Re-entry usually entails burning it hot for a brief period, agitating molecules until they’re pinging around at top speed, and then slowing back down to near-normal. Coming back from vacation to emails, voicemails, and assorted projects has its similarities to hitting the atmosphere.  After a week in the Caribbean—a setting alien enough from my normal Minnesota environs to practically qualify as outer space—the past couple of days have been all about moving at high velocity and hoping for a gentle splashdown.

While in Puerto Rico, we were possessed by the Imp of the Perverse (aka Carl Sagan) and made a side-trip to the Arecibo Observatory. Arecibo, the largest radio telescope in the world, is operated by the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center. Lots of fascinating research and educational outreach work going on there, but I won’t go into that right now. More pressing and weighty business demands our attention.

In the observatory’s visitor center stands an incredibly powerful scientific instrument renowned among physicists and astronomers worldwide: the Sistema Solar Bascula!

To operate the scale, the user deposits NSF funds in the coin slot and stands on the stainless steel platform. After a brief processing period, startling telemetry begins to display on the high-tech LED panel. The Bascula reports not only the user’s weight on Earth, but also calculates his or her relative weight on every other planet in the solar system—plus the Moon. Fantastic! And informative!

I enjoyed the privilege of standing atop the Basula. Results are documented below:

Tierra: 160.7 lbs
Luna: 26.7 lbs
Marte: 60.9 lbs
Mercurio: 60.7 lbs
Venus: 145.5 lbs
Jupiter: 407 lbs
Saturno: 171.3 lbs
Neptuno: 145.4 lbs
Urano: 182.0 lbs
Pluton: 10.7 lbs

In its great wisdom, the Sistema Solar Bascula demonstrates an important lesson about the weights we all carry, and the gravity of our professional responsibilities. It’s all relative. Some days you’re a Jovian heavyweight slogging along with lead boots; other days you’re Mercurial, and every idea takes flight.

Postscript: The Bascula apparently didn’t get the memo about Pluto’s demotion.