Newton T patrons fret over fate of science monument

Newton T patrons fret over fate of science monument
By Emma Stickgold, Globe Correspondent | August 25, 2006

NEWTON -- Pluto's plummet from planethood cast a bittersweet shadow yesterday over a small blue monument erected in its honor at the Riverside MBTA station. T patrons waxed nostalgic about its former status and the potential for it to fade into oblivion.

An international committee of astronomers decided yesterday that Pluto is too small to be considered a planet, immediately outdating every astronomy textbook and solar system model in the universe.

``I think it was bizarre," Leigh Abrams, 50, of Dorchester said as she passed through the gate of the T station. ``What's next? The sun's not the sun? The moon's not the moon?" she added.

The Museum of Science, Boston's scale model of the solar system begins in its planetarium and -- until yesterday -- ended where the D Green Line does, in Newton. The planet, so tiny it fits atop a stick, is part of a weather-worn, somewhat rusty structure that commuters yesterday said they'd never noticed before.

Loretta Olivotto, 26, a marketing manager who lives in the Fenway area, said the planet's demotion raises an even larger question: ``Does size matter? That's the question," she said. Olivotto said she falls into the camp of Pluto supporters.

What makes her so sure it should stay a planet? ``It's sentimental value," she said. After passing through the turnstile, Naomi Siegel, 9, of Natick and a gaggle of her young relatives crowded around the monument, struggling to recall the mnemonic they had learned in school to memorize the nine planets in order.

``My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Up Nine Pies," she and the others pieced together, giggling.

``I think it should be a planet," Naomi said. ``Just because it's smaller doesn't mean it can't be a planet."

Seth Forden, 31, of Providence, however, had a different take. Asked whether he thought Pluto was worthy of planetary status, he said, ``It was smaller than the moon, so probably not." Others worried that its change in status was pushing more important news stories off the front pages and television newscasts.

``I think it's insignificant compared to everything else going on," said Neil Heller, 40, of San Carlos, Calif., in town to visit his sister in Natick.

Tony Heffron, 65, of Scotland clutched maps of Boston, and said he is amused by how interested Americans seem in the matter. At home, ``it's not a topic of discussion," he said.

``This is the first time I've ever discussed it."

He added, however, that he was ``disappointed" with the astronomers' decision. ``It's in all the books I've read," he said. ``I knew it wasn't very big, but I didn't know how minuscule it really was," Heffron said.

Newton officials said they hope the monument does not disappear. ``It is no surprise that a T stop in Newton was designated as Pluto," Jerry Solomon, a spokesman for Newton Mayor David Cohen, said in an e-mail. ``We've always known that we're out of this world."

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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