Imprimir Republish

Letter from the editor | 121

A new planet and an old question about our origin

Only very rarely does Pesquisa FAPESP offer as a cover theme something alien to the repertoire of the production of science, technology or humanities in the country. It is natural for it to be like that, because the focus, the raison d’être, of this magazine, and this is known overmuch, is the scientific and technological research done in Brazil. Occasionally, though, editorial freedom, which is always a healthy counselor, prompts a rather different look, a view beyond habit, and thence the question is born: why not?  Why not this given subject? Why not this discovery that we Brazilians have had nothing to do with directly, and that incites our imagination in the selfsame way that it summons that of our fellow men from all over the world? And that is because, in the last instance – an expression that was so dear to us at the end of the 60’s and in the 70’s, to the point of being charged with affection for our generation – it is a question of a discovery that takes us to the original complex question of our humanity. That is to say: who are we, where have we come from, and where are we going to? Every time that a study, a scientific proposition or a discovery touches even indirectly on this, they prompt that universal curiosity, that enormous attention that every mystery, for long and perhaps for ever insoluble, galvanizes. And then the political-geographical limits temporarily lose their crucial importance, subsumed as they stay in our universal humanity.

These considerations come, of course, because of the choice of the cover of March’s magazine. The possibility of the icy and remote body located beyond Pluto, beyond the regions that until a short time ago we held to be the last confines of our solar system, being a planet, has imposed itself as a subject with force to break our rule for Brazilian covers, for its potential for changing, as old Thomas Kuhn could say, a more than solid paradigm. After all, for some generations now, we have repeated that there are nine planets in the solar system. There have been many millions of printed copies of the geography textbooks for the first grades of our formal education repeating all over the world the list of the nine, opened by Mercury and closed by Pluto, and with the surreptitious suggestions that life may only perhaps have the remotest possibility of existing, or of having existed one day, besides on Earth, on our neighbor Mars, the red planet.

Finally, the (perhaps) tenth planet, with its moon, became the cover story following a detailed article by special editor Marcos Pivetta, who amongst other Brazilian and international sources heard Mike Brown, the very discoverer of Xena – this is the provisional name of the heavenly body, also provisionally called, in more technical language, 2003 UB313. Having done this, it only remains for us to await the decision of the International Astronomical Union, possibly at its general meeting that will be held next August in Prague, in the Czech Republic, about the status of the distant body made of rock and ice.

After traveling through space, we arrive in port in Terra Brasilis, in not very remote times. This issue of the magazine, taking advantage of the opportunity of the mini-series about the ex-president Juscelino Kubitschek that Rede Globo has put before our eyes from Tuesday to Friday, at a late hour perhaps beyond convenience for the majority of TV viewers, proposes a reflective reading on how the present-day image of JK was made. It is worthwhile reading, from page 80 onwards, the article by Gonçalo Junior about some studies that try to give an account of the difference between the perception that people had of the president when he built Brasilia, when he was in office, and the imagines through which we try to resee him and understand him today, in the context of the recent political history of this country.