sweet — and bitter.

The answer to Scott-Heron — and I don’t claim it’s a sufficient answer, but just that it’s one that doesn’t depend on the question of whether the technological advances that may filter down to the poor are worthwhile — is that it is ennobling.  We’re happier to be in a world that shows us such wonders.  As such, it is fair for society to pay for it collectively — much as it paid for the research that enabled the internet, for municipal fireworks shows, for parades, for the eradication of diseases spread by rat bites, for public housing, for symphony orchestras, and for paying the likes of Gil Scott-Heron to sing at public events.

It makes us feel better as human beings.  And the nicest thing about this sort of discovery is that the benefits are more or less equal to all.  Anyone can appreciate what we see here — a few in the profession more than others, to be sure, but anyone can feel a sense of awe different in kind from that we see at the 1052nd fireworks show of our life.

This is different.  This is a stepping stone to something else — something we may not be able to imagine.  Something as unexpected as finding a heart on Pluto that, when it is filmed to show its component materials, turns out not to be a single object, but an ice-cream cone shaped lobe on the left and some scattered sea of blue free of the dark red of nitrogen surrounding it, red that spread to the junior partner in the double planet, where not enough solar heat reaches its north pole to smoke it out into space, as it does elsewhere on the body of Charon.  So what we found three billion miles away is both a heart and a broken heart.  In some ways, isn’t that perfect?

And the “whale” that we first saw a week ago — its made of nitrogen of some sort, we suspect — is now tentatively named Cthulhu!  Do you feel ennobled?  I do, for reasons that I can’t even fully explain.  That may be how I know that the feeling is real.

Here’s to Pluto, to Charon, to those other moons out in the Styx.  Give in to the feeling of nobility, while you can.  And patiently wait for more.

Colorful -- but false!  But do note the effects of second-hand smoke on Charons pole.)

Colorful — but false! But do note the effects of second-hand smoke on Charon’s pole.)

And … an update: 7:30 p.m., July 14.

This is as good as we have for now.  And it’s really good.  (Look, another bull’s-eye — this time to the left of the heart!)  But what’s especially cool is comparing today’s image to the best we ever got from the (surely worthy) Hubble craft:

Pluto - Hubble v New-Horizons


That would make one hell of a pair of sunglasses, wouldn’t it?

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)