16 April 2010

Shut up Pluto

Somewhere in Prague, 2006

Friends, Astronomers, Laymen: I come not to praise Pluto, but to bury him. The virtues of a planet have long been decided on whim and whimsy. It is time to set down in stone what does and does not belong to this exclusive fraternity. My colleague Pluto claims that he has every right to be a planet. Is he not round like a planet? Does he not orbit the sun like a planet? I too am round. I too orbit the sun. Why, Pluto, do you then balk at my being a planet? I am much larger than you, I have as many moons as you. I say that it is all or nothing. If Pluto is a planet, then we all get to be planets!

Hear hear!

This is outrageous. Eris is only trying to live up to his namesake, to cause dissension and bring chaos. I have been a planet for a hundred years, when were you discovered Eris? 2005? Please.

It's not up to you Pluto, it's up to the IAU, and if you don't back down from this we're all going to end up demoted. I don't give a damn personally if you're a planet or not, but I want the system to be fair. You don't get to be a planet just because you've always been one.

I can't be demoted. Don't be ridiculous. I've been a planet for nearly a hundred years. It would mess up the whole mnemonic. My very educated mother just served us nine... what exactly? She can't just serve you nine.

What are you guys, new?

I'm sorry, you are who exactly?

Yeah, this meeting is for planets-

Possible planets.

-only. So if you don't mind...

You celestial whippersnappers. In my day, being a planet meant something, it wasn't open to every piece of flotsam off in the backwaters of the solar system. You over there, you're not even round.

Well I never...

Who are you?

Me? I'm Haumea, in the Kuiper Bel-

Not you, the actual sphere.

Who do you think I am? Ceres is what they called me and I was a planet long before any of you had the temerity to show your face in a telescope. Do you think you're the first ones to face this issue? Did you think you were special? I became a planet back in 1801. A whole century before anyone even thought to look for your scrawny silhouettes.

Wait just a minute...

Shut up Pluto and let your elders talk. You only got to be a planet because they thought you were something you weren't. You've been skating off the lie of being Planet X since 1930.

But there is no Planet X, so what does it matter anyhow?

It matters because it's a lie. If the IAU had simply owned up to it back in the 90s when they figured it out, they could have headed a lot of this off. Made a definition for planet then so we wouldn't have to be in this mess now. Do you know how many "planets" there are? Just in our solar system? Take a wild guess.

I don't really see what kind of bearing this has on the discussion at-

Seventy-one. There are seventy-one objects out there that are round and orbit the sun. Well, mostly round.

I'm right here.

The point is we don't all get to be planets. Some of us have to be asteroids, some have to be trans-Neptunian objects. I'm thirty-two percent of the mass of the asteroid belt. Thirty-two percent. You'd think that'd be enough to set me apart as something special wouldn't you? Enough to be a planet? Well, I was for a bit, but they decided to make me an asteroid back in 1810. That won't work for you guys out there in backwaters. If you don't shut your pie-holes we'll all end up with a really stupid name. Like planetoid or dwarf planet.

Let's be realistic. Even if they decide we're not all going to be planets, they wouldn't be so dumb as to include "planet" in our new title, that's just silly.

You know, I like the sound of "Pluto-class Object" myself.

Shut up Pluto.

Jeez, you don't have to be mean about it.

(The size pictured in each dwarf planet's avatar is [mostly] true relative to the size of the other's avatars. Each of the avatars can be clicked for links to their respective wikipedia pages. They are [in order of appearance] Eris, Quaoar, Orcus, Sedna, Makemake, Haumea, Pluto and Ceres.)


  1. I <3 ye so much right now. lol
    've been ravin for a good 10 years on Pluto!

  2. Bravo!

    Eight is enough (planets).

  3. Actually, it's not up to the IAU, which badly bungled the job back in 2006. Only four percent of the IAU voted on this, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet. Under this definition, our solar system has 13 planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.