The International Astronomical Union’s recent demotion of Pluto, from ninth planet in our solar system to one of 136,652 “dwarf planets,” asteroids, proto-comets, and other small objects more or less orbiting the sun, has yielded one benificent side effect: the disappearance from the official planet roster of the politically correct “planet Sedna,” whose discovery was hailed by astronomers and postcolonialists in 2004 as that of a new “tenth planet” even farther away from the sun than Pluto.
Sedna was the first planet (or other heavenly body) in astronomical history–which goes back to the ancient Greeks and the Babylonians who invented astronomy–not to be named after a god or goddess of the classical Western world. But nowadays, classical Western civilization is viewed in academia as classist, racist, oppressive and “colonialist”–so the Caltech astronomers gave Sedna a trendy non-white, non-male, non-European name: that of an Inuit goddess who (the rad-fems will love this!) despised her “patriarchal” father. I was outraged, and I posted this back in 2004:
“That’s a drastic move away from astronomical tradition and in the direction of political correctness. Every other planet in the solar system bears the name of a god or goddess from Greek and Roman mythology. That’s the way it’s been for thousands of years, ever since Greek and Roman astronomers took over the study of the skies from the Babylonians. The Babylonians had named the five planets, besides Earth, that they could see with the naked eye after their gods and goddesses. The Greeks (and later, the Romans) attached to the planets the names of their own equivalent gods and goddesses. The planet Ishtar, named after the Babylonian goddess of love, became the planet Venus, and so forth. That naming tradition continued after the invention of the telescope led to the discovery of more planets and, indeed, right up through the twentieth century. Pluto, for example, is the Roman god of the underworld.
“So–Sedna? As a college Latin teacher, not to mention a respecter of thousands of years of Western tradition, I strenously object. The Caltech scientists explained that it’s cold out there–but it’s freezing on Mars, too. I’ve got no particular objection to Sedna herself. She’s described in Inuit mythology as a ‘frightful old hag,’ which is how I feel when I get up in the morning. Her biography sounds a bit debauched: Once a beautiful young maiden, Sedna preferred to make love with a dog rather than any human suitor. But Jupiter of planetary fame was also pretty depraved, bedding down anything that walked, male or female. It’s that self-consciously Third World, victimological baggage that Sedna, worshipped in Labrador before dead white European males took over the New World, carries with her that bothers me. Furthermore, Sedna has become a cult figure for legions of ‘Goddess’-worshippers among the radical feminists. Click here and here and here[this URL is now sadly dead] and here for some helpings of Goddess hoo-hah surrounding Sedna. According to Inuit mythology, Sedna had a cruel father who killed her when she refused to marry–just the sort of anti-‘patriarchal’ tale that the man-hating contingent loves. One goofy website, outoftheearth.com, states that Sedna is the goddess of ‘victims’–just what we need.”
Fortunately, two things happened that caused astronomers, if not feminists, to forget all about Sedna. One was the discovery in 2005 of another contender for the role of tenth planet that knocked Sedna off her feminist throne. Sedna is just teeny–just half the size of the already small Pluto–and the new object, unofficially dubbed “Xena” by the Caltech scientists, after the warrior princess–was slightly bigger than Pluto.
But this year the IAU ruled that none of these distant rocks–Pluto, Sedna, or “Xena”–qualified as a real planet because they, unlike the canonical eight from Mercury to Uranus, don’t have enough mass, and hence, gravitational pull, to control their own orbits completely and knock other objects out of those orbits. The very distant “dwarf planets” such as Pluto, et al., (“Xena” is some nine billion miles from the sun) are gravitationally affected by the real planets, such as Neptune, and also by the closer stars.
So see ya, Sedna. And the best news of all is that the IAU gave “Xena” an official new name: “Eris,” after the Greek goddess of strife. So we’re back in the classical world where astronomy started and astronomical names belong. At least astronomers still take our Western tradition seriously, even though many academics in the humanities don’t.