Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Explained: Why Pluto Is Not A Planet

In August of 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) made a textbook altering decision. The IAU is the main naming and definition-making organization in the astronomical community. After much debate and discussion, scientists at the IAU meeting collectively decided that Pluto's planetary title would be removed, and it would be labeled as a dwarf planet.

While some people applaud the IAU's decision, others refuse to accept it. The decision was made in 2006, and although people know Pluto is not a planet, most people fail to understand why Pluto is not a planet.

The common belief is that the IAU simply stripped Pluto's planet status. However, in reality, the IAU just issued a new set of requirements that would define if an object were a planet or not. Pluto failed to meet these new requirements. Pluto is not a planet because it does not meet all of the criteria that it takes for an object to be labeled as a planet.

The IAU stated that a celestial body must meet the following conditions to be called a planet:
  1. Orbits the Sun - The object should be orbiting the Sun. It cannot be orbiting another planet, or another object. It can only be a satellite of the Sun.
  2. Be a sphere - The object's 'self-gravity' should be strong enough that it smooths out any (major) bumps or ridges to become a mostly spherical body.
  3. Cleared its orbital neighborhood - There should not be any other bodies in the object's orbit. During the object's formation, it should have absorbed and cleaned out any debris in its orbit (with the exception of moons, because moons are gravitationally 'caught').
Pluto is not a planet because it fails to meet the third condition.
  • Compared to Pluto, Pluto's moon Charon, is pretty large because it is only about half Pluto's size. Both objects orbit a common center of gravity, but Pluto orbits this center of gravity at a much close distance than Charon, so that's why Charon is considered Pluto's moon.
  • For every three times Neptune orbits the Sun, Pluto orbits it only twice. This is called a 3:2 orbital resonance. In addition, there is a whole category of objects that do exactly this; they're called Plutinos. Pluto is also a Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) and these objects orbit the Sun at a farther distance than Neptune does.
  • Pluto is also on the borderline of a region in our Solar System known as the Kuiper Belt where many icy bodies (both big and small) orbit the Sun at a very large distance.
Pluto falls into a whole range of objects that it can be included into. It can be considered a Trans-Neptunian Object, Kuiper Belt Object, and a Plutino. Basically, Pluto has not really cleared its orbit. There are too many objects that are similar to Pluto and are both larger and smaller than it is, that share common characteristics.
Therefore, instead of being a planet, Pluto is a dwarf planet. Dwarf planets orbit the Sun, are nearly round, have NOT cleared its orbital neighborhood, and does not orbit any other body (not a satellite).
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Image Credits: IAU, The IAU Votes; NASA, Pluto's newly discovered Moons; Wikimedia, the New Solar System.
Additional Resource: AstronomyCast: Pluto's Planetary Identity Crisis (Why Pluto isn't a planet)

155 comments:

Ned Hughes said...

This is very appreciated. I'm in the camp that still doesn't want to believe that Pluto isn't a planet any more.

Astroversity said...

Your Welcome Mr. Hughes. I personally wanted Pluto to be a planet just because that's what I learned Pluto to be.

But I think the IAU's decision is the best because it helps to better organize, understand, and differentiate our Solar System.

brownpau said...

I run DemotePluto.com as a lighthearted riff on "Pluto is still a planet to me" sentimentalists, and it really is an uphill battle convincing people not to let nostalgia rule their ideas of planetary classification. Your post is great, but I get the feeling it's not the kind of thing that'll convince the common layman.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Pluto IS still a planet, not just to individuals either, but to more than 300 professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, who signed a petition within days of the IAU decision saying they will not use the new definition. That definition is "sloppy," as Stern says, first because it states that a dwarf planet is not a planet at all, which is linguistic nonsense. Second, if you require an object to "clear its orbit," that automatically excludes Neptune, which does not clear its orbit of Pluto. Significantly, only four percent of the IAU took part in this vote, and most of them were not planetary scientists. The new definition was created hastily and rushed through on the last day of the conference with no Internet or absentee voting allowed.

Pluto's behavior and composition are far similar to those of planets than those of asteroids. And the argument that "we'll have too many planets if we let in everything that has achieved hydrostatic equilibrium" is just as sentimental and unscientific as the statements saying Pluto should remain a planet because it has been so for 77 years.

The definition that makes the most sense is that proposed by Dr. Stern and Dr. David Weintraub. If an object orbits a star and has achieved hydrostatic equilibrium, it's a planet.

To brownpau: Feel free to add my LiveJournal blog to your list of the enemies of "Demote Pluto." I have spent the last year writing on this subject opposing the IAU decision. The link is http://laurele.livejournal.com

Astroversity said...

Hi Laurel,

I can tell that you are passionate about this Pluto issue. I just wanted to address some points in your argument to balance what you are saying with counterpoints.

Saying that the categorization dwarf planet is "linguistic nonsense" is just opinion. I could point out many different words and they that they don't make linguistic sense.

You also suggest that if planets need to clear out their orbit, then Neptune shouldn't be a planet because it doesn't clear Pluto out of its orbit. We'll part of the reason Pluto is suggested to not be a planet is because it happens to lie near/in the Kuiper Belt. Comets pass near earth and interest the Earth's orbit all the time, does this mean the Earth should not be a planet because it has not cleared those objects?

You also say that the new definition of the word planet was created "hastily." Actually the scientists that were at the meeting for the many days before give many presentations and discussed many different definitions. So all of the actual scientists that did vote, were well informed about the myriad planetary aspects and definitions.

I am a bit confused when you say Pluto has a composition similar to the Planets, when this is not true. The inner planets are made of rock, and the outer four are made out of gas. And Pluto is made mostly out of ice. So Pluto's composition is not very similar to any planet. Pluto's composition is very similar to comets and the many icy objects in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud

c00ter said...

I am neither an astronomer or scientist, just a regular guy with an interest in our solar system. I've read alot of articles on the subject and so here is my opinion. Once the world was thought to be flat, well that changed so we changed our thinking, no difference here. If pluto is just one of many asteroids in the outer belt and not even the largest ice pellet then its not a planet. If you don't like that analysis then they are all planets. Why should one of many similar objects (not even the largest) be called one of our planets.

Anonymous said...

I think that the pluto is still a planet because it is the planet that i complete the solar system.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for saying that the definition of a planet is wrong, but it is. As has been seen Earth and the other planets have not yet cleared their orbits either. Earth regularly has close encounters with orbiting satelites. Also, hypothetically, if a planet has a tremendous fissure, caused by it's volcanic center, on it and does not have a "circular" shape anymore? Or if a large asteroid slams into the planet and causes it to lose it's "circular" shape? And lastly, why is Neptune a planet if it has not cleared Pluto out of it's orbit? Opps I forgot one more thing, there was only a couple scientists who defined a planet, the rest were not in Prague so they did not get a vote and they are now thinking about re-defining a planet. Thank you for listening.

Anonymous said...

I want to belive Pluto is a planet, simply for sentimentality, but if we do, aren't we just like the poeple who refused to believe that the sun was at the center of the solar system? Or like the people who refused to believe the Earth was round?

Astroversity said...

Because you acknowledge that Pluto isn't technically a planet, then in no way or you similar to those who denied the heliocentric theory. Many people still regard Pluto as a planet because it is the way many of us learned it to be.

Anonymous said...

Pluto is a sensitive topic amongst many ages. I know this for a fact because i am a younger generation and my friends and i talk about it all the time. I had to do an assignment on Pluto and say why it should not be a planet. This article has interested me because both sides of the argument shown here are very convincing although the author has put up quite a fight for their opinion and has obviously taken the other sides arguments in and thought about the flaws. I commend you greatly on your article. Have you ever thought of creating a site where children could debate freely about topics such as these?
P.S.i am 12 and think strongly of topics such as these.

Astroversity said...

Thanks for the comment. Actually this article is not an argument at all. It is merely an explanation as to why Pluto is not a planet. And I would appreciate it if you elaborated on your comment a little more.

As for a discussion website, my favorite is bautforum.com run by Universe Today and Bad Astronomy. Its not really a debate forum (although you could) but its mostly informative.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Pluto is not a planet because the sun is too far away from there and pluto is jus iced and rocks..The sun can only hold up to 8 planets. The Orbit On pluto isint even straight. so Pluto cant be a planet its just another dwarf.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Hello, Astroversity; here is a very belated response to some of the issues you brought up.

The term "dwarf planet" is a noun modified by an adjective. Saying a dwarf planet is not a planet is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear. In astronomy, dwarf galaxies are a subclass of galaxies, and dwarf stars are a subclass of stars. Just because there are other terms in existence that are linguistically questionable doesn't mean scientist should deliberately continue a pattern of using such terms.

In 2000, Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. Hal Levison wrote a paper describing two classes of planets--gravitationally dominant, large "uber-planets" and non-gravitationally-dominant, smaller "unter-planets." These objects can exist in belts alongside other objects; however, they, like the "uber-planets," have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium and are therefore subsumed under the broader category of planets. The article clearly establishes the existence of two classes of planets but never says the smaller, second group are not planets at all.

When I said the IAU definition was created hastily, I meant that it was done in violation of the IAU's own bylaws, which call for all proposals to first be vetted by the appropriate committees before being presented for a vote in real time. This was not done here. The 424 IAU members who voted ignored their own committee's recommendation and presented the alternative, dynamically-based definition in real time at the General Assembly, something now allowed under IAU procedure. If you watch the proceedings of the vote, which are online at the IAU web site, you will see how much confusion there was about the definition being adopted, with changes being made and provisions being both added and deleted right up to the moment of the vote.

When I say Pluto's composition is similar to that of the planets, I mean that it is geologically differentiated into core, mantle and crust, and because it is in hydrostatic equilibrium, it has the same geological and meteorological processes as the larger planets have, processes that smaller, inert asteroids or KBOs do not have. Pluto may be composed as much of rock as of ice; this will not be clear until we get the data from New Horizons in 2015.

Your initial post may not be an argument, but it is clearly a point of view rather than a simple factual explanation. Many professional astronomers still believe Pluto is a planet. You can find more information on this from a fascinating conference I attended this past summer, The Great Planet Debate, at http://gpd.jhuapl.edu/

Nobody said...

If Pluto intersects with Neptune's orbit path, then why did they strip Pluto of it's planet status instead of Neptune? If you know the answer, pleas email it to me at Feshboys@aol.com. Thank you.

Moose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moose said...

If that's the case then Neptune is not planet anymore since Neptune has Trojan Kuiper Belt Objects at its L4 and L5 LaGrangian points! They are not moons and they have not been cleared from the path! Other planets have objects at their L4 and L5 points!

Pluto is round, it is big enough to have it's own moons, it has an atmosphere, it circles the sun -- it's a planet!!!

You can't use the eccentric orbit as an excuse to exclude Pluto because they are now finding gas giant planets that have highly elliptical orbits around their sun!

If we find a large planet (Mars sized or greater) orbiting a sun amidst an asteroid belt, will it be called a dwarf planet?

Attila Kane said...

Pluto IS a planet, thank you very much-teachers are STILL teaching that today. They should be teaching how Vikings-not columbus , discovered America since that is proven to be fact, unlike the Pluto planetary business

Mogul said...

MVE MJS UNP... That's my mnemonic for the 9 PLANETS. I was gonna teach my kids that but not if the P's been slashed off. So I give it to the traditionalists: PLUTO IS STILL A PLANET!!!

Mogul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Plutonian said...

Pluto is not a planet because a group of people said it isn't. I was teaching my son about the planets last year. He called me a liar about Pluto, his teacher even told me I was a liar and I needed to re-educate myself. This was a day after it was on the television and I had no idea about it. Now everytime I try to teach him the solar system I am a liar about it. Because of Pluto. To me it is in our solar system, it was a planet and still is to me. Try getting use to saying the 8 planets instead of 9.

Chucky said...

I'd be really interested to hear what Pluto has to say about being demoted. If this were ever a time to speak up...damn you Pluto, be vocal for once in your several billion years old life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information, but personally Pluto will always be a planet in my opinion, that is what I learned in school growing up. Pluto rules.

Thomas_III said...

This is far from my usual blogging fare, but I had to comment to Laurel's statements.

"Dwarf planet" may appear to be a noun preceded by a adjective, but it's not. It's a compound noun that describes a very specific idea. Perhaps it would be easier for you to imagine if you think of it as saying "dwarf-planet," instead.

To be quite honest, your own example to prove your point is likewise flawed, as "grizzly bear" isn't a noun preceded by an adjective, either. A "grizzly bear" is a very specific type of bear, not just a bear that happens to be "grizzly." The word pairing describes a single concept, making it a compound noun. After all, you can just as easily say a "grizzly" and everyone understands that you're talking about a grizzly bear. No one would ask "a grizzly what?"

This is just in response to your linguistics claim. I could easily reply to your stance of Pluto still being a planet, but it's pointless. The current definition says that it's not, and that's how the books will teach it. Science needs definitions to clear up how things work, and if we eased up on the rules to allow Pluto to remain a planet, then Ceres and Eris would fall into place as tenth and eleventh planets. As throughout history, there comes a time when you have to put aside outdated beliefs and embrace new understanding.

Tory061908 said...

This is a very interesting article. I am also faced with trying to explain to my son: if mommy was taught that Pluto was a planet why is it not a planet now? While I understand that the IAU felt the need to more finely define what makes up a planet, how can they redefine something without further exploring it first. And I agree with Laurel Kornfeld that the new term for the planet does not make sense and if they were to strip Pluto of its planetary status, then why call it a "Dwarf PLANET?" Generally I don't like to argue semantics about theories that are farther reaching than my own intellect as I am not even the slightest bit an informed astrologer, but why the need for this change?

Frederick Provoncha said...

I will attempt to explain articulately why I disagree with the IAU's definition of a planet:

First of all, according to their definition, only objects "in our Solar System", that are "in orbit around the Sun" can be considered planets. That means that exoplanets are not really planets. Why limit planets only to our Solar System? The definition of "planet" should be more broad, more universal, to include all objects with certain properties regardless of where they are found in the universe. A definition that only applies to our Solar System isn't very scientifically useful. If the IAU meant to include exoplanets, then they need to change the wording to "a star" rather than "the Sun".

Second of all, an object can only be considered a planet if it "has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit". I don't think there is a single object in our solar system that meets that criterion. The existence of thousands of NEAs, or "near-Earth asteroids" is testament to the fact that even the Earth has not cleared it's orbit. Jupiter is also particularly known for having vast amounts of debris in it's orbit. By the IAU's definition, not even the Earth itself, nor even Jupiter, qualify as planets. Naturally that wasn't their intention, but that is the inevitable result based on the unfortunate wording that they chose.

Thirdly, the definition does not establish any upper limit to the size of a planet. A universal definition of "planet" needs to include an upper limit, otherwise small companion stars in multiple star systems would technically be planets.

In summary, the IAU's definition simply doesn't work. It has too many deficiencies. In the next post, I will explain what I think the definition should be.

Frederick Provoncha said...

The main problem I have with the IAU's definition is the requirement that the object have "clear the neighborhood around its orbit". To me, this requirement seems forced and unnatural. When most lay people think of a planet, they think of a large, round natural object that orbits a star. They don't care whether the object has "cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit". Why is that relevant? Why does that matter? It's too forced, too contrived, too awkward. And as I explained in the previous post, it doesn't work because no object in our solar system truly meets that requirement. I suggest we drop that criterion altogether.

Here's my definition of planet:
A 'planet" is a natural celestial body that (a) is in orbit around a star, (b) is not itself a star, (c) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape.

This of course, would mean that Pluto would be a planet, as well as Ceres, Eris, Sedna, Makemake, and any other objects in the Kuiper Belt or anywhere else that orbit a star, are not themselves a star, and are massive enough to be round. That would mean that there would be at least 15 planets in our solar system and counting.

Frederick Provoncha said...

Some people, I think, would be shocked an appalled by my definition. "But do you realize how many Kuiper Belt Objects there probably are? There could be thousands of them out there that would meet your definition!!! How would school children memorize all their names???"

Yes, there would be thousands. After a while, school children would be unable to memorize all their names. To me, that's irrelevant.

Back in the day, the Milky Way was the only galaxy scientists knew of. Then telescopes got more powerful and scientists realized that there were other galaxies besides our own. As time passed, more and more galaxies were found until now we know there are billions of them. People had to get over the fact that there was a finite, small number of galaxies, that the number of them was actually enormous. They had to expand their horizons, and look at galaxies in a whole new way.

There was also a time when the number of elements on the Periodic Table was relatively small. It was easy to memorize the whole list and recite them. But time passed and more were discovered, so that now there's over a hundred of them and the only person who can recite them all is Tom Lehrer (Google him if you don't know who he is).

Why can't planets be the same? Why does the number of planets have to be kept artificially low? I believe that as a major class of celestial bodies, the number of planets out there is truly unlimited.

Furthermore, why do planets and Kuiper Belt Objects have to be mutually-exclusive groups? Why can't a Kuiper-Belt Object also be considered a planet if it's big and round enough? I don't see any good reason why not.

I've heard some argue that because Kuiper Belt Objects are mostly made of ice, and so much smaller than the other planets, that they shouldn't be considered planets. But why should what an object is made of matter at all? Jupiter is mostly hydrogen. Mercury is mostly iron. The Earth is mostly rock. The Earth is far smaller than Jupiter and is made of very different materials. Jupiter is mostly gas. If composition is so important, then why are the Earth and Jupiter, which are vastly different in terms of composition and size, both considered planets? Composition is irrelevant, as long as it is a natural body.

Of course, if planets can come in a great variety of sizes, compositions, and locations, then it only makes sense that planets should be divided up into various sub-categories. You could have Terrestrial Planets like Mercury and Earth, Gas Giants like Jupiter and Saturn, Brown Dwarfs like those observed around other stars, and Kuiper Belt Objects or "Plutoids" like Pluto and Eris. All would be considered planets. I don't even object to the term "Dwarf Planet", as long as they are considered planets.

Frederick Provoncha said...

I find it ironic that Pluto-demoters accuse Pluto-lovers of not willing to change their mindsets and beliefs based on new information, much like those who refused to believe the Earth was round or that the Earth was not the center of the universe.

It is ironic, because it appears to me that Pluto-demoters are doing the exact same thing they're accusing their opponents of. Pluto-demoters are having trouble accepting the idea that there could be thousands of planets around our sun. They are clinging to an old-fashioned sense that there should be a small, limited number of planets around a star. They are having a hard time thinking of anything as a planet that doesn't closely resemble the traditional 8 planets they're familiar with. They seem to be having trouble accepting other planets that may be very different than the ones they're used to.

So, they crafted an arbitrary, illogical, and forced definition (see my first post as to why I think it is) in an attempt to artificially limit the number of planets in our solar system and rule out other types of planets besides the types they're already familiar with.

mahathir said...

Being a layman and only studied astronomy during my schoolyears, I read all postings available here and would take it that Pluto should remain as a planet. Thanks Frederick Provoncha for your arguments, those facts are really convincing...

Astroversity said...

Thanks a lot everyone for your comments. This is a widely debated topic and I'd like to point to something Thomas said.

"As throughout history, there comes a time when you have to put aside outdated beliefs and embrace new understanding."

If we kept discovering more and more 'planets' like Pluto, when would it stop? After 15,30, or 50 planets?

Science is very precise, and there are strict boundaries between different categories. Just because Pluto was a planet when you grew up, doesn't make it any more valid for Pluto to still be a Planet. Sure there's sentimental value, but per definition, Pluto isn't a planet.

Frederick Provoncha said...

To answer your most recent post Astroversity, the way I see it, it would never stop. Why should it? There are unlimited numbers of stars in the cosmos, there are unlimited numbers of galaxies. Asteroids, Comets, thry're all unlimited. Why should planets be any different?

Astroversity, I invite you to put aside your outdated belief in a finite number of planets, and embrace a new understanding of a solar system with unlimited planets! ;-)

Astroversity said...

Well Frederick, I believe that to better understand the Universe, we really have to categorize the various objects we come across.

When scientists first identified microorganisms they were really amazed at the existence of life at such a small scale. But then, scientists further discovered that there are prokaryotes like viruses/bacteria, and eukarotes (plant/animal life). Imagine if we just generalized all of microbial life as a single characteristic; there wouldn't be any diversity, and we wouldn't understand diseases, evolution, and metabolic/chemical processes in life.

Furthermore, there is a distinct pattern of in the solar system; the inner rocky planets, and the outer gaseous planets. Then all of a sudden comes this small, icy body we call Pluto. Characteristically, Pluto and the inner planets aren't significantly common. Instead, Pluto is more common to the billions of icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt and the Ort Cloud.

Sure we can have an infinite number of planets; but such planets would have to be similar in the sense of 'planet' to be designated as such.

Frederick Provoncha said...

I agree with you that just like in biology, we need a classification system that categorizes different objects by their properties. That is why I suggested earlier that there should be different sub-categories of planets, such as terrestrials, gas giants, brown dwarfs, and "plutoids". Different planets with different characteristics would fall into different sub-categories. As new types of planets are discovered around other stars or even in our system, new sub-categories may be created.

Just as there are different sub-categories of galaxies to reflect different origins and compositions, the taxonomy of planets could be organized similarly.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I applaud Frederick Provoncha's very insightful and well argued comments, all of which are shared by some of the leading planetary scientists in the world, such as Dr. Alan Stern, Dr. Mark Sykes, Dr. Hal Weaver, and Dr. David Weintraub.

To Thomas III: There is no such thing in the English language as a "compound noun." The point regarding the term "grizzly bear" is that it is a subtype of "bear." People may have started using the word "grizzly" alone as an unofficial noun to indicate this type of bear, but in no way are they saying this animal is not a bear at all. In astronomy, the term "star" broadly refers to any object that generates its own light by nuclear fusion. There are many subcategories used to describe the wide variety of types of stars that range from small, red dwarfs to huge blue giants. In fact, our own sun is a dwarf star! Yet no one claims dwarf stars are not stars or dwarf galaxies are not galaxies.

Regarding what to teach children, the issue of who is "lying" stems from the idea that it is somehow problematic to teach the controversy. Kids are fully capable of learning that different types of scientists view things differently and how and why they don't always come to the same conclusions. At the Great Planet Debate, educators and scientists noted the "teachable moment" here. Children can be presented with the competing points of view and the reasoning for each one and then asked to decide for themselves which view they support and defend that view. This is how critical thinking skills are developed. By discussing the differing points of view, the children are doing exactly what professional scientists do every day!

I second Frederick's statement that the addition of more and more planets "should never stop." Any stopping just for the sake of memorization is science by convenience. It is more important for kids to understand the different types of planets and their characteristics than to memorize a small list of names. The reality is the universe has billions of galaxies and stars, and solar systems very likely have large numbers of planets. Why is that a problem?

And why must there be only two categories of planets, terrestrials and gas giants? Why can there not be more subtypes out there, including small round ones such as Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris that, although they do not gravitationally dominate their orbits, are planets nonetheless because they have attained hydrostatic equilibrium? Those objects in the Kuiper Belt that meet this qualification can be dually classified as BOTH Kuiper Belt Objects and small planets.

Uranus and Neptune are very icy. Does having ice as a major component preclude them from being planets?

Viruses, bacteria, and eukaryotes may all be different, but all still fall under the broad classification of "micro-organisms." So too, we can use subcategories to differentiate types of planets based on their characteristics, without precluding the concept that all fall under the broad category of planets.

I find statements like Thomas III's "the current definition says it's not (a planet), and that's how the books will teach it." What kind of lesson is that? Whose definition is THE definition? Do we teach something as fact just because a tiny group of people decreed it so? What if four percent of the IAU--or even the entire organization--suddenly voted that the sky is green? Does that then become fact? If the answer is yes, then we are not talking science; we are talking dogma. That is why many teachers and textbooks are refusing to teach the IAU definition as fact rather than as what it is--just one interpretation

There is no "the definition" of planet because planetary scientists continue to disagree and debate the issue. Teaching children anything else is a tremendous disservice. It is teaching them what to think versus how to think.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Oops! The first sentence in my next-to-last paragraph should read, "'I find statements like Thomas III's "the current definition says it's not (a planet), and that's how the books will teach it' problematic."

Anonymous said...

i think that pluto should be a plant because i said so.

Matt Gottshall said...

Look, I don't think Pluto shouldn't be a planet JUST because a group of people, no matter how official, say it isn't.

Aimee Piatt said...

Hey! Who said Pluto can't be a planet? It's there, that's all that matters!
So yea.
Pluss, scientist can always be wrong. It doesn't matter what you say. Nobody's perfect!

Anonymous said...

Yeah... this Pluto thing created an argument between my little one & me. She doesn't really consider it to be a Planet like we do because it is being taught differently these days.

http://tinyurl.com/PlutoStuff

jt said...

Very well explained, much better and easy to comprehend in comparison with the many similar pages I visited.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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"Get over it?" What a ridiculous comment. Anyone can call themselves and their statements "official," but that doesn't make it so. Enough astronomers dissent with this one group and have strong scientific reasons for doing so. I am currently writing a book on the Pluto controversy and how there are two ways of looking at the solar system, the dynamical way, which accepts only the big objects that gravitationally dominate their orbits as planets, and the geophysical view, which defines a planet as any object large enough to be rounded by its own gravity. Neither view is any less legitimate than the other. A good book explaining the pro-Pluto as a planet view is "The Case for Pluto" by Alan Boyle. I highly recommend it.

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A question for Laurel, when you said that the IAU had violated their own bylaws and you said that they call for a proposal to be first vetted???? Do you mean vetoed? Also, what appropriate commities and what do you mean by that? I am confuzed and need more detail for my essay. Thankyou

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A question for Laurel, when you said that the IAU had violated their own bylaws and you said that they call for a proposal to be first vetted???? Do you mean vetoed? Also, what appropriate commities and what do you mean by that? I am confuzed and need more detail for my essay. Thankyou

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Vetted does not mean vetoed; it means approved. IAU rules require any resolutions brought to the floor of the triennial General Assembly to first be approved by the appropriate IAU committee. In this case, there were two committees appointed by the IAU prior to the 2006 General Assembly specifically to deal with this issue--the first a panel of 19 and the second of seven. The first group could not reach a consensus. The second came up with a proposal that included Ceres, Pluto, Eris, and Pluto's moon, Charon, as solar system planets. Charon was included because technically it does not orbit Pluto--it and Pluto orbit a common center of gravity just outside Pluto, thereby making the Pluto-Charon system, at least to some, a binary planet system. This resolution was voted down in a session of the General Assembly (remember, there is no electronic voting allowed, so only those present at the meeting could vote). At that point, a group of dynamicists (those who believe only the largest, gravitationally dominant objects should be planets) hastily threw together a substitute resolution, the one that was passed on the last day of the conference--the one that excluded Pluto. Placing this resolution on the floor of the General Assembly the way they did, without first going back to the seven-member committee (the 19-member committee had been unable to reach consensus and had been replaced by IAU leaders with the smaller group) was a direct violation of IAU bylaws, which state that any resolutions placed on the floor of a General Assembly must first be approved by the appropriate IAU committee.

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The IAU can issue whatever "requirements" and statements they want. They are just one group among many groups of professional astronomers. Their declaration does not make something a reality. No one is bound to accept their "requirements," and for astronomers who don't, their pronouncements have no effect on whether or not an object is considered a planet.

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Those of us who continue to view Pluto as a planet do so not because it is what we were taught in school, but because we understand and disagree with the decision by four percent of the IAU. Many of those who reject the demotion are astronomers, both amateur and professional, who have spent a lot of time studying planets. We believe Pluto is a planet because it orbits a star and is large enough to be rounded by its own gravity, a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium. Our position is based on science, not on sentiment, nostalgia or resistance to change.

Not all change is good or right. Blind acceptance of change is just as bad as blind rejection of it. Any change has to be evaluated based on information and facts. This change comes up short in multiple areas, blurring the distinction between complex bodies like Pluto and asteroids; it was made in a highly flawed process; it excludes exoplanets; it defines objects solely where they are while ignoring what they are, and five years later, there is no consensus in favor of it among astronomers. The geophysical planet definition is as legitimate as the IAU dynamical definition is. Pluto IS a planet, as are Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, Eris, and many more small but spherical bodies orbiting the Sun.

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Many schoolchildren will not grow up learning that their elders had one more planet than themselves because teachers who teach the controversy properly will not present the 8-planet view as gospel truth. Instead, good teachers will be honest and upfront with students about this being an ongoing debate. Given continuous discoveries about objects in this solar system and in others, schoolchildren are more likely to grow up in a world that has billions of planets and not have any problem with that.

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Orbits the Sun - The object should be orbiting the Sun. It cannot be orbiting another planet, or another object. It can only be a satellite of the Sun.

The earth NEVER orbits the sun - so the earth is NOT a planet (=wondering star).
Tycho got it right (see Tychonian Model.
Scientific proof that earth is NOT a planet - no planet has any O2 in atmosphere.

Pluto is a wondering star - so is a planet.
If a small planet is not a planet the an astro-physicist is NOT a physicist.

Reuel said...

Orbits the Sun - The object should be orbiting the Sun. It cannot be orbiting another planet, or another object. It can only be a satellite of the Sun.

The earth NEVER orbits the sun - so the earth is NOT a planet (=wondering star).
Tycho got it right (see Tychonian Model.
Scientific proof that earth is NOT a planet - no planet has any O2 in atmosphere.

Pluto is a wondering star - so is a planet.
If a small planet is not a planet the an astro-physicist is NOT a physicist.

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Dermasis said...

Great explanation. It is still hard to believe Pluto isn't considered a planet any longer though.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

@Dermasis You don't have to believe that because many astronomers still continue to view Pluto and all dwarf planets as planets.

rohit said...

i am a fifth class student i want to prepare a short note(my home work) that why pluto is no longer considered planet,anybody can help me to prepare a 4 line short note, please help me-
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Laurel Kornfeld said...

I urge you to at least acknowledge that many astronomers DO still consider Pluto a planet and that Pluto's planet status is therefore still a matter of debate. You can find out more about the other view, that Pluto is still a planet, from Alan Boyle's book "The Case for Pluto" and also by visiting my blog at http://laurelsplutoblog.blogspot.com I would be happy to refer you to many other resources as well.

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Erin Neeley said...

Hello, I'm a student writing an essay about why pluto should still be considered a planet. After spending a good deal of time doing online reasarch, I was starting to lose heart because most of the sites I found were either outdated, merely stated the facts, or were full of opinions such as "Pluto's a planet beacause that's how I learned it". Laurel and Frederick, I would like to thank you for posting such beautifully written arguments, and for restoring my faith in Pluto, the true ninth planet(but not the last!).

Laurel Kornfeld said...

You're welcome, Erin! Two really good books on the suject are "The Case for Pluto" by Alan Boyle and "Is Pluto A Planet?" by Dr. David Weintraub. I also have links to many pro-Pluto articles on my blog. Congratulations to you for going the distance and finding the information you need to support Pluto's planet status.

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Well,anonymous, i am also doing an intellectual research based on this topic. I side with those who consider pluto a planet. I can state my opinions but it would be rather irrelevant, so lets just say facts. fact: neptune does not do much to clear its orbit. It is accompanied by Trojan asteroids. fact: the International Astronomical Union has created a rather scientifically flawed definition. i can be sentimental about this topic but it would just confuse too much. Everything on astronomy is scientific. Astronomy is about discovery and progress. Demoting pluto from its title is taking a huge step backwards and it would ruin the chance of important objects to be widely known as others. Any comments will be gladly accepted. Positive or negative comments welcomed. P.S Im also 12 and i turn 13 in like 8 months. I have an IQ of 144

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