Tag Archives: planets

I’m clearly not going to be an astronaut. And it’s a good thing I’m not a teacher.

24 Jan
But I'll be damned if I can name them...

But I’ll be damned if I can name them…

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.”

Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/HumocracyI 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.

Image Source: http://static.themetapicture.com/media/funny-earth-third-planet-from-sun.jpg“Speaking of – we’re only the third planet from the sun? That’s a lot closer than I was thinking.”

“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.

You’re welcome. 

The planets are in alignment. Literally.

28 Feb

I did not take this photo. Some awesome photographer from Reuters did. I'm borrowing it to illustrate my story. Is that technically copyright infringement? I sure hope not.

Leaving yoga last night, I happened to look up and see the moon. Well, the moon (a sliver) and two very bright stars underneath it. My memory jogged to a Facebook post I’d read the night before, in which a friend had urged everyone to head outside and check out Venus and Jupiter, just under the moon.

I looked around and realized that what I was seeing was MUCH brighter than anything else in the sky, and I knew I was looking at planets. With my naked eyes. I became inexplicably excited and couldn’t take my eyes off them, except when passing other pedestrians. And I realized: apparently I’m the only person who finds planets to be a kinda big deal, because everyone else was shuffling along, talking on cell phones, not looking up.

I wanted to stop strangers and say, “Look up! Check it out! Those are PLANETS.” And I considered doing it – I assessed every person I walked past, trying to find someone I could share this marvel with. But that’s when I figured something out: when you’re walking alone, after dark, and you approach strangers, they’re going to think you’re either a) A criminal, or B) Crazy.

I couldn’t decide if the yoga mat over my shoulder helped or hurt my cause. On one hand, it showed that I wasn’t homeless (unless it was actually a bed roll), but on the other, it could mean that I was some kind of crazy Earth Mother who liked stars AND astrology.

This mild self-awareness prompted me to exercise some restraint and NOT approach strangers. However, if they’d studied me closely, they would’ve seen my eyes dancing from their faces up to the moon and back, much like a dog trying to hint that he’s ready for you to fill up his bowl. No one looked up. Their loss.

Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I called Alan and my sister and encouraged them to head outside, and sent my friend Betsy a text. I needed to share this with someone. I mean, it’s not every day that the planets are aligned so you can see them on a casual walk.

You know what else doesn’t happen everyday? Spotting the person who hit you with her vehicle. That’s right.

Walking down T Street, I was just about to cross the opening to an alley, when a Prius turned to enter. I hesitated for a moment before crossing its path (it was a Prius after all – and the same color as the one that hit me, at that!) and in that moment, I looked up at the driver. It was Tina. The woman whose face I had seen vividly through that same windshield once before.

Not sure how I recognized it.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me to bump into her (no pun intended) since she lives two blocks from me. But I did just celebrate my one year crashiversary (Feb 13!)  by observing that I hadn’t seen her since that night in the ER. Guess I celebrated too soon.

Ironically, for the first time since I’d set eyes on the moon, with the one person who stood a chance of recognizing me, I didn’t feel compelled to stop her and ask her to look up. Instead I just tucked my chin down and hustled past, glad for the anonymity.

Nestled back in my home, I googled “Venus, Jupiter, Moon” to make sure that what I’d seen were actually planets. (Yep!) But then I found this article that informed me I’d missed the real bonanza last May, when Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Mars were visible to the naked eye, with Uranus and Neptune visible with binoculars.

WHAT?! I missed the chance to see SIX planets at once with nothing more than opera glasses? Where was I when this happened, and why didn’t anyone drag me outside? Also? Maybe this explains why no one mirrored my amazement last night. They probably all had seen six planets last year and would’ve been like, “Yawn. Big deal…” if I’d stopped to point out Venus and Jupiter.

It would’ve been kind of like that time in France when a couple stopped me and asked for directions and – because I couldn’t actually understand their question, I thought they were gesturing at a building that had caught fire the week before, so I’d excitedly responded to their simple inquiry with: “See that? It burn! It BURN! Burn big! Go bye!” Their eyes had grown large and they started backing away from me as if I were about to light them on fire.

So anyway. I guess there are three morals to this story: First, trying to engage strangers on the street is a recipe for looking crazy. Second, when the planets are in alignment, expect the unexpected. Third, if ever you don’t understand what someone has asked you, err on the side of giving them directions to a supermarket. At least you will have communicated something non-threatening and potentially helpful.

The good news? The planets will be visible for a few more weeks, so you haven’t missed your chance to see them. I just ask that if you DO see them and want to share the joy with a stranger, you point to the moon and tell someone how to get to FoodLion.