What About Pluto?

The astronomical object, Pluto, was discovered on February 18, 1930 by the young astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. He had been studying photographs taken the month before by the telescope at Arizona’s Lowell Observatory, where Tombaugh worked.

From that time until 2005 Pluto was considered to be the ninth planet in our Solar System.  Discussion about the status of Pluto had been going on for many years. In July of 2005, a new trans-Neptunian object was made public.  There had been a short Pluto-01discussion as to whether or not Eris would be called the tenth planet.  Some disagreed with that argument and thought, instead, that Pluto should be reclassified as a minor planet.

In August of 2008, a conference took place at Johns-Hopkins University called “The Great Planet Debate”.  Just before the event, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto, and objects similar to it would henceforth be called plutoids.

The reaction of the general public to the reclassification of Pluto was interesting, and at times, amusing.  The California State Assembly passed a tongue-in-cheek resolution that denounced the IAU for scientific heresy. Illinois passed a resolution saluting Clyde Tombaugh because he was born in that state.  New Mexico’s House of Representatives honored Tombaugh because he had been a long-time resident of their state. They further declared that March 13th was Pluto Planet Day.

The reclassification caused many people to express disagreement with the decision because of sentimental reasons.  They were upset because they had learned, as a child, that Pluto was a planet. They said they’d continue to refer to Pluto as a planet, regardless of what scientists say.

For around a month or so, I also felt that Pluto should remain classified as a major planet.  I didn’t feel terribly upset about the IAU’s announcement, though.  It just signalled that it was time for me to do my homework on the subject. I read up on the Kuiper Belt and found out that we’re just beginning to understand what lies beyond the orbit of Neptune.  I then accepted the reclassification as just another feature of the self-correcting nature of science.Pluto-02

Late last month, a team of astronomers caused a sensation when they announced that there is indirect evidence there might be one or more massive planets orbiting well beyond Neptune. They were clear that the evidence does not have anything to do with the psuedo-scientific belief about a mythical planet called Nibiru.  These possible “new” planets are in standard, mostly circular, orbits around the Sun.

Astronomers have been classifying and reclassifying objects in the Solar System for centuries.  I can think of how Ceres had once been categorized as a planet until the mid-1800s when it became abundantly clear that there are so many asteroids that Ceres, and Ceres-like objects were totally unlike conventional planets. With that in mind, I began thinking of the Kuiper Belt as a larger and much more distant version of the Asteroid Belt.

It really shouldn’t matter to laypersons, like us, whether Eris and Pluto are called “Dwarf Planets”, “Kuiper Objects”, or “Plutoids”. Regardless of name, the things remain in orbit and exist just as they are.

The subject of Pluto reminds me about how we become attached to various concepts and labels.  It never ceases to amaze me how so many folks become upset over such Pluto-03innocuous topics such as Pluto, movie trilogies, and fashion.  Such “debates” begin early in life when people trouble themselves over the existence or non-existence of Santa Claus. People get caught up in sometimes heated debates about the merits of encouraging or discouraging the beliefs about Saint Nick in children.

Some of us use Pluto as a stepping off point in our mental explorations about the mystery of the Universe, at large. As we learn more about the physical nature of the Universe, our mental attitudes and opinions about it change.  The more we understand about the Universe along with our view of the grand scheme of things and how we form our opinions, the less of a fuss we make about mundane life issues.

Every celestial object in the Solar System is different in size, composition and appearance.  When we classify them into star, planet, asteroid, plutoid, moon, etc., we do so as an intellectual convenience.  Is a planet “better” than a planetoid?  Why do we rank things, and people, according to hierarchial standards? Do we do this as an unconscious extention of our egos?

When you expand your field of view, do you expand your acceptance about the way things are; or is it when you increase your level of acceptance you expand your field of view?

Does thinking about Pluto and places beyond it make you feel uneasy or filled with wonder?

Ciao
Pluto-iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness stumbled across something said by Jarod Kintz. “Of all the planets in all the solar systems, I had to fall in love on this one.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Controversy, cultural highlights, History, Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What About Pluto?

  1. Doug says:

    Planet “X” ( Nibiru) is out there beyond Pluto’s orbit. And they are coming back to enslave us! 🙂

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