Blast From the Past: Athena Scalzi, Age Seven, Addresses Scott Westerfeld on the Subject of Pluto

Context: In 2006, Pluto was demoted from being a planet to being a dwarf planet, a move that many, including notable YA author (and personal friend) Scott Westerfeld, thought was a good move, because he and they are terrible people. When my daughter, then age seven, heard that Scott Westerfeld — her friend Scott! Who she liked! — was a “Pluto Hayta,” she felt compelled to make a video, both asking him why he held such hatred for our system’s smallest planet, and then showing him the consequences of such wanton contempt.

For years the video was unavailable, because I made it and displayed it in an AOL video service that is now (like pretty much everything else AOL) consigned to the bit-bin of history. But today, miracle of miracles, I discovered the Internet Archive had made a copy of the video file. I downloaded, it converted it, and put it on YouTube.

And so, here it is, and well timed for the recent Plutomania: My daughter’s 2006 video to Scott “Pluto Hayta” Westerfeld. Enjoy.

And yes, her t-shirt in the video does indeed say “I Have Issues.” She did! With Scott!

Naturally, I showed it to Athena (now aged sixteen) before I posted it. She thought it was adorable. And, well. Yes. Yes, it is.

The biggest irony? Pluto now has a feature on its surface named for Cthulhu. My daughter was prophetic, at age seven, she was.

(P.S.: Here’s Scott’s response to the video at the time. Still wrong! History shall judge him. And all who led us down this dark path.)

47 thoughts on “Blast From the Past: Athena Scalzi, Age Seven, Addresses Scott Westerfeld on the Subject of Pluto

  1. I take issue with you characterizations of Pluto’s change in classification. Pluto went from being a puny afterthought in the pantheon of planets to being the king of the Kuiper belt objects. It is now the largest and most prominent of the trans-Neptunian objects. Hardly a demotion.

  2. Not sure what I enjoyed most, Athena’s gleeful overacting or the fact she has a freakin’ Cthulhu plushy!

  3. Speechless:

    Oh, no no nononono no. I’ve known about archive.org for years. I’m a financial supporter, even. But in terms of retrieving this particular video, what I had to do was visit the archived page it was originally on, view the source code for the video file url, and then run that through the archive search function to see if they had a copy (and when they did, download it to convert it). Which is to say, a slightly more complicated process than just looking for it.

  4. Somehow, the fact that 7-year-old Athena owned a plush Cthulhu is entirely unsurprising

  5. I’m 21, and like pretty much everyone my age who I’ve talked to on this subject, we ignore this heretical demotion of Pluto. (There are some snobs who wish to prove their science-cred by correcting us, but we ignore them too).

    In the immortal words of someone on Tumblr, VIVA LA PLUTO F*** YOU

  6. Nice one! Alas I have no video of my daughter at that age (I still don’t have a video camera) but this does bring back memories,
    — and I have the same freakin’ Cthulhu plushie.

  7. THANK YOU! I was looking for this a while ago and was sad that I couldn’t find it. You’ve made my day.

  8. I am OK with Pluto being a planet but only if Eris is too. Ten planets good, nine planets bad.

  9. Pluto was not “demoted,” it was “reclassified” based on current knowledge about the types of objects now known to be in our star system. Dwarf planet is no more derogatory than dwarf star is … It just means that the planet or star is in a specific category based on size and other attributes. I’ve not understood all the emotional responses this business has spawned, but the conversation seems to transit from statement to nasty name-slinging almost instantly whenever it comes up.

    Athena’s video is delightful, regardless. :-)

  10. I think I should note to people that my outrage about Pluto is entirely a pose, and my only real issue is I think Pluto-like objects should be called “Ice planets” rather than “dwarf planets” because inevitably we’ll find one larger than Mercury, and then things are going to get awkward.

  11. It’s really a dog versus cat thing, isn’t it? They shouldn’t have named it after a cartoon dog. Now, if they’d called it Planet Felix or Planet Garfield there’d be no problem.

  12. And by “wrong,” of course, you mean “right.”

    Pluto is a fascinating little world, but it’s not a planet. It never was.

  13. The thing I find cool is that this took place the same year that New Horizons was launched.

  14. I like to assume that people boosting for Pluto as a full-grade planet are also actively trying to throw Ceres under the bus. This feeds the narrative of Ceres, the littlest planet, that even though no-one loves it, it’ll keep its spirits up. Ceres is just gonna do its best!

  15. @Merus: I love Ceres!

    I think Ceres is really the one that’s been really mistreated. It was considered a planet for nearly as long as Pluto was (albeit many years earlier), and then unfairly downgraded to mere asteroid. Everything we’ve learned about it since has made it clear that was a mistake. As far as I’m concerned, it’s ten times more deserving of being called a planet than dumb old Pluto. Not that I object to calling Pluto a planet. But if we can only have nine (a big if), then I say, add Ceres and dump Pluto! :)

    Plus, the Goddess of Agriculture deserves to have her namesake be a real planet a lot more than the silly old God of the Underworld. Agriculture is a real thing, and all our lives depend on it; the Underworld, not so much. :D

    On the other hand, I’d also be perfectly fine with getting rid of any mention of orbits, and calling Luna and Ganymede planets too. (They’d still be moons, but they’d also be planets, while Phobos and Deimos would remain just plain moons.) All the round ones: Pluto, Ceres, Io, Titan—why not make ’em all planets and end all this fighting!

  16. Pluto is a planet. By those absurd standards that were voted on by only a couple of hundred people, Earth wouldn’t be a planet if it was moved to Pluto’s orbit. Supposedly because Pluto hasn’t “cleared its neighborhood” of debris, it isn’t a planet… but hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.. it has a surface that is young and fresh. If shit was so thick out there, shouldn’t it pockmarked despite a surface that is only 100+ million years old? Seems like it wanders pretty clears space to me. ;-)

    On the other hand, that reclassification bit them in the ass and now they have to call Ceres a dwarf planet too. lol

  17. It occurs to me that if the Roman gods were around and got annoyed by perceived disparities like planet vs dwarf planet (and according to legend, they most certainly WOULD), the god of wealth and the underworld and the goddess of agriculture seem like some of the very worst to annoy.

  18. I like the symmetry of Pluto not being a planet. Without it messing things up, a) all planets orbit in the ecliptic; b) there are the same number of planets outside the Asteroid Belt as inside; and c) all planets inside the Belt are terrestrial, while all those outside are gas giants.

    Now this could be messed up if we find another Mercury-sized gravity-rounded object that orbits in the ecliptic, but the symmetry could be restored if we promote Luna to the status of planet (it doesn’t orbit like a moon, even though it was the first thing to be called that).

  19. I think that if you’re going to name a place on Pluto after something by Lovecraft, and you choose Cthulhu and not Yuggoth, you have made a terrible mistake.

  20. Can’t the ice/dwarf planets just be referred to as Gamma planets, y’know, not as manly as the big eight?

  21. This…this is awesome. I’m in tears of awed, perfect laughter here.

    Praise Cthulhu! Truly, Mr. Scalzi, you shall be eaten first! Along with your family, of course. Do not grieve! It is better to be eaten by the Dark and Mighty Cthulhu first than to be eaten last! At least being eaten first is quick…

    Cthulhu fhtagn!

  22. Nice article here on how neither the definition nor the decision process is as nonproblematic as we’ve been led to believe. Also has a kickass animation of all the known planets (in all the solar systems).

  23. I’m a planetologist, as in that’s what my PhD is in and what I do for a living. And, as far as I am concerned, Pluto is a planet. So is Ceres. So are Titan and Europa.

    That’s because, unlike the bolometricists at the IAU, I prefer to use the simplest definition for a thing. And the simplest definition for a planet is “Will it form into a sphere under its own gravity?” Things that are too small for that are also too small for a lot of other planetary processes, ranging from differentiation of a core and mantle to resurfacing. Under the definition that I (and many other planetologists) prefer, there are well over 200 planets in this Solar System alone.

    Is Pluto a planet like the other planets? Of course not. In our Solar System, we have planets that are big and low density, like Jupiter and Saturn, and planets that are small and high density, like Earth and Venus, and planets that are small and low density, like Pluto and Europa. Those characteristics tell us a lot about how the planets formed and changed over time. About the only characteristic that isn’t useful is “has the planet cleared its neighborhood?” which is the one that the IAU uses to differentiate “dwarf planets”. (As an amusing side-note to the question, I’ll point out that under the original defnition fo dwarf planet, the Earth was one.)

    Given all of the really, really really neat information coming out of the recent New Horizons fly by (this generation’s Voyager) and given that the IAU is due for one of their meetings this year, I fully expect the question to come up again. And maybe this time they will listen to the planetologists.

  24. JohnD, I am shocked that the position of planetologists (assuming yours is typical) was not given greater weight in defining the term planet. Other than the fact that, as you say, it leads to having over 200 planets in our system alone. And that’s a hard list to memorize for schoolchildren.

    I also want to say that now I must track down a Cthulhu plushy for my granddaughter.

  25. Rowan’s comment is a close relative of mine. Pluto’s “demotion” is a practical act because everyone (including a young Athena) would probably agree with the statement, “I would prefer to memorize EIGHT names rather than several hundreds or thousands.”

  26. @ JohnD – Wouldn’t forming “into a sphere under its own gravity” make stars into planets too, on this simplest definition?

  27. I think a lot of people were not simply saying ‘I want Pluto to be a planet’, but ‘I want Pluto to be one of the nine planets’. That is what is unworkable; if you are prepared to accept two hundred planets, of course Pluto can be one of them, but most people aren’t.

    Now, we can certainly go on talking about the nine planets, just as we still talk about the four elements, although they haven’t been part of a scientific theory for centuries. The list can just be treated as one with historic or symbolic significance, like the Nine Worthies or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But for scientific purposes we have to classify things in a different way.

  28. It seems to me the answer is simple. Pluto is a dwarf planet only because it hasn’t cleared it’s space – it simply needs to hi-ho hi-ho and off to work it goes…

  29. Dear JohnD (and others),

    My housemate, who’s a retired geologist, said, “Let’s just make it a Planet Emeritus, and be done with it.”

    Then it’ll have tenure and everything, too. (And we can keep it down to a simple nine– suck it up, Ceres!)

    Neither of us will ever call Pluto anything but a planet, though. It is a matter of honor!

    ~~~~

    Dear narmitaj,

    At the risk of making this discussion sound like it’s serious (apologies!). The traditional definition of a star is a body large enough to be luminous from the initiation of fusion at its core. It’s an arbitrary cutoff, as there’s a continuum of sizes from super-Jovians thru brown dwarves through red dwarves.

    Also, there *are* other criteria for planets– e.g., it has to be orbiting the primary (a star) not a secondary body (a planet). That’s why Titan (which is larger than Mercury) and Triton (which is larger than Pluto) are unequivocally called moons and not planets.

    What JohnD is talking about is how you parse it beyond that.

    pax / Ctein

  30. Ctein has it pretty much correct. To be a planet, the main criterion is that it must be large enough to form a sphere under the influence of its own gravity (with the requisite asterisks for planets that are rapidly rotating, like Jupiter and Haumea) but not so large that it has sustained fusion (with the requisite asterisks for brown dwarfs).

    Some folks add in that it has to orbit the star and not another planet but many others do not. Please remember that the Galilean moons and Triton were originally called planets, as were the four largest asteroids. In both cases, they were reclassified only after so many planets were discovered that the astronomers decided that it was “too many”. And, of course, the “can’t orbit another planet” leaves out double planets such as Pluto and Charon. The folks who want to appease the IAU call planets orbiting other planets “planemos” (planetary mass objects). For my money, it doesn’t matter where the planets lives; all that matters is that it is large enough. So we can have planets that orbit the Sun, planets that orbit planets, and planets that sail by themselves in the emptiness between the stars (rogue planets).

    And Rowan, you weren’t the only one surprised. The planetologists were more than a little miffed to have their perfectly good definition tossed out in favor of one that does a worse job.

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