Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks
Grandpa Damon leaned back in the recliner by the bay window. The late afternoon sun set his bronze face aglow. He turned to his grandson, Dominic, and said, “Son, Pluto is really two people. They are a planet and the God of the underworld.”
Grandpa Damon Carra spent several nights each week at his daughter’s house. He said he slept best when he stayed in the guest room she (Angelica) and her husband, Derek, offered him. At home, Mr. Carra complained to Angelica; Carolina always woke him up to shush him.
“You’re snoring again, Dam,” she would say, pushing her elbow into his side.
“So much better that I don’t have sleep apnea!” he would grunt. Then Damon would neglect to turn over and fall asleep again and commence to snore. Carolina would once more wake him with an elbow, only this time to his belly.
“Damn it, Cara. I will go and sleep and Angel’s place all week!”
“I wish you would.” Carolina muttered as she left the room.
“Grandpa,” Dominic asked, “Is it true you are an astronomer?”
“I was, yes.”
“And that you discovered a planet?”
Damon smiled. “Where did you hear that, Dom?”
“Mom said so. She said you discovered Pluto.”
“I didn’t. A man -a friend!- named Clyde Tombaugh did. Poor old Clyde. Do you know they said his planet is not actually a planet? It was once one of the ‘big nine’ in our solar system. And then they said, ‘No, it’s not a planet, Clyde. We call it a dwarf planet.’ Well, my buddy had to defend the majesty of that frozen rock he found in deep space. And do you know who caused all the trouble?”
“Who?” Dominic asked.
“Charon is Pluto’s wife. She’s the moon that orbits Pluto so closely that, from Earth, it looks like she and Pluto are one planet. Like an old married couple! But you can’t have coupled planets. Planets must be singular. Pff!”
Angelica brought her father a glass of lemonade and set it down on the small wooden stand beside the recliner. Then she returned with a glass for Dominic, who gave his mother a big smile.
“Look at these glasses, Dom,” Damon said. “They are practically the same size.”
“They are the same size, Grandpa!”
“No, they are close to the same size. They are like Pluto and Charon. They are so alike in size; you cannot tell the difference. But here’s the thing! If you look really closely, you can see how they are not the same. Your glass looks more golden yellow than mine in the sunshine. Why? Is it the qualities of your glass, or is it because the ratio of sugar to water in your glass is different than mine?”
“Can I taste yours, Grandpa? I want to solve the mystery.”
“I like your thinking. Go ahead.”
The boy took two large gulps, one from each glass.
“So? What’s the answer?”
Dominic wiped his mouth and said, “I don’t know. My tongue likes them both. It sees the same amount of sugar.”
“Sees the sugar. That’s good. So, imagine you are looking at Charon and Pluto through a telescope. What you see are two things that look the same. Which is the planet, and which is the moon? Astronomers thought Charon was only different from Pluto because she was a little smaller. And since she was the moon and orbited Pluto so closely that Pluto also orbited her, they got paired up and dismissed from that big nine planetary list.” Grandpa Damon shook his head. “Does my glass of lemonade have to be a lot bigger than your glass to make your glass a dwarf glass? Or are they both still glasses?”
“They are both glasses, Grandpa.”
“Right. Size does not matter. Take Jupiter. It is mostly gas. It is a planet, and so is Earth! And Earth is mostly water and rock with far fewer gasses. Is Jupiter the planet, or is Earth?”
“Jupiter is much bigger, but they are both planets.” Dom said.
“That’s right. Size does not matter. And something funny is that Mercury is about the same size as Pluto.”
“Yeah,” Dom said. “So, why is it a planet, but Pluto isn’t?”
“I tell you, Dom. I tell you; Charon is the problem. She is so close to her husband, and he is so close to her that they are attracted to each other. Jupiter has so many more moons than Pluto, but Jupiter is not affected by any of them because they are so small. None are so close in size to make any difference to Jupiter. Jupiter orbits no one save the sun, so it gets to be special. But Pluto doesn’t because astronomers have an issue with dependency! They don’t like that Pluto needs Charon!”
“Astronomers don’t mind dependency, Dad,” Angelica said, entering the room. “They know that planets depend on the sun.”
“Well, the sun is a God! And all things depend on Gods.”
“But so is Pluto. You were just telling Dom that.”
“Ok. Let me be clear. Pluto is different because, in the Roman myth, he needed company. He had to have Proserpina stay in the underworld with him. Zeus didn’t need company. To him, everyone was the same. But his brother, Pluto, was lonely. He valued companionship. And astronomers have it in for lonely planets!”
As Dom nodded in agreement, Angelica put her hand on her father’s shoulder. “I’m going to make a phone call.”
A few minutes later, Carolina entered the room. She sat down beside her husband and held his hand. Neither one said anything. Dom went into the kitchen and brought out two more identical glasses of lemonade, which he handed to each grandparent.
“Grandma, you will never be able to tell the difference between these glasses. They are like the planets Charon and Pluto, two gods who are inseparable!”