New wave flight of fancy suddenly turns true
Astronomers working at the Wescott Observatory in Coconino County, Arizona, were recently tracking a series of meteors. “It was cloudy with a chance of meteors,” said Jack Hawkins, Wescott’s publicity officer. “Get it? It’s a play on ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.’”
During the routine exercise, one of the astronomers noticed something strange in the background of the starfield. “At first, she thought it was just dust on the lens,” said Hawkins. “Get it? It’s a play on the ‘Dust in the Wind.’”
The “dust speck” turned out to be so much more than that. Additional calculations, measurements, calibrations, and analyses determined that the astronomers were looking not at dust, not at a meteor or meteorite, not even at a star, but at a legitimate planet. They immediately tried to make contact. “They were calling occupants of interplanetary space,” said Hawkins. “Get it? It’s a play on ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.’”
The job of naming the planet fell to one of the junior astronomers on the team, Ernest Lumis. “I had so many ideas,” said Lumis. “I tried Alderaan. I tried Altair IV. I tried Arrakis. And that was just the A’s. But evidently, there’s a rule about using the names of planets from popular culture. They’re considered taken.”
For convenience, the new planet was code-named Planet A-18-99-G. The team trained its powerful telescope on it. “We got in real close,” said Kelly Mancuso-Hebrides, the project supervisor. “and we noticed some really strange things about A-18-99-G. The trees were red. The planet seemed to have no way of disposing of its dead—for that matter, there didn’t seem to be any dead beings. And not a single organism had a head.”
The scientists apprised Hawkins of their findings. “We couldn’t wait,” said Mancuso-Hebrides. “All Jack does is make pop-culture references. We thought this would fry his noodle.”
It did. “I damn near fell out of my chair,” Hawkins said. “I mean, really, actually, fell flat out. That’s exactly the description of the planet in ‘Planet Claire,’ the 1979 song by the B-52’s. I mean, almost word for word.” Hawkins proceeded to recite the lyrics for that and every other song from the band’s debut album. It took a while.
Before that, though, back when he was first apprised of the discovery, he petitioned the team to name the planet after the song, and they initially refused as a result of the No-Pop Policy. “I explained that this is different,” Hawkins said. “We weren’t attaching a name to a newly discovered planet. We were acknowledging that we discovered this planet that was there all along, or at least since the song made it famous.”
His argument was compelling, or at least compelling enough. A-19-99-G was renamed Planet Claire. “I felt like such a proud papa,” said Hawkins. “Or at least step-papa. The band is the real papa.”
CONTINUING TO LOOK
The discovery of Planet Claire has led astronomers at Wescott and elsewhere to probe additional B-52’s songs, including “53 Miles West of Venus,” “(Shake That) Cosmic Thing,” and, oddly “Is That You Mo-Dean?”
“They’ve found nothing else,” said Hawkins. “But even if they don’t turn up a single other overlap, this Planet Claire revelation is enough. It’s more than enough. Red trees! No one dead! No heads!”
Mancuso-Hebrides was not available for comment.