Astronomers are gathering in the Czech capital, Prague, hoping to define exactly what counts as a planet.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) hopes to settle the question of Pluto, which was first spotted in 1930.
Experts are divided over whether Pluto – further away and considerably smaller than the eight other planets in our Solar System – deserves the title.
The stakes were raised when a bigger planet-type body, known as 2003 UB313, was discovered by a US astronomer.
Any decision to downgrade Pluto would send shockwaves through the scientific community, instantly outdate textbooks, and change how the basics of the Solar System are taught in schools.
Since the discovery of the ninth planet, astronomers have become aware of a vast population of small, icy bodies resembling Pluto that orbit the Sun beyond Neptune, in a region called the Kuiper Belt.
This led some astronomers to argue that Pluto belonged with this population of “icy dwarfs”, not with the objects we call planets.
Full article here.
You can imagine how you would feel if some intergalactic commission were convening in a galaxy far, far away, voting on whether the Earth were a planet or just some glob of space junk with negligible life forms on it. It would be the end of the world, wouldn’t it? Having been expelled from the planet club, the Earth would no doubt fall prey to some space jockey’s engineering plan — i.e., ‘We can just blow up this non-planetary clod to make room for our new Milky Way resort development.’
No life on other planets, you say? Okay, so maybe you think we don’t have to worry about being blown away by aliens who think we’re just solar system trash, but still . . . it’s just not good sportsmanship to humiliate a putative planet by calling it an “icy dwarf.” Even though Gustav Holst never got a chance to include Pluto in his suite (Earth’s not there, either, by the way), poor Clyde Tombaugh, may he rest in peace, went to his grave thinking he had discovered a planet. Frankly, it’s like kicking Babe Ruth out of the Hall of Fame because some guy on steroids broke his home run record.