The best news our species has heard in a long time is that Pluto, downgraded from planet status (Dis-barred?), is still there, teasing and tempting, and now close enough for us to see the face of our distant neighbor. His looks, for a dwarf, are cool and remote – “ruggedly handsome,” with that complexion. His demeanor, for a god, invites only the intrepid. NASA’s New Horizons cruised silently, a mere 7,700 miles from his face, after a journey of 3.6 billion miles. One female, Venetia Burney, named him. Another, A.E. Stallings, sings him in “Pluto”:
“Demoted, he still keeps his distance,
his elliptical silence. Nothing
changes. The ferry makes its orbit,
gathering shades on the farther side.
His brothers in their separate spheres
dwarf him. His lot was always this cold
dim kingdom on the brink of exile,
older than the name for it is old.”
The “brothers” are Pluto’s moons -- Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. No, it’s not a Greek law firm or a Variety headline from eighty years ago today. Rather, the ferryman of the dead, the river of the dead, the goddess of darkness and light (and mother of Charon), the dog that guards Pluto’s underworld and the nine-headed serpent, respectively. In the final lines, Stalling reminds us that everything is older than the stories we tell about it.