I recently ran across MentalFloss’ list of 6 Angry Letters Kids Sent Neil deGrasse Tyson About Pluto.
This, of course, all came after the International Astronomical Union (IAU) revised it’s definition of a planet in 2006.
The revised definition notably excluded Pluto.
Eight years later and people are still upset.
Numerous books and articles have been written on the topic – exploring the history of Pluto’s 1930 discovery, the more recent discovery of numerous “Trans-Neptunian Objects,” Pluto’s eventual declassification, and, of course, the uproar that followed. And that continues.
Alan Boyle, author of “The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference,” explained in a 2009 Wired article:
Throughout most of the history of that little world, we’ve thought of it as a poor little oddball that didn’t fit in with the rest of the kids in the solar system and really needed to be protected. So to my mind it’s really not so much about [love of Disney’s dog Pluto], but it’s about the underdog.
And everybody loves an underdog.
I’ve always been a big fan of Pluto myself. Just like me, Pluto has an eccentric orbit. All the planets travel in ellipses – as stated in Kepler’s first law of planetary motion – but Pluto’s orbit is an elongated ellipse, while other orbits are relatively circular. Furthermore, Pluto’s orbit is inclined at a 17 degree angle relative to the essentially flat plane the other planets travel.
The best part of this crazy orbit is that Pluto is sometimes 9th from the sun and sometimes 8th. Sometimes Pluto is closer to the Sun than Neptune.
Pluto breaks all the rules.
Not to mention that it’s a Terran body beyond the Jovian bodies. Madness.
So, I guess I always did think of Pluto as an oddball. As an object that didn’t fit in with all the so-called normal planets traversing their orderly paths, sitting all neat and pretty, always doing what they’re told.
But an underdog? Something that needs to be protected?
Pluto does Pluto. Pluto doesn’t care what the other planets do.
The scientist and astronomer in me appreciates the IAU’s revision. I might quibble with some of their language – the qualification that a planet must have “cleared its orbit,” for example, is startlingly imprecise. But at the end of the day, I agree that we need clear, formal definitions and classifications.
A classification which included Pluto as a planet would doubtless be too broad. The other Dwarf Planets – for that is what Pluto now is – would be planets as well. Eris would be a planet, and that would be chaos. Pluto’s moon, Charon, might end up as a planet, and who knows what other Kuiper Belt objects or extra-solar objects might end up as planets.
No, that would surely be too much.
But Pluto will always be a planet to me.
Or perhaps, more accurately, I don’t think Pluto will ever care about the classifications of some carbon-based organic matter on the third planet from the Sun.
Haters gonna hate, but Pluto doesn’t care.
Pluto just keeps doing Pluto.