Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Hard to believe it's been two years now since Pluto was demoted to "Dwarf Planet" status. Does anyone else find it weird to look at modern textbooks with a list of the Eight Planets of the Solar System??

RIP Pluto
Perhaps the most amusing development I've seen thus far has been the addition of the following paragraph in the Wikipedia, which cracks me up:

"The verb to pluto (preterite and past participle: plutoed) was a neologism coined in the aftermath of its transition to dwarf planet. In 2007, the American Dialect Society chose "plutoed" as its Word of the Year, defining "to pluto" as "to demote or devalue someone or something," as happened when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet."

Some people have a harder time letting go than others. There is now an official Facebook group entitled, "When I Was Your Age, Pluto Was a Planet." I can't wait to go around saying that to little kids in my golden years.

Alas Pluto, we hardly knew ye.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

There is no reason to "let go" of anything, as our solar system does NOT have only eight planets, and Pluto did not "die" in 2006.

Pluto did not stop being a planet because 424 astronomers made a controversial decision and adopted a vague, unusable planet definition. The requirement that an object "clear its orbit" was concocted specifically to exclude Pluto and keep the number of planets in our solar system low.

The IAU definition makes no sense in stating that dwarf planets are not planets at all, a departure from the use of the term "dwarf" in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. Also, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto's orbit, according to this definition, it would not be a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another location is essentially useless. The IAU decision was immediately rejected by hundreds of professional astronomers in a petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.

Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they are large enough for their own gravity to pull themselves into a round shape--a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium and characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids.

By this definition, our solar system has 13 planets and counting: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

PillowNaut said...

My brother agrees with this assessment and gets all frothy about it, and what may yet be discovered in the Kuiper Belt. I've read the arguments at length, and simply have no emotional attachmentor assessment. I was commenting merely upon 1) a date 2) new books 3) a silly Wiki paragraph and 4) many people didn't like this decision.

LOL but thanks for proving my point.

Deray said...

Everyone in Mexico learned the names of the planets with a song from a scientific show for kids. If we take Pluto out it doesn't sound right :'(. Good blog!

Mrs. L said...

What's next, old people? I'm sorry but you don't meet our definition of a human so snap! you're no longer a member :)

PillowNaut said...

yeah, no joke. soylent green is people!!!

i would not be surprised if the Pluto decision was reversed, however...then the slang for 'plutoed' will mean "restored to former glory."

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I have the same feeling about "plutoed" ultimately meaning being "restored to former glory."

The arguments for Pluto's planet status are not simply based on emotion. There are strong scientific reasons for keeping Pluto a planet, albeit one of a new subclass of planets.

Here are some web sites you and your brother might find interesting

The Great Planet Debate:

Petition of astronomers rejecting the demotion:

My Pluto Blog:

Sach said...

If the broad definition was adopted - we don't want to have a situation where we have 51 planets and counting... the kids will then surely bad mouth all the previous generation of humans! If you had to build a song to remember this number, wonder how many songs would be needed then!

Then again, I strongly believe Pluto has no emotional attachment to being classified as a planet (or not) either! I'm sure its as happy as its ever been where it is!

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I don't see any problem with having 51 planets or 100 planets. Memorization is really not that important. When we knew little else about the planets other than their names, memorization might have made sense. Today, it is more important that kids and adults learn the types of planets and their characteristics--for example, terrestrial planets, gas giants, ice giants, dwarf planets, etc. It makes no scientific sense to artificially limit the number of planets just so kids can memorize them. We don't limit the number of elements in the Periodic Table or the number of stars or the number of moons the planets have (Jupiter is up to 63). For stars, there is a list of categories and subcategories that make up the Herzsprung Russell diagram. There isn't any reason we can't do a classification system like this for planets. If our solar system has 50+ planets, then that is what it has.

It's not a matter of emotional attachment, whether by Pluto or to Pluto. It's an issue of recognizing that planets come in many types and not blurring the critical distinctions between planets and asteroids. The real change to which we need to adapt is not going from nine to eight planets but going from nine to a multitude of planets, with numbers increasing regularly due to new discoveries.

Theresa111 said...

I think they hurt Pluto's feelings. And I think there are some more planets on the far side of the sun. It's a large star and who really can say for certain?

M. Ray Robinson said...

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and dogs are from Pluto!

Besides, I think Pluto's doing just fine. He's made some new friends!