Apparently I didn’t pay good attention during astronomy lessons as a child. This was highlighted the other night when I had to ask Alan, “Which one isn’t a planet any more? Jupiter or Pluto?”
He started giggling. “You’re joking, right?”
I was not.
“Unless it’s the Earth, Mars or Saturn, I don’t really have time for it,” I told him.
This made him laugh even harder. “You don’t ‘have time for it’? What does that even mean?” He paused. “Wait – you do know all the planets, don’t you?” he asked.
“Duh,” I nodded. “Every fourth grader knows the planets. Just don’t ask me to say them in order.”
My mind started to think back to the mnemonic we’d been taught to remember the order of the planets. “My mom makes pizza every Tuesday.”
I felt 90% confident, but thought perhaps I’d left out some descriptors. When I tried to puzzle out the planets, I came up with, “Mars, Mercury, Mmmm, Pluto, Earth, Tttth.” Which didn’t sound exactly right.
I tried again. “My mom makes delicious pizza at noon every Tuesday in June?”
Clearly, now that I’ve looked up the answer, that looks ridiculous. What planet did I think started with the letter T? Or D? And – now that I think of it – where’s the “S” for Saturn?
(In retrospect, I’ll admit – I think the phrase, “See you next Tuesday,” crept into this and confused me. If you don’t know what that means, try saying it to people and see if you get any raised eyebrows.)
Fortunately, Alan couldn’t hear my internal monologue and didn’t challenge me to name the planets. But he again seemed amused when – a few days later – we walked past the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum and I pointed out the planets they’ve constructed (to scale) in front of the building. “I wonder if they’ve yanked down the statue for Jupiter at the end.” I commented. Then amended, “Or is it Pluto?”
He shook his head, exasperated.
“Wait,” I said. “Let’s look at this line-up so I can get it straight.” So we started with the sun… and then walked to Mercury… and then walked to Venus… and then Earth… and then Mars…
“Whoa,” I stopped. “So we’ve been doing these expeditions to Mars?” Alan nodded. “Looks to me like Venus is much closer. Why don’t we go there instead?” I suggested, feeling brilliant for discovering a shortcut the so-called “scientists” at NASA had overlooked.
Again, Alan looked at me as if I were a stranger. “Perhaps because Venus has a surface temperature around 800 degrees?” he offered. “And an atmospheric pressure almost 100 times greater than Earth’s?”
“Riiiiiight,” I conceded. “That probably wouldn’t be good.” I thought for a moment.
“Hence the television show ‘Third Rock’ with Jonathan Lithgow,” Alan prompted.
Indeed. (Though to be fair, I never watched that show because I thought it was a sci-fi show about aliens who lived on a rock. I had no idea it was actually set on the Earth.)
So clearly I’m a dumb-ass when it comes to astronomy. In case you are too, I thought I’d share the mnemonics I discovered to keep the planets straight. Apparently the one I learned has been obliterated since Pluto has been demoted. Here are the new versions:
My Very Educated Mother Just Saw Uncle Nick
My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Ur Nan
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nuts
I would like to point out: these make NO sense. Why does your mom have to be educated to see Uncle Nick or serve us nuts? And what’s with “Ur Nan?” Is that a kind of bread? And why must your mom be energetic to do that?
So here are the phrases from when Pluto was considered a planet (pre-2006):
My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas
My very exquisite mother just served us nine pizzas
My very energetic mum swam under north pole
I’m going to guess a MOM created all of these since the “E” adjectives are all very flattering. And I’m going to guess that – like me – no one actually remembered them since they weren’t very vivid. Had I been the teacher, a generation of pupils might have memorized the following:
My Very Eager Mother Just Serviced Uncle Nick’s Peter
Aaaaand… that’s probably why I didn’t become a teacher.