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Re: “The Curious Case of Pluto

The author seems to have a sense of glee at the demotion of Pluto. Rubbing it in, as it were. All with old arguments and without any historical account of how the vote in 2006 went down. Only 232 or so members of the 10,000 strong IAU voted to demote Pluto in Prague on the last day of the General Assembly. Members who the Executive Committee and their lackeys knew were for Pluto's demotion were asked to stay for the surprise vote. The fix was in. Pro-Pluto speakers who happened to be at the session were cut off in mid-sentence. I watched the entire session on video.

Dwarf stars like our sun are still considered stars. Dwarf galaxies are still considered galaxies. Dwarf planets should be a subcategory of planets, like rogue planets should be. The definition of planets needs a redux.

The writer, instead of being excited about 2015 being the year of the dwarf planet, viz., Ceres, Charon, and Pluto, seems to gloat in the old hackneys arguments of Pluto haters who claim to have killed the planet and have stooped so low as to actually behead a Disney doll of Pluto.

The demotion of Pluto has nothing to do with Science. It was political, and it will not last. I am Ceres.

Posted by Mike Wrathell on 02/26/2015 at 12:20 PM

Re: “The Curious Case of Pluto

Pluto is still a true planet. There is absolutely no reason why the IAU definition, which constitutes one view in an ongoing debate, should be given privileged status as the "official definition" when the reality is it is just one of many currently in use.

Pluto is not suspect as a planet. Why should an object have to orbit in the same plane as Earth to be considered a planet? That type of thinking goes back to the pre-Copernican view in which Earth was seen to have a privileged position. The ecliptic is not even the path of the Sun; it is the path the Earth takes around the Sun. Mercury also has an elliptical orbit that is inclined to the ecliptic. Does this mean Mercury isn't a planet?

Pluto's orbit may be eccentric, but it is stable. Pluto will not crash into the Sun or into any other planets. Significantly, astronomers have discovered many giant exoplanets with orbits around their stars that are far more eccentric than Pluto's around the Sun. Does that mean these giant objects are not planets? Some hot Jupiters have close orbits that are not even stable, meaning they will eventually fall into their stars.

Many astronomers and planetary scientists never stopped viewing Pluto as planet. Only four percent of the IAU voted on the controversial demotion, and most are not planetary scientists but other types of astronomers. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition of hundreds of professional astronomers led by New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern. Ironically, Stern is the person who first coined the term "dwarf planet," but he did so intending to designate a third class of planets in addition to terrestrials and jovians, not to designate non-planets.

Stern and like-minded planetary scientists prefer an alternate definition, the geophysical planet definition, according to which a planet is any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star, free floating in space, or even orbiting another planet. The only size that matters is that the object is big enough and massive enough to be squeezed into a round or nearly round shape, a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium. Pluto well exceeds that threshold, as does its moon Charon. Since Pluto-Charon orbit a barycenter outside of Pluto itself, that makes them a binary planet system.

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Posted by Laurel Kornfeld on 02/26/2015 at 9:36 AM

Re: “The Curious Case of Pluto

In my opinion, there's nothing to argue about here. I just wonder why some people are constantly trying to "denigrate" the 9th planet?

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Posted by Pavel Rezvushkin on 02/26/2015 at 5:53 AM

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