March 13: Pluto

PlutoOn this day in 1930, it was confirmed that American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh had discovered a planet that would later be dubbed Pluto.

For decades, astronomers had theorized that there were other planets out there past Neptune and Uranus. In 1906, Percival Lowell, founder of Flagstaff, Arizona’s Lowell Observatory announced the search for a ninth planet, the so called “Planet X”. Lowell continued searching for Planet X until his death in 1916, and due to a legal struggle with Lowell’s widow, the search did not pickup again until 1929. Shortly thereafter, the director of the observatory put Clyde Tombaugh, a 23-year old who had just been hired, on the Planet X beat.

Tombaugh’s task was fairly simple: Take pictures of the night sky and compare pairs of photographs taken weeks apart to determine if any celestial object had changed its position in the heavens. On February 18, 1930 after roughly a year of searching, Tombaugh noticed an object that might be Planet X when he compared photographs taken on January 23 and January 29 and noticed a possible moving object. After doing further comparison using other images, the Lowell Observatory contacted the Harvard College Observatory on March 13, 1930 to announce that Planet X had been found.

The news quickly spread across the world. As the Lowell Observatory had discovered Planet X, they got the honor of naming it. Instantly, the observatory was flooded with proposals for names. Constance Lowell, Percival Lowell’s widow, made three suggestions: Zeus, Percival and Constance. All three were swiftly rejected. Eventually, the suggestions were whittled down to a list of three and a vote was held amongst the Lowell Observatory staff. The finalists were Minerva, Cronus and Pluto. Pluto received every vote. This was possibly because Minerva was already the name of an asteroid and the case for Cronus had been promoted by Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, an arrogant American astronomer who was largely reviled in the scientific community and in fact went on to die at the age of 96 with no major accomplishments to his name.

Pluto, named after the Roman god of the underworld, was actually the suggestion of 11-year old Venetia Burney. Burney was an English schoolgirl whose grandfather was once a librarian at Oxford. Burney’s gradfather passed the name on to a colleague who sent it in to the observatory. The name Pluto was officially announced on May 1, 1930, and Burney received a prize of five pounds for her contribution to science.

Now, the question I know you’re all asking is “How does Mickey Mouse’s dog fit in to this?” Well, the dog’s  first cartoon appearance was in the 1930 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Picnic. However, he was called Rover at that time. Walt Disney and his animators thought that Rover was too common a name, so they decided to come up with a new name for the character. So, in 1931 when Disney released the cartoon The Moose Hunt, Mickey’s dog returned, this time going by the name Pluto the Pup, inspired by the newly christened planet.

Of course, in 2006 Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet, but that shouldn’t discourage you from enjoying a good drink. Sunrise On Pluto is a variant on the Tequila Sunrise that uses Blue Curacao to presumably give it a more alien appearance. A day on Pluto is the equivalent of 6.39 days on Earth, so sunrise doesn’t come by too often; but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a Sunrise On Pluto whenever you feel like it.

Sunrise On Pluto

  • 1 ounce Tequila
  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Blue Curacao
  • 1 dash grenadine
  • lemonade

Pour the tequila, vodka and blue curacao into a highball glass with ice. Then nearly fill the glass with lemonade before adding the grenadine.

Tomorrow: A much mythologized engineer.




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