So if anyone has been reading he news lately they are likely aware that Pluto, our farthest and smallest “Planet”, has been demoted out of the solar system. No no it has not been voted off as the weakest link but rather changed. During the annual International Astronomical Union conference this year the astronomical community voted to change the definition of what a planet is. This is due to two recent discoveries of planets that have an orbit around the sun, and whose masses are larger than Pluto.
The debate has waged since 2003 on whether we should include the celestial body known as Xena as the 10th planet or should we demote Pluto. It is also important to keep in mind that Pluto is smaller than our moon, so it is a very small object on the scale of out solar system. So at the conference they voted to demote the planet to a “Dwarf Planet” and include two new bodies “Xena and Ceres” as Dwarf Planets. This only makes sense, as you cannot ignore to objects that fit the traditional definition of a planet, and are larger than our smallest family member is.
The new definition [Wikipedia article] states that a dwarf planet is:
- is in orbit around the Sun,
- has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape,
- has not “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit,
- is not a satellite of a planet, or other nonstellar body.
But already opposition has started in the media. The CBC has run an article where NASA officials refer to this decision as bad science and sloppy. Of course, they consider their selves as the top officials in space, even though a manned moon mission has not been attempted since 1972 and in the past 20 years congress has slashed their budget again and again because of failed missions. NASA also ignores they have no sway over the terminology of the word “Planet”, that right belongs to the IAU. NASA has effectively taken an arrogant stance against the IAU, when that body has done just as much or more than NASA in expanding our understanding of space.
What really gets me is why people are reacting at all. Why is it we are so disturbed or bothered by this. Do people actually think we fully understand the universe, or even our little backyard? Why is it so unacceptable that there are still things to discover in our solar system? So what if there are 3 new planets! Scientifically speaking we will have 8 planets and 3 dwarf planets, but pop culture will always refer to them as planets. What is the problem?