When I was your age Pluto was a Planet!

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     I'm pretty sure a good percentage of us had a good "lol" when we saw that group on Facebook. In fact I think all 1,815,665 members of the Facebook group "When I was your age Pluto was a planet" group did. What I'm not so sure about is if all of those people know why it was deemed unworthy of its planetary rank. I mean let's face it! When they took out Pluto they took down a Sailor Scout, a Roman God, and a very clever and time-honored mnemonic device. Our youth has been robbed of knowing what our very elegant mothers just served nine of! So I decided to unveil the conspiracy behind the take down of Pluto. As luck would have there were actually several reasonable causes for it.

     When Pluto was first discovered in 1930 by Cylde W Tombaugh originally it was assumed to be the size of the Earth. It wasn't until 1973 when astronomers discovered Pluto's Moon Charon that this changed. The discovery of Charon gave them the opportunity to accurately gauge the mass of Pluto. It ended up being much smaller then they had thought. Pluto is actually only 2,400 km (1,500 miles) across. A similar distance is the trip from New York City to Miami. That trip is around a 1,300 mile journey and only takes about 16 hours to travel by car and 4 hours by plane. However even after the recalculation of its size Pluto was still assumed to be the largest thing in our Solar System past Neptune.

  earthmoon.png                                        From left to right: Earth, Moon, Pluto, Charon

     Unfortunately for Pluto this was not the case. Over the past few decades scientists have been making massive strides in coming to understand our universe better. Not only have the discovered several more masses beyond Pluto but one of them has 25% more mass the Pluto. These few discoveries made people start to question "Well what exactly qualifies something as a planet?" These masses all had the same qualities as Pluto but were still not recognized as planets. So to put an end to the debate the International Astronomical Union was summoned!

     Composed of the Nearly 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries, the IAU gathered in the Czech Republic capital, Prague. They assembled for a 12 day conference that would determine the new standards for what qualified something as a planet. It was decided that they would all vote on possible definitions. One version would have increased the number of planets to twelve so that it included Ceres and Eris. There was also an option to vote to keep all nine and have them remain as "Classical Planets" without any scientific rationality. The winning option was to bump the number of planets down to 8. 

     This decision resulted in Pluto being demoted from planet to dwarf planet. Their justification behind this was the Pluto did not meet all of the new criteria for what made a mass a planet.  According to the newly set standards a planet must:

1. Orbit the sun
2. Be a sphere (meaning its own gravity should been strong enough to smooth out the planet)
3. Have a clear orbit (meaning that after the planet's for
mation it should have cleared out any debris with the exception of moons caught in the planets gravitational pull)

      While Pluto does have two of these qualities it is missing the third. Pluto does not have its own exclusive orbit. Its moon, Charon, orbits on a common center of gravity with Pluto. It is suggested that the two act as a binary system. The evidence behind this is that the barycentre of their orbits does not like within either mass. The barycentre it is the center of mass on a planet where its moons orbit. For instance the earth's moon doesn't orbit the very center of the Earth. There is a point in the Earth's crust exactly 1,710 km down where both the mass of the Earth and the mass of the moon balance. Althou
gh the IAU has not yet ruled on a definition for binary dwarf planets so Charon is still considered to be Pluto's moon.


     There is still controversy in the scientific community surrounding Pluto. Although it would seem the people who are most displeased with this are the public. In fact getting "plutoed" has now become a slang term According to Urbandictionary.com to be plutoed is defined as:

"To demean another to make them feel as though they don't amount to anything. Just as the scientists did to Pluto.
It's okay Pluto; I'm not a planet either."

     However despite the disapproval of the public, Pluto is and will remain a dwarf planet. Scientists speculate that there could be possible hundreds if not thousands of dwarf planets that lie beyond Pluto. With the endless possibilities the universe has to offer who knows what they will discover next!

1 Comment

Catlin -- great way to tie social media into this subject. Indeed NASA does not classify it as a planet anymore, however this is for a many great reasons. One of which is the thought of a larger planet in the Kuiper Belt ("Planet X").

This mysterious giant has been talked about for several decades and has been a topic of conversation with NASA.

The following link will provide NASA's official judgement of Pluto and Planet X.


Note how they say "not officially" regarding Planet X...

Oh and this might be interesting to read as well...

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