Just a week ago, the farthest biggish object in our solar system was not only poised to continue its life as a planet but on the verge of being joined by Charon, Ceres, Xena, and "scores" of other new planets in the AA-league of "Plutons."
Now, the shameless size queens at the International Astronomical Union have voted to demote Pluto to the status of "dwarf planet," leaving us with a mere eight fully accredited planets in the solar circus. Patricia Tombaugh, 97-year-old widow of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, pronounced the news "disappointing" and "confusing," and I'm a little skeptical of the idea that having a moon, not to mention three moons, doesn't qualify you as a planet. Union regulations indeed! The new planetary guidelines provide some explanation:
Pluto, a planet since 1930, got the boot because it didn't meet the new rules, which say a planet not only must orbit the sun and be large enough to assume a nearly round shape, but must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." That disqualifies Pluto, whose oblong orbit overlaps Neptune's, downsizing the solar system to eight planets from the traditional nine.
Astronomers have labored without a universal definition of a planet since well before the time of Copernicus, who proved that the Earth revolves around the sun, and the experts gathered in Prague burst into applause when the guidelines were passed.
Diehard Plutonians are not taking the news lying down. "It's a sloppy definition. It's bad science," says Alan Stern, head of NASA's $700 million New Horizons project, which will send a probe to the 76-year-old dwarf planet. "It ain't over." Pluto supporters note that only 300 of the IAU's 2,500 astronomers attended the vote.
Dwarfs stand up for their right to get tossed.
The lowdown on that other Pluto.
Or that other Pluto. Or as Mickey Mouse said of Minnie in divorce court: "I didn't say she was insane, I said she was fucking goofy."