The Little Planet That Couldn’t
The universe has been questioned and wondered about since the way beginning of mankind, from reading the stars for direction, to Galileo’s many discoveries, to the “Space Race” of the 60’s and 70’s, up to present day with what is the most controversial topic in our entire universe. Pluto’s planetary status has been debated for nearly the past ten years and has caused an outcry from the public since its demotion made back in 2006. The qualities that are used to describe a planet were made clear by the IAU (International Astronomical Union), which has led to even more arguments being made on Pluto’s identity. There is a gray area considering Pluto’s status as a planet because it is such a strange phenomenon to have attained the qualities it has in its position in our solar system. However, due to the lack of cooperation between astronomers and a lack of action being taken, it looks like Pluto will be kept out of our planetary solar system due to some technicalities instituted by the IAU. Pluto will never be renamed a planet because there is nothing for the expert scientific community to gain from its reassignment to the status of being a planet.
The problem with Pluto is that is such a difficult object to categorize in our solar system. It is not a star because a star is a fixed object in space. It is not a meteor because a meteor is a small body of matter in outer space that enter’s a planet’s atmosphere. So then that means Pluto is a planet; a planet is a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star. Before 2006, this was considered to be a verified description of a planet. But with modern-day discoveries, advances in technology and new celestial bodies and objects being found, a new definition needed to be created. In comes the IAU’s definition of what a planet is.
First, a planet must orbit the sun (a star). Pluto does orbit the sun even though it takes longer for a full cycle than any other planet in the solar system, cross that quality out. Second, a planet must be round. Pluto does have enough atmospheric pressure that creates its spherical properties, check off that requirement. The third and final requirement is that a planet must “clear its neighborhood” of orbit, oh no there is the exception. Pluto is a member of the Kuiper Belt in our solar system, which includes many celestial bodies that share its characteristics. Of course due to this amended definition, Pluto was removed from its status as a planet and demoted to dwarf planet.
The aforementioned guidelines set by the IAU seem pretty straightforward, and were accepted in Pluto’s demotion from planetary status. But that does not mean the conversation about Pluto ended there. There were many controversial arguments created based on these guidelines that contradict the IAU’s guidelines.
The first two statements have very rarely been argued as being unfair requirements for a planet. It must orbit the sun, and it must contain enough pressure to develop a spherical shape. These qualities are widely agreed upon to describe a planet, and if the guidelines ended there, there would be no further discussion on Pluto’s status. However, the third guideline creates the most anguish about the topic because it is such a gray area. The IAU made this guideline for the ruling of Pluto’s status and it seems that it is unfair to be a true guideline. Pluto is a part of the Kuiper Belt which contains many celestial bodies that are relatively near in size and mass to Pluto. Due to Pluto’s place in the belt, the IAU created the “clear the neighborhood” clause to demote Pluto of any planetary status. It is true that none of the other eight planets are a part of any belt or are comparable in size to any bodies orbiting the sun, but Pluto is the only one that fits into this category. It is safe to say that the IAU created this third and final guideline to exclude Pluto from being a planet, and this quality alone is the lone reason why Pluto will not regain its planetary status until an amendment is made. However, when the New Horizons spacecraft finally made it to Pluto, it provided new information that stirred up the public and demanded Pluto’s status be reconsidered.
After NASA’s flyby of Pluto took place, the astronomical community went absolutely bonkers about the achievement and new arguments were thusly created. It is an unbelievable accomplishment that mankind was able to create a spacecraft that could travel three billion miles over nine years, reach its destination, and transmit back evidence that provides new insight on to what Pluto actually looks like and contains. This incredible discovery led to the finding that Pluto contains mountains that reach nearly 11,000 feet, the surface is covered in methane ice, and contains many regions that were previously unknown to scientific knowledge. Due to this discovery, an uproar arose demanding that Pluto be reclassified as a planet. This statement is preposterous because according to the guidelines set by the IAU on planetary qualifications, geophysical qualities are not considered at all. To rename Pluto a planet would create a huge problem for the IAU based on the qualifications they set simply banning Pluto from being a planet in the first place.
Jamie Wisniewski, a writer for ECN magazine, states that allowing Pluto to become a planet again based on its “geophysical properties” would be a pitfall for the scientific community. If Pluto is renamed a planet due to its properties, then that would add cause for many more floating celestial bodies that share Pluto’s likeness, mass, and location to be considered planets as well.
BBC news writer Paul Rincon brought up the point that there was a time when the planet count in our solar system could increase from nine to twelve, because of Pluto’s characteristics. Eris and Ceres which are very similar in size and mass to Pluto would be named planets along with Pluto because of their shared characteristics, along with Charon, Pluto’s moon, which would be labeled a twin planet along with Pluto. Instead of increasing our planet count to twelve, the IAU decided in 2006 to name Pluto a dwarf planet, removing it from the exclusive list and making the list shortened to eight. This was established by the IAU’s guideline that a planet must “clear its neighborhood”, and allowing the four of these bodies to enter planetary status would be an abomination to astronomical theory of what a planet should be. Due to this establishment, Pluto and the others were disallowed from planetary contention.
Fraser Cain of universetoday.com made a very bold prediction in the article he wrote on Pluto before the New Horizons spacecraft arrived at Pluto to take its surveillance of the dwarf planet. “Space enthusiasts will marvel at the beauty and remoteness of Pluto, and the painful deplaneting memories will fade.” It is incredible how false this prediction was now that the demands for Pluto’s reinstatement as a planet have reached a new high due to the photos taken and discoveries made. At the time it was a perfectly plausible statement, but only because there had been such a lack of new evidence about Pluto that could reignite the flame that was its planetary status.
After years of back and forth between pro-planet advocates and their adversaries, there is only one clear piece of evidence that proves that Pluto will never again be officially named a planet. In August of 2006, the IAU met in Prague to finally come to a verdict on the status of Pluto. Over 2,700 astronomers attended the ten day conference, but that number was not the same on the last day of it. On the final day of the conference, when the vote for Pluto’s planetary status was cast, 424 astronomers were all that was left to input their votes on the matter. That’s right, less that 15% of astronomers who attended the conference actually voted on Pluto’s status. Overall, less than 5% of the world’s astronomers voted on Pluto’s status, and you do not have to be a statistician to see how outrageous that is. The simple fact that 85% of astronomers in attendance for the conference left before the vote for Pluto ever took place shows how little the majority of the astronomical community actually cares about the debate.
There is always the possibility that the result could have been different if all 2,700+ astronomers were there or even if every astronomer in the world was there to vote, but that is not the case. Of the 424 astronomers that voted, the majority won the vote and demoted Pluto from planetary status. That was nearly ten years ago, if there was a real concern about Pluto’s identity with only 5% of the world’s astronomers voicing their opinions on it then the situation would have been ended a long time ago. There has never been a big fuss created by the fact that so few astronomers voted on Pluto, but if it is such a huge crisis then why hasn’t another conferenced been called? The answer is simple: no astronomers care enough to bring up the Pluto discussion again because their is nothing for them to gain.
In researching what an astronomer’s goals are I stumbled upon a rather interesting excerpt from the IAU website. “…perhaps the most important contribution is still the fact that astronomy makes us aware of how we fit into the vast Universe.” Connecting this to the previous paragraph, it is a fair assumption to relate why astronomer’s do not have anything to gain from Pluto’s planetary status to the quote I have implemented here. The most important contribution astronomers have to offer is how we fit into the universe, not how Pluto fits into the universe. The astronomers of the world are way past Pluto and whatever it has to do with us. It has such a minute connection to us that no astronomer would fight to have it reinstated as a planet. The public would love to have Pluto named a planet again, but astronomers have many other questions and discoveries on their mind much greater than little old Pluto.
While Pluto is one of the most beloved celestial bodies in our solar system, there is nothing that the public can do to create a new argument that will provoke the IAU to revise its ruling on Pluto’s planetary status. The guidelines the IAU created are not the strongest but they are effective enough for now unless Pluto somehow breaks free from the Kuiper Belt. Even though we now have seen Pluto’s surface and its features it does not have distinguishable qualities than that of those in its belt that resemble its size and mass. In conclusion, unfortunately for any supporters of Pluto, astronomers will not pursue Pluto’s reinstatement as a planet until new evidence is found changing the pre-existing facts known about the dwarf planet. The solar system and universe is full of planets and celestial bodies and stars and meteors, but Pluto will no longer be a part of the exclusive club that are planets in our solar system. If one day it is, I will tip my cap to that glorious planet, and say “Way to fight little buddy. You are the little planet that could.”
Why Is Pluto No Longer A Planet? Rincon, Paul. “Why Is Pluto No Longer a Planet?”BBC News. N.p., 13 July 2015. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
Why Pluto Is No Longer A Planet Cain, Fraser. “Why Pluto Is No Longer a Planet.”Universe Today. N.p., 05 Jan. 2012. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
Pluto Should Not Be Renamed A Planet Wisniewski, Jamie. “Pluto Shouldn’t Be Renamed a Planet Just Because of Nasa’s Flyby.” Electronic Component News. N.p., 17 July 2015. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
Pluto Demoted Britt, Robert Roy. “Pluto Demoted: No Longer a Planet in Highly Controversial Definition | Space.com.” Space.com. N.p., 24 Aug. 2006. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
Astronomy In Everyday Life Rosenberg, Marissa, Pedro Russo, Georgia Bladon, and Lars Lindberg Christensen. “International Astronomical Union | IAU.” Astronomy in Everyday Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.