Today, February 18th, marks the 79th anniversary of Pluto's discovery by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. Strange, when I wrote that, I almost typed “the planet Pluto.” But as you may know, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided Pluto is a dwarf planet — to be precise, a type of dwarf planet called a plutoid.
Recently we received a letter from Robert F. Brown of Orleans, Massachusetts, suggesting that today, Pluto supporters the world over “stop what they are doing for a moment and observe a moment of silence in honor of the planet Pluto.”
Well, I really don’t have a dog in this fight, but it seemed like fun to try and think of ways to mark Pluto’s birth while expressing dismay at its demotion from planet status. I polled the staff and narrowed it down to a “top 10.” We magazine types just LOVE top 10s, you know.
Leave comments below with your suggestions of how to mark Pluto Day 2010.
1. Petition Walt Disney to reclassify Mickey Mouse’s canine buddy Pluto as a “dogoid.”
2. Refer to all members of the IAU less than average height as “dwarf humans.”
3. Anonymously enter Pluto into the next Biggest Loser television show.
4. Recite “my very elegant mother just sat upon nine porcupines” nine times. Ummmm … I mean eight times.
5. Assemble mob with pitchforks at IAU headquarters in Paris; burn IAU in effigy.
6. Wear a shirt that says, “Earth to IAU: Plutoid THIS, baby!”
7. Sponsor Michael Brown/Alan Stern cage fighting match.
8. Charon your feelings with a Pluto support group.
9. Nix any thought of renewing membership in the IAU.
10. Don’t just think about celebrating Pluto Day; planet.
On a serious note, join worldwide efforts to get the demotion overturned. Lobby the IAU by emailing president Catherine Cesarsky at firstname.lastname@example.org and the general membership (note that only four percent of the IAU voted on this demotion) at email@example.com and then cc your emails to CNN at firstname.lastname@example.org and to the BBC at email@example.com . In the emails, ask the IAU to revisit this issue at its General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro this August. Also visit www.dwarfplanetsrplanets2.com and my Pluto blog, http://laurele.livejournal.com , to find out more about what you can do to get Pluto's planet status rightfully reinstated.
It is still a planet to me and always will be. I met Clyde a long time ago and he was a ledgend.
Thanks for the extra info, Laurele.
Oh, just for the record -- Astronomy magazine is not officially for or against the IAU decision. This blog is just for fun, but as you point out, many people are quite serious about wanting to reverse the decision.
Daniel, I can tell from your suggestions that this blog is just for fun. However, I still had to put in my plug for real action to get Pluto's planet status reinstated.
In the spirit of good humor, here is another suggestion. Dr. Mark Sykes often refers sarcastically to the IAU as "holy mother church" and says "we need more Protestants," meaning dissenters. How about writing 95 theses about why the IAU is wrong and posting them on the front door of the IAU headquarters in Paris?
"Dogoid", Dan? What really worries me is the possibility that other KBOs like the football-shaped Haumea will be discovered. Because then surely the IAU would designate a whole class of these things as haumearoids.
I think The IAU missed the mark, this decision is only a stop-gap for the time being. The discovery curve has skyrocketed :) much faster than the assimilation/understanding curve has. For a while, I didn't like the idea of diluting the specialness of what we have known as planets by continually adding scores of round bodies that we will eventually discover in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, but we have seen that other solar systems have different structures than ours, and when we are finally able to study them in detail, we will see such a diversity of yes, planets, it makes me realize we might as well make the broad category of planet quite inclusive and then get down to the much more important issues like studying their characteristics both dynamical and geophysical. It will be interesting to see what the IAU does at the general assembly later this year, will they backtrack because of public outcry over Pluto's demotion? or because of many Astronomers who are "ignoring" the decision while drumming up support to have it reversed? Keep tuned, the saga continues...
Yah, this creating o new categories can get you in trouble. People tend to be "lumpers" or "splitters" in their way of labeling the world. The IAU chose the splitting route. Just as a point of interest, biological taxonomists have gotten into some nasty fights over the years over just this issue -- how to categorize the incredible diversity of the universe. So astronomers are not alone in this dilemma.
It's great to see all your comments here!