Wednesday , May 22 2024
Pluto is the Rodney Dangerfield of the solar system, the object in space that just gets no respect.

Pity Poor Pluto: Problems, Perspectives, and Planet Envy

As if it is not embarrassing enough to be the only planet in the solar system sharing a name with a Disney character, poor Pluto has detractors talking trash and saying he is not even a real planet.

According to media reports, attempts were made this week to demote poor Pluto from planet to "dwarf planet." Are we going to let some astronomers determine the fate of Pluto? I think not.

To paraphrase Public Enemy, "We must fight the power" (of the International Astronomical Union).

Pluto is the Rodney Dangerfield of the solar system, the object in space that just gets no respect. Perhaps Pluto wishes he had not been spotted in 1930 by American astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh, at Lowell University in Flagstaff, Arizona. Tombaugh found the planet during a search sparked by Percival Lowell, saying he thought there was a planet in that area.

There is not as much information known about Pluto compared to other planets. For a while after the discovery, Pluto was probably living the high life, enjoying being the newest planet on the block and the attention and respect that garnered, not to mention getting invited to the best darn parties in the galaxy.

Not now; that all came to an end in the latter part of the 20th century when people started to say Pluto wasn’t big enough to be a real planet. Part of the problem is that Pluto is not as large as originally thought. What was gradually discovered, though, is that Pluto had a moon, Charon. This sparked some confusion.

The book Mysteries of Mind Space & Time explains the problem: “So Pluto is not the unbelievably dense world that astronomers were puzzling over in the 1960s. It is just a small frozen snowball of a planet – or rather, a double planet.”

Like its size, there is no clarity or agreement in the scientific community about how Pluto was created. At 1,430 miles in diameter, Pluto is not only the smallest planet, but also smaller than the moons Titan of Saturn, Triton of Neptune, and the four Galilean moons of Jupiter, according to Astronomy for Dummies.

There are some advantages to being a mysterious object, such as having a song written about you. Christine Lavin, one of my favorite songwriters, wrote “Planet X.” She recounts how Pluto’s planet-ness is being questioned. She sings, “Others say that ‘Pluto is an asteroid in the sun's gravitational pull, but if you ask Clyde Tombaugh he'll tell you it's all ‘bull’.”

Up until he died, you see, Tombaugh argued Pluto was too a planet. Lavin thinks Pluto should be considered a planet. Others, including me, agree.

Leave poor Pluto alone and let him remain a planet. He’s a fascinating planet and deserves study, so let’s cut him some slack and keep him in the club. Besides, do we really want to try to explain to American students why they need to re-learn the number of planets in the solar system? And what about all the encyclopedias and science material that would have to be scrapped? It would be a total mess, as MSNBC reports.

We must stop this crazy talk about downsizing a planet. Who's with me?

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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