Saturday 8 November 2008

Pluto Pantomime!

August 24th, 2006. (B.B.C. newsfeed on their 'Science and Nature' website)

"Astronomers have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.
About 2,500 scientists meeting in Prague have adopted historic new guidelines that see the small, distant world demoted to a secondary category.
The researchers said Pluto failed to dominate its orbit around the Sun in the same way as the other planets.
The International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision means textbooks will now have to describe a Solar System with just eight major planetary bodies.
Pluto, which was discovered in 1930 by the American Clyde Tombaugh, will be referred to as a "dwarf planet".
There is a recognition that the demotion is likely to upset the public, who have become accustomed to a particular view of the Solar System."

Well that news of the demotion of Pluto as a planet certainly outraged me. I thought I would give the astronomers time to see some sense. Twenty six months later and I'm still waiting.
What's with this farsical Pluto 'pantomime'? Astronomers playing the part of panto villans as they declare: "Ha, ha, ha...Pluto is not a planet!" "Oh yes it is!!" Scream the disgruntled audience.
So they have decided that poor Pluto will now be labelled as a "dwarf planet". A planetoid if you like. A meaningless lump of ice wandering aimlessly in the nether regions of the solar system. The audacity! What gives them the right to tell us, the great general public, that, hey guess what, all that stuff we learnt about the planets in school was wrong? Well sorry, as far as I'm concerned, Pluto is still a planet.
So all those books that stated we have nine planets in the solar system have now become obsolete. Well, I don't think so. For in my heart, Pluto is still very much a part of our planetary family. Although, suddenly, my 1923 'Dominion Educator' encyclopedia, has, according to those know-it-all astronomers, become bang up-to-date.
So I say to the good people of Pluto: "Greetings Plutonians, we, the decent folks of Earth, stand by you in solidarity. We will not desert you, because we know, (especially us dudes), that size isn't everything. When you look out into the night sky, (which I guess is always), take heart Plutonians and pity the poor bastards on Uranus."


  1. Dear Klahanie,

    Can I just say that in this post you are definitely not talking out of Uranus.
    In fact, when I heard the news about Pluto, probably my favourite planet, I too was devastated. I certainly miss the little blue feller.
    Yours With Warmest Wishes,

  2. I was--and am--as outraged as you when I heard about this, and I immediately set about fighting to get it undone. Here are some important things I learned:

    First, only four percent of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted on this, and most of them are not planetary scientists but other types of astronomers. The vote was taken on the last day of a two week conference, and no absentee voting was allowed, meaning anyone not in that room on that day had no say in the matter.

    The decision was immediately rejected in a petition of 300 astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto and one of the leading experts on Pluto in the world. You can find the petition and the names of the signatories here:

    Many planetary scientists--those who specialize in studying planets--are not IAU members and therefore had no say in the matter.

    A group of planetary scientists, including both IAU members and non-members organized a conference in response to the IAU decision; that conference took place this past August in Laurel, MD, and I attended. The conviction of most there, both scientists and lay people, was a rejection of Pluto's demotion and of the IAU's planet definition. You can find audio and video proceedings of the conference here:

    The IAU definition that demoted Pluto makes no sense for many reasons. First, it states a dwarf planet is not a planet at all. That's like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear! Second, it defines objects solely by where they are rather than by what they are. If Earth were in Pluto's orbit, according to the IAU definition, it would not be a planet!

    The alternative favored by many planetary scientists is a far broader definition, specifically, that a planet is any non-self-luminous spheroidal object orbiting a star. Roundness is crucial because it means an object is in a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning it has enough self-gravity to pull itself into a round shape. When this happens, objects become differentiated into core, mantle, and crust, and develop geological processes, just like Earth and the larger planets and unlike inert, shapeless asteroids.

    One way to remedy the situation is to place dwarf planets as a subcategory of planets. Using subcategories is a way of distinguishing among planets with very different features. If we count dwarf planets as simply smaller planets that do not dominate their orbits--but as planets nevertheless based on their being in hydrostatic equilibrium--our solar system has a total of 13 planets. They are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

    You can also find more on worldwide efforts to reinstate Pluto on my blog at

  3. Gracious Klahanie,
    I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out... poor Pluto's pain... and yours... and what does Goofy think?
    You have such great compassion for our fellow orbs! Your heart must be large... and size counts.

  4. Klahanie:
    I remember reading the very article you cited and found myself disappointed, wondering: why can't they leave well enough alone? I suppose my own childhood dreams and learnings are troubled by accepting change. I want to think that my universe is in tact and only those capable of creating such wonders have the right to name them.
    I cite the day I found out a tomato was a fruit and not a vegetable: so I began to have
    'fruit' salad. Such is life.
    Thank you for the information, and your, now, universally loved humour! In peace, dcrelief

  5. Thanks very much for your comments.
    David: "I certainly miss the little blue feller." I assume you are referring to our planetary pal Pluto?
    Laurel Kornfeld: Thank you most kindly for your highly informative comment. Not used to a comment being longer than my blog. I shall be checking out your blog. Pluto needs to be reinstated!
    Arch-ing: Yes indeed, poor Pluto's plight is one 'goofy' situation. Thank you for your 'Mickey Mouse' comment:-)
    dcrelief: You say 'to may toe'? and the British say: 'to mah to'?
    Never mind the pronunciation, I was devastated when I found out a tomato was a fruit! Thank you for your fruitful comments.
    In conlusion. I reckon those astromomer dudes have never really been the same since they discovered 'rings' around Uranus.
    I think I should end now because my comment has reached the 'bottom'.....


I do try to comment back to each commenter individually. However, I might have to shorten my replies or give a group thank you. That way, I can spend more time commenting on your blogs. Thank you and peace, my friend.