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The performance artist Marina Abramović has said the following in a forum at the New York Public Library:

In Africa you have Dogon tribes who worship Trans-Pluto, which is you know a small satellite around Pluto, which had been developed only maybe forty years ago when telescopes and technology developed so strong that they can actually see there is a Trans-Pluto. These people for hundreds of years worshiped, in their ceremonies worshiped this Trans-Pluto, because they knew it all the way it existed, which is not possible to perceive with naked eye.

She has recently mentioned the same on NPR's Brian Lehrer Show, in a conversation with a neuroscientist.

Is there any legitimate research speaking to these claims? Is Trans-Pluto real and was it discovered a few decades ago? Did the Dogon tribes worship the same object?

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    Thanks for asking. This caught (hurt?) my ear when I heard it on the radio today. Abramović's confused remarks about the Dogon (at 16:22 in the podcast) pretty much answer the question she asks afterwards: How is it that scientists are so cynical and don't just believe things without proofs? More of what I would call serious misunderstandings about science from Abramović can be found here: raphael-zimmerman.com/writings/… . – Steve Kass Mar 13 '13 at 18:36
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This appears to be a metastasization of a hoary old myth originating with the anthropologist Marcel Griaule. The original claim was that the Dogon cosmology included information about the Sirius star system not obtainable without advanced technology. In fact, it is not clear that they had this knowledge – Griaule seems to have severely over-intepreted Dogon cosmology – and if they had it, it is not clear that they could not have acquired it from a passing European.

The claim was popularized in the 1976 book The Sirius Mystery and entered the woo literature, where I assume it has been repeated and embellished ever since, leading to Ambramović's confusion. I first learned of it from an essay in Carl Sagan's 1979 collection Broca's Brain:

The Dogon have knowledge impossible to acquire without the telescope. The straightforward conclusion is that they had contact with an advanced technical civilization. The only question is, which civilization—extraterrestrial or European? Far more credible than an ancient extraterrestrial educational foray among the Dogon might be a comparatively recent contact with scientifically literate Europeans who conveyed to the Dogon the remarkable European myth of Sirius and its white dwarf companion, a myth that has all the superficial earmarks of a splendidly inventive tall story.

  • Thank you for the answer! Do you have a source for the take down of Griaule's research? – denten Mar 13 '13 at 18:19
  • Thanks for the edit, I'm going to incorporate some sourced criticism of Griaule into what you wrote – Evan Harper Mar 13 '13 at 19:20
  • This definitely accords with what I've heard from New Agers: claims that the Dogon know all about the invisible-to-the-naked-eye Sirius B. – Larry OBrien Mar 13 '13 at 20:56
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Evan Harper gave a great answer, but I'll supply an alternative one from the astronomy angle.

Trans-pluto isn't an astronomical term. The closest is "Trans-Neptunian object", which is any object orbiting outside Neptune (Pluto is one, by the way). By extension you could say that a "Trans-plutonian object" orbited outside of Pluto, but it's not a normally used term. It certainly isn't an object orbiting Pluto. Pluto has five satellites (as far as we know) and none are called Trans-Pluto.

TL;DR This is astronomical rubbish.

  • I wish I could accept both as an answer. This is a valuable addition to the above. – denten Mar 13 '13 at 21:34
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    TL;DR translation is PRICELESS! :) – JasonR Mar 14 '13 at 13:44
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    Each of Pluto's moons spends half its time closer to the Sun than Pluto is; they're not trans-Plutonian. – Keith Thompson Mar 14 '13 at 14:38

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