I was watching a program on the Science Channel, Last Planet From Our Sun, which was discussing the pros and cons of why Pluto would or would not be a planet. The program opened with a rather bold series of statements from Dr. Neil Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium.
It seems that much of this hoopla over the status of Pluto is just a tempest in a teapot, and will end up amounting to nothing. Dr. Tyson, and several of his colleagues, have been agitating since 1999 (Pluto’s Honor, Natural History magazine, February 1999) concerning the status of Pluto, and rightly questioning whether or not the oddities surrounding it should exclude it from being called a ‘planet’.
“I hope we find plenty of objects bigger than Pluto. If they’re made of ice, and they are out there beyond Neptune, they are Kuiper belt objects. Get over it.”
–Dr. Neil Tyson
I’ve mentioned this before, the oddities surrounding Pluto have always made it not a planet in my own judgment. It wasn’t until this latest mini-tempest that I even realized there were others out there who shared my opinion; people who actually work in the field of astronomy, even. The need to re-classify Pluto as a Kuiper belt object (as Ceres was classified as an asteriod when the nature of the asteriod belt was discovered) has been a known issue since the mid 1990’s when dozens of objects were found orbiting out beyond Neptune. The issue came to a head with the discovery of Eris (previously referred to as Zena) in 2005, a body larger than Pluto, much farther from the sun, and well outside the plane of the ecliptic. So it was either consider all these ice bodies as ‘planets’, or come up with a definition of planet that excluded them. Personally I’m beginning to agree with Dr. Tyson, the word planet is misleading, and covers an over-large range of bodies in the solar system.
The long and the short of it, though, is that anyone who was blindsided by the demotion of Pluto really wasn’t paying attention to astronomy news. It was only in the pipe for ten years before it happened…