I went to primary school at William Murray Demonstration School at Nkhoma Mission. Then William Murrray was a Teacher Training College (TCC) and its students would be deployed to the said demonstration school for their practical sessions. Today, William Murray is a secondary school.
My Standard Seven teacher was a gentleman called Mr. Mchiswe, not a trainee teacher. I have fond memories of this teacher because he taught us a number of songs. One of them was an aide memoire to help us remember the nine planets of the solar system. The tune mentioned all the planets in their order from, Mercury, the closest to the Sun to Pluto, the farthest.
We used to learn about planets in our Geography lesson. Prior to that, the only other bodies that I knew existed in the universe were the Sun, the Moon and the stars. It was quite mind boggling to learn that there were worlds out there, some smaller than earth and others many times bigger. Still, I had many unanswered questions about these heavenly bodies: were there any people on them? Did they have 12 hours of daylight followed by 12 hours of darkness like on earth? How long would it take to get there?
Many of my questions were answered when I acquired a book called The Atlas of the Universe, many years later. I learnt for the first time, from that book, that apart from our Moon, Venus and Mars had been visited by landing missions. The Soviet mission to Venus, the Venera 13, sent a few colour pictures back to earth before it got scorched by the intense heat of the planet. A 1974 mission to Mars, the Viking, landed on the red planet and relayed back to earth scores of high resolution pictures. Some of the pictures were published in my book. Looking at the sand dunes on Mars, you would think you were looking at a picture of the Sahara desert.
Some people still have problems relating to worlds outside our own. My book would, no doubt, help them come to terms with space.
Some five or so years ago, the number of planets in our solar system shrank to eight. Pluto was relegated to a dwarf planet. Astronomers came up with a definition of a planet as a heavenly body that assumed a spherical shape under the influence of its own gravity and cleared other objects in its orbit around the central star, in our case the Sun. Pluto failed to satisfy the second criterion because it orbits the Sun as a twin planetary system with its Moon, Charis and also because it turned out to be one of the many icy objects that orbit the Sun in a region known as the Kuiper belt.
Our knowledge of the solar system keeps changing. Just four weeks ago, a strange object was spotted orbiting our Sun on the fringes of the solar system. It is one of the objects that astronomers have termed trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), meaning objects that lie beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune. The object is strange for more reasons than one: its orbit does not lie in the same plane as the rest of the planets. It is inclined at an angle of 110 degrees compared to other known planets. Secondly, it has retrograde motion, meaning that it orbits the Sun in an opposite direction to the rest of the known planets. n