In recent days, we have seen incredible pictures of Pluto. There is a multi-colored heart to give it life and there are ice mountains the size of the rockies to give it stature. And all this relates to a remarkable day in 2006 in which New Horizons set out on it long journey of discovery which included taking the first pictures of our ninth planet. Along the way something amazing happened. Pluto as a planet suddenly disappeared. No it did not disappear from the solar system, it disappeared as a planet from the books of the IAU. That’s because, at a 2006 meeting, a controversial set of new rules were adopted that made Pluto a “Dwarf Planet.”
AN “IMPORTANT” BODY SPEAKS
At the meeting in August of 2006 (just 7 months after New Horizons was launched), the IAU voted to change the definition of a planet and to re-categorize the main objects in the solar system. Only 426 people voted to strip Pluto of its title (out of a membership of over 10,000.) Yes that’s right, less than 5% of eligible members voted and if you take the net difference in votes, we are talking about a decision that was made by just a few dozen people. So what did they decide?
Like Gaul, the IAU “decided” that the main objects in the solar system should be divided into 3 parts. They are:
- Planets: The eight worlds from Mercury to Neptune.
- Dwarf Planets: Pluto and any other round object that “has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and is not a satellite.”
- Small Solar System Bodies: All other objects orbiting the Sun.
The ironic thing is that based on the initial definition proposed Aug. 16, both Pluto and it moon Cheron (plus Ceres) would have been planets. Instead of getting larger, the planets in the solar system shrank instead. Gustav Holst rolled over in his grave as he had mistakenly written too much music. Hysterically, if you buy The Planets online now, it includes just the 8 politically correct planets.
So exactly how did Pluto lose its planethood? Well it “has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.” Well that’s fair right … wait? … what?
So what are those 50,000 objects trailing Jupiter around the universe like some sort of cosmic remora fish. Those have not been “cleared.” Same with Mars and Earth. Do you want to be the one to tell Jupiter it is not a planet. Hell it’s almost a sun. Clearly the “clearing rule” is vague and uncertain.
SCIENTIFIC BUSYBODIES AND BRONTOSAURUS
This is not the first time that scientific busybodies have mucked things up. Recall the glorious chapter in science when Brontosaurus was changed to Apatosaurus. Yes textbooks were changed. Generations of knowledge about dinosaurs went bad … mostly never to be fixed (on account of the great dino phase being over for most.) But wait you haven’t heard the best part … they changed it back. Yes the same idiots who said it was really really important to change the name, said in 2015 that Brontosaurus wasn’t so bad after all. Whoops.
So what did the key people say about Pluto losing its status?
Alan Stern, leader of NASA’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute said this: “Less than 5 percent of the world’s astronomers voted.” Not only is this a problem, “the definition is flawed.”
“It’s patently clear that Earth’s zone is not cleared,” Stern told SPACE.com. “Jupiter has 50,000 trojan asteroids,” which orbit in lockstep with the planet.
Owen Gingerich, historian and astronomer emeritus at Harvard who led the committee that proposed the initial definition, called the new definition “confusing and unfortunate” and said he was “not at all pleased” with the language about clearing the neighborhood.
Gingerich also did not like the term “dwarf” planet.
“I thought that it made a curious linguistic contradiction,” Gingerich said. “A dwarf planet is not a planet. I thought that was very awkward.”
Gingerich added: “In the future one would hope the IAU could do electronic balloting.”
Gosh the wizard wonders … is that even possible? (Eye roll from the dark elves.)
NAA’s VISION FOR PLUTO
The wizard believes that we should be focusing on more, not fewer, objects in our Solar system. The clearing principle is obviously flawed. The orbiting principle is not. A Minimum size for a planet should be established (say 500 miles across) A much more interesting solar system is one in which Ceres as the largest object in the asteroid belt (comprising 1/3 of the asteroid belt) would be a planet (as it once was). Pluto should clearly be a planet, but Charon and all other satellites and moons should not. That would give us 10 planets. Also as a general rule, tradition should be followed if there is not a really good reason for a change. Neither Pluto or Brontosaurus should ever have been messed with. With better definitions of a planet, we can begin our search for more planets deeper into the solar system. Pluto has shown us how much fun these distant objects can really be.
THE AMAZING PLUTO
The pictures that have come back have been nothing short of amazing. Here are just a few:
But that is only part of the amazing story of Pluto. It is the first of the Kuiper Belt objects to be explored and we learned that is has a moon (Charon) that is nearly ½ the size of the planet itself. Pluto has no craters making it way more active than we thought. It has methane and nitrogen poles and a great deal of water ice. The bright heart of the planet has been named Tombaugh Regio (after the discoverer of the planet.) The planet has been acting like a comet releasing 500 tons of gas /hour in its wake as it rides through the cosmos. Secret after secret has been revealed. For a good video of all the new discoveries see below:
Pluto has been on quite a ride. It wasn’t even found until 1930 and was a planet for only about 75 years. Scientific busybodies took away its status and turned it into a “DWARF PLANET” using marginal new definitions. But I won’t worry about Pluto too much. It’s takes 248 years to orbit the sun so 75 years of frantic activity (including a visit) is just a teeny tiny part of the space it lives in. It’s been just a blink of an eye for the big guy and the wizards predicts before another ¼ turn of it path around the great yellow object in the sky, PLUTO will be a planet once again. Such is the nature of silly humans.