Thursday, August 24, 2006
( 7:35 AM )
Pluto, We Hardly Knew Ye
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.
Yes, that's right. A few human astronomers have the "authority" to declare what a planet is and what a planet isn't. And evidently, Pluto ain't it. Poor Pluto. We've all known there's been controversy over the years about the outermost sphere in our galaxy. But is it really fair to strip a poor little planetary-like orb circling our Sun of its status just because its orbit is a bit off. Now it can't be in the club anymore.
For now, membership will be restricted to the eight "classical" planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Much-maligned Pluto doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."
Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.
Pluto is now a "dwarf planet." Most astronomers seem to feel that the new classification is appropriate. That Pluto never should have been part of the gang in the first place. Now, I'm just thinking of all those textbooks and teaching materials that will need to be changed...