La Cosa Astra

Posted by Anonymous
on Friday, June 08, 2007

Because I work for Astronomy magazine, one might assume my favorite show would be Carl Sagan's Cosmos or any of the Shatner, Stewart, or even Bakula varieties of Star Trek. Actually, my top pick is HBO's The Sopranos, which ends this Sunday night. If you've never viewed an episode, it is a crime drama featuring mob boss Tony Soprano and his New Jersey families — both the one he shares a house with and the one better known as La Cosa Nostra.

Really, there isn't any connection between Tony and astronomy. He prefers the History Channel's war programs over Star Gazer or Nova. He has enough security lights on his property to wash out any sky object, including the Moon. And he typically works between sunset and sunrise — not conducive for observing.

What if the Soprano business family tied itself to astronomy rather than the "waste-management industry?" What organization would be the best fit?

NASA? Fagidaboutit! You can't work with the feds, do you know what happens to mobsters who do that?

The Astronomical League? Nope — they are too friendly and operate way out in the open. Not to mention, do you know how long it would take to sweep telescopes for bugs at any star party hosted by a league affiliate?

Maybe the International Astronomical Union (IAU)? Let's see, selective membership, their decisions command the field, and they held their first general assembly in Italy. Seems like a perfect match.

If Tony ran the IAU, would Pluto still be a planet? It depends. Is Pluto a good earner? That's Tony's main concern. Based only on funding for the New Horizons mission, I'd say yes. And there certainly wouldn't be a vote on the issue of Pluto's planethood — Tony's decisions reign supreme. If anything Silvio Dante, the consigliere, might advise Tony to keep an eye on Pluto. Secretively, over the phone, he would profess caution: "Our friend, out there near the Kuiper Belt, hasn't cleared its orbit. This could be a problem."

Nonetheless, Pluto, for the time being, would still have planethood. What about the other eight? Every planet still needs to mind its p's and q's. It doesn't matter how many observatories or missions study these planets, if you get out of line, your planethood might end up sleeping with the fish. Take Mars, for example. Even with the twin rovers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or any of the other successful missions to the Red Planet — with guys like Tony, it's always "What have you done for me lately?" Mars' planethood might be taken for a ride. And you didn't see nothing!

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