International Astronomical Union to the Pluto Haters: Suck It

Man, this is makes me almost ridiculously happy:

An international panel has unanimously recommended that Pluto retain its title as a planet, and it may be joined by other undersized objects that revolve around the sun.

Yes! Ha! Take that, Rose Center for Earth and Space! You’re wrong! Wrong wrong wrongy wrong wrong! Also, you’re incorrect.

What it appears the IAU panel is also suggesting is something I’ve personally suggested for a while, which is to make formal some informal planet types: Gas planets, terrestrial planets, and a third category Pluto and its ilk, like “dwarf planets.” I think that’s perfectly fine, myself.

Now, the panel’s recommendation apparently has to be approved by the IAU at large, so there’s still a chance the Pluto haters could mount a last-minute attack. But come on! Unanimous recommendation, people. Pluto’s a planet. Just like I knew it would be. Now, all they need to do is give 2003 UB313 a real name and we’ll be good to go.

Update: Live Science’s Robert Roy Britt believes that Pluto will be getting a “polite demotion” if a proposed third category of planets is approved. Hey, Rob Roy! What part of the word “planet” don’t you understand? Huh? Huh? Huh?

(NB: The above was mock outrage.)

62 thoughts on “International Astronomical Union to the Pluto Haters: Suck It

  1. I realize they have to draw a line somewhere, and that every rock in the asteroid belt can’t be called a planet, but Pluto has a moon! That should mean something. So what if it has a screwball orbit. If we start eliminating screwballs, there wouldn’t be any SF authors to keep us entertained.

  2. Separate comment on “Xenia.”Back in the 1950s, when yet another asteroid large enough to get a name (Geographos) was discovered, my hometown newspaper misunderstood the announcement and devoted the entire first page of that evening’s edition (with huge headline and half-page map of the solar system) to “Seientists discover 10th planet!!” They also included background stories on other planetary discoveries. I never saw a correction, but they never mentioned it again either.

  3. It seems odd, but I too must insist that Pluto is a planet. It was the icy, rocky, jumping-off point for all the childhood space adventures of my brother and me. How dare they try and take that away!

  4. If it was decided to categorise 2003 UB313 as a planet, it would be bound to cause a havoc for astrologers. Just the thought of that makes me laugh and wish it would happen.

    Am I evil? Nah! I’d just like to see a scam fall, even if only for a while.

  5. Mostly because I think it would be nonsensical not to name it a planet, actually, as it shares sufficient characteristics with other planets be classified so.

  6. I just think that “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Necatarines” sounds lame.

    Not a scientific reason, but I believe it to be a valid concern regardless.

  7. I realize they have to draw a line somewhere, and that every rock in the asteroid belt can’t be called a planet, but Pluto has a moon!

    I expect the term “planet” will have the same fate as the term “moon”; Most everyone will use the term the way the feel like doing so, and only a few pendants will observe the official definitions. (Actually I’m not sure the term moon even has an official definition; Charon is strictly speaking a “natural satellite”).

  8. To our frame of reference (standing on terra firma) the moon appears to revolve around Earth. But if you were to look down on the Solar system from outside the ecliptic, the Earth and moon would appear to be two planet-sized objects criss-crossing each other in their orbit around the Sun.

    So why not consider the moon another planet? It’s larger than Pluto…

  9. Ceres and Vesta were planets for a while until folks realized the ateroid belt was there. The solar syatem is no less interesting now that they are the largest Asteroids. Now we are starting to discover large bodies in the Kuiper Belt. Pluto is among ‘that class’ of distant cold bodies and now has 3 named moons – Nix and Hyrda along with Charon. Before we get into the pattern of of updating text books annually as the number of ‘planets’ goes from 10 to 20+ it’d be nice to find some terminology that distingushes between the different classes of planets including ‘that class’ that Pluto and many other distant objects are in.

  10. Mark Costa:

    To this end, what I expect you’ll begin to see is the notation of the “nine historical/traditional planets” followed by information of other, more recently-discovered planets which also are present in the system.

  11. I have always found it interesting, not to mention hypocritical, that the efforts to downgrade Pluto’s status didn’t begin until AFTER the death of Clyde Tombaugh. To me, it seems that the Pluto-haters didn’t have the cojones to raise their objections while Tombaugh was still alive.

  12. Actually, I don’t mind Pluto being a notch better than “that rock we used to think was a planet.” As long as it’s in a separate class from the terrestrials, I’m happy.

    Though I would prefer “planetoid,” with its clear not-a-planet etymology.

    M+V+E+M = cool!
    J+S+U+N = awesome!
    P+X = dwarfish!

    (I hope I don’t sound like a dwarf-hater. I’m just a Pluto-demoter.)

  13. I must be slightly dyslexic. In your update I thought it said ‘Demolition’ not demotion… I was all confused trying to figure out how one could do it politely.

  14. Now, see, there’s no way to come up with a rational, non-arbitrary definition for “planet” that somehow includes Pluto but excludes 2003 UB313 (and several other recently discovered distant cold round things). It’s a Kuiper Belt Object. Calling Pluto a planet degrades the real planets. I’m sure Jupiter’s pretty skeeved about this.

    did

  15. To me, it seems that the Pluto-haters didn’t have the cojones to raise their objections while Tombaugh was still alive.

    Yeah, I was real scared of Clyde Tombaugh, the Chuck Norris of astronomy!

  16. Johnny Carruthers:

    “To me, it seems that the Pluto-haters didn’t have the cojones to raise their objections while Tombaugh was still alive.”

    Well, this one time, at the IAU meeting of 1953, some Austrian astronomer got all up in Clyde’s face about Pluto, and Clyde was all, like, “Anschluss this, mofo,” and just took him down. He got all dark skies on him, yo. And after that no one had the stones to challenge Clyde.

    And that’s why Pluto’s a planet.

  17. I just think that “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Necatarines” sounds lame.

    An interesting point, Annalee: It’s not about what class terms we use, but what set of 8, 9, or 10 objects we memorize as kids that bakes the shape of the solar system into our brains. And once the dwarf planetoids’ ranks inflate past 20 or so, schoolkids everywhere be mouthing those nectarines. (As they did from 1846 to 1930.)

    This is clearly a last-ditch effort of the Plutocrats, who will die the slow death of planetoid inflation.

    Let the telescopy begin!

  18. Scott, I’ve sent an e-mail to the IAU suggesting they rename 2003 UB313 “Westerfeld.” Just thought you’d want to know.

  19. I think all the furries who get so bent out of shape about the status of Pluto ought to write some fanfic pieces about how Joe Lieberman could somehow propel Pluto into a larger size or something using the powr of Joementum!.

    Seriously, until we hop on out there and start colonizing the solar system, does it matter? Really? Correct me if I’m wrong.

  20. Dwarf-Scalzi,

    As affronted Jove is my witness, from this day forward I am going to devote all my powers as a YA author to make sure that teens grow up thinking of Pluto as a non-planet.

    But I agree, “Xena-Westerfeld” would be a great name for a planetoidling, and I’m going to get my fans on that too. Because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the solar system, my dwarfish friend!

  21. Scott: Alabama, alaska, arizona, arkinsas, california, colorado, connecticut, delaware, florida, georgia, hawaii, idaho, illinois, indiana. Iowa, kansas, kentucky louisiana, maine, maryland, massacheucettes, michigan. Minnesota, mississippi, missouri, montana, nabraska, nevada, new hampshire, new jersey, new mexico, new york, north carolina north dakota, ohio, oklahoma, oregon, pennsylvania, rode island, south carolina, south dakota, tenessee texas, utah, vermont, virginia, washington, west virginia, wisconsin, wyoming.

    …your right. Gradeschoolers are totally incapable of memorizing long lists and retaining them into adulthood.

    And we’re Plutophants not plutocrats. Really now. That’s just silly.

    Cheers, Scalzi. I laughed my way through this whole thread… anyone nerdy enough to argue about pluto’s planet status has to be good people.

  22. If Pluto (diameter 2300 km) is a planet, why not Ceres (950 km)? Both are free-orbiting and massive enough to pull themselves into roughly spherical shapes. As well, while Pluto is just one of a number of large KBOs, and probably not even the largest, Ceres is 1/3rd of the mass of the asteroid belt all by itself.

    The main drawbacks I see are that at some number, perhaps 12, people will be confused by the plethora of planets and stop trying to remember them and also, someone will have to go out and add one to the designations of Jupiter and beyond. I for one am not doing it.

  23. James Nicoll:

    “The main drawbacks I see are that at some number, perhaps 12, people will be confused by the plethora of planets and stop trying to remember them…”

    Thus my belief we’ll be seeing texts referring to “the nine historical planets” and then everything else.

  24. Nikitta, there are astrologers who are already taking various objects like 2003UB13, Sedna, Quaoar, etc. into account in their charts. Sorry to disappoint you.

  25. Basically, it comes to this: pluto-as-a-non-planet might be scientifically logical, but it’s also unhip. All the cool kids think it’s a planet.

    I’m a fuzzy-wuzzy Discover-reading armchair astronomer, but I support pluto’s planet status for the same reason I support drawing little crowns on the noble gases in the periodic table: it’s funny. Angels have wings because they take themselves lightly. If we can have a quark named love, we can have a planet the size of Ohio.

  26. Annalee,

    Yeah! We can have a planet named after a cartoon dog, and we can add more. All we really need is a catchy tune so kids can learn it.

    Dang, I really wish “It’s a Small World” worked with the planet’s names. Do you have any ideas?

  27. Holy crap, Tripp– according to this unanimous recommendation, it is a small world after all!

    Pluto, that is. That joke is not nearly as amusing as I think it is, but it’s distractable o’clock, so I can’t stop laughing.

    RE: planet song– let me think about it. I’ll try to get back to you.

  28. Only wankers like Joe Lieberman continue to support the failed policy that Pluto is a planet.

    Given that Pluto doesn’t fit comfortably into either the gas giants or the terrestrials, and its orbit is far more eliptical and offset from the accretion disk than any rational planet, we could call it an “independent” planet. (But it could still vote with and receive comittee assignments from the terrestrials.)

  29. I’ve always been irrational in my desire to see Pluto remain a planet. I’ve never been able to articulate exactly *why* I’ve had this position. Maybe it’s because it seems to make our neighborhood that much smaller?

    Anyway, this from Scalzi above:

    Well, this one time, at the IAU meeting of 1953, some Austrian astronomer got all up in Clyde’s face about Pluto, and Clyde was all, like, “Anschluss this, mofo,” and just took him down. He got all dark skies on him, yo. And after that no one had the stones to challenge Clyde.

    is *precisely* why I visit this blog!

    Damn that made my day!

  30. Personally I love that the question is all about size. Yes, there are (a sizeable number compared to other fields of) female astronomers out there but it’s still an old mans club. And having old (geeky) men argue about the size of things relating to their importance just makes me all snickering inside.

    (hat=”snark”)
    Now Jupiter, by Jove, there’s a planet. Big, massive and fully rotund. He’s got a whole bunch of attendants circling around (say, any of Jupiter’s moons named for male Greeks?) paying close attention, circling close, caught in the gravity of the situation. Big Van Alan belts, you betcha, reaching out and caressing those little moons. Now THAT’S a planet, if you know what I mean.

    Then there’s this Pluto. Little puny thing. Not exactly on the level, if you know what I mean. Highly irregular. Has these other guys hanging around. You know what they say.
    (/hat)

    I just get a smirk on my face every time I think about that argument. Say, how many of the IAU members drove here using a car with manual transmission?

  31. Pluto is unlikely to be classified with the 8 planets in the solar system because it is simply not in the same class. Why not relax and let it be ‘King of the Kuiper Belt’ instead of a sentimental runt trying to mix it up with a real planet like Neptune. If we want some debateable sentimental commitee decisions let’s get the supreme court to fix that whole “the tomato is a veggie cause you eat it with dinner” nonsense…

  32. I’m against it being a dwarf planet, surely mass challenged planet is more politically correct?

  33. All the dwarves in the world are actually likely to be proud of the name. Something the size of a planet being called a dwarf! Wow! Finally! Something other than Dopey, Grumpy, and Doc to be compared to!

    Actually, the midgets will be upset they weren’t chosen for the honor.

    In response to the naming question — Even though Pluto was discovered the same year Disney’s Pluto made his debut, if Pluto was named after an animal (and not a god), it was likely named after a cat. Because Pluto, “The Black Cat”, had been around since 1843. And Poe is much cooler than Disney.

  34. What’s the difference between the Kupier Belt and the Oort Cloud? Distance or residents? Not to be rude to all of the debaters before, but isn’t it all just sawdust left over from the primordial accretion disc?

  35. Yes, it’s a planet, but it’s clearly of a different type. I’ve always been in favor of adding the third type of planet, or, let’s say, “world” since that might not raise the hackles.

    In addition to “terrestrial” and “jovian” we can now speak of “plutonian” worlds. There, Pluto gets a whole class of planets, er, worlds named after it.

    Honestly, I think anything big enough to be spherical deserves the appelation, so perhaps we need an asteroidal class as well, for things like Ceres.

  36. “What’s the difference between the Kupier Belt and the Oort Cloud? Distance or residents?”

    Definitely distance and distribution: the KBO hang around the ecliptic for the most part and aren’t supposed to show up much past around 50 AU (IIRC). Your Oort Cloud is mainly located at thousands of AU and has no particular bias wrt to plane of orbit. Comets can come in from any direction (Although about 100,000 of them have recently been tipped out way from the direction of Centaurus).

    “Not to be rude to all of the debaters before, but isn’t it all just sawdust left over from the primordial accretion disc?”

    That’s the standard model but the one sample we’ve got back from an actual comet didn’t fit it at all well. Cometary material should be primordial, well preserved, but this stuff had been seriously heated at some point. Even humble space-sawdust has surprises for us.

  37. Every rock formation with a reasonably continuous orbit should be a planet, but that also isolates a lot of other reasonably continuous orbit satellites.

    Before arguing about whether or not pluto is a planet, the astro-dorks should learn how to categorize all of the other solar orbiting formations should be defined. I think it’s called “eros” approximately the 1/4th the size of pluto, is an asteroid, but pluto is a planet. What is the appropriate size?

    I really don’t care, I just hope we don’t get hit by one of them until we start to colonize other planets in the interim.

  38. AnnaleeIf we can have a quark named love, we can have a planet the size of Ohio.

    There is no quark ‘Love’. In the European system there are Truth and Beauty.

    Steve Buchheitsay, any of Jupiter’s moons named for male Greeks?
    Jupiter has one male moon, Ganymede. Doesn’t mean he didn’t boink him, though.

    That line of reasoning didn’t exactly bend the way you wanted it, did it?

    John All the dwarves in the world are actually likely to be proud of the name. Something the size of a planet being called a dwarf!

    Dwarfs already have major representation in the astronomical community. After all, the sun is a yellow dwarf.

  39. There should only be the sun and a butt load of moons…or something.

    Personally I think the English language shouldn’t have a bureaucracy dictating its ussage and such

  40. Given the definition the IAU is voting on, there will be 50+ known planets. The definition, (an object massive enough to come to hydrostatic equilibrium, or “become spherical”, due to its own gravity, that is not a star, and not orbiting another larger planet) makes sense scientifically, but does not make finding a new mnemonic any easier.

  41. John said: “did you miss the whole “The IAU says it’s a planet” bit at the top?” I thought that ‘an IAU committee’ had agreed on a proposal but that the IAU had not yet done the deed and made a fianl decision? It looks like were heading for 50+ planets in 3 or 4 categories. Maybe humanity should pick a year like 2020 and make a lot of changes all at once: make tomatoes a vegetable, fix a bunch of missspellled words, forgive some debts, rename some animals, reevaluate some currencies, get rid of pennies, stop pricing gas with 9 mils on the end, make DC and Puerto states, annex Canada, etc, etc.

  42. Let’s also make the mnemonic a palindrome!

    I say a “noon” which sort of works becouse only an object like this:

    an object massive enough to come to hydrostatic equilibrium, or “become spherical”, due to its own gravity, that is not a star, and not orbiting another larger planet

    can truely have a noon.

  43. Hmm.

    While I sympathise with your position, it would appear that your original post would appear to be a little off the mark. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with this new definition of “Dwarf Planet”, and I suspect there may still be some harsh words before the matter is entirely settled but the fact remains that – at the time of this comment – Pluto is not considered a planet.

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