One of the first facebook groups I joined when I got on was “When I was your age, Pluto was still a planet”.
Even now, alot of people still get furious at Neil Degrasse Tyson for making Pluto no longer a planet. Even Sheldon on the Big Bang theory kind of hates him because of his involvement with making it no longer a planet.
But with all this hate against the IAU, Mr Tyson, and all sorts of people over the supposed theft of our precious 9th planet justified?
The real reason for the hate is much more interesting, amazing and kind of depressing all at the same time.
So, what’s the truth? Well, the truth is Pluto is still a planet, along with a bunch more things that weren’t planets but now are.
What? You mean to tell us that Pluto is still a planet?
Sure, it still is a planet, even if some schools, poster companies, and other groups have decided to stop including it in fancy lists or images of our solar system. Maybe it’s because they’re lazy, stupid or something else, but the fact remains that Pluto being a so-called dwarf planet doesn’t change the fact it’s still a planet.
See, mankind’s understanding of planets is growing by leaps and bounds every single year. In fact, some say that we may have up to two hundred planets in our solar system. Because of this, it has become VERY important that we start to classify things, otherwise it will all start to get confusing.
In the mean time, do you know who else had advanced classifications for planets? Star Trek. They didn’t just call things planets, they had classes, groups and other definitions for other planets and planet-like entities in space. The reason in the show is the exact same reason we need differentiation between terrestrial, gas, dwarf, and other planet types. Our understanding of planets is growing at such a rate, if changes aren’t made to how we teach them in school there will be problems.
However, in of itself the classifications cause problems, especially when people say stuff like “When NASA launched the Dawn satellite, Pluto was a planet, now it ain’t!” – Well, the real problem is that some people decided to remove it from the standard list of planets, when in fact they should have just expanded the list of planets.
It isn’t just Mercury-Venus-Earth-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn-Uranus-Neptune anymore.
The real fact is that it’s Mercury-Venus-Earth-Mars-Ceres-Jupiter-Saturn-Uranus-Neptune-Pluto-Eris-Makemake-OR10-Haumea-Quaoar-Sedna-Orcus-MS4-Salacia-Varuna-FY27-AZ84-UX25-GV9-AW197-RN43-UQ513-Varda-Ixion-JJ43-UK126-Chaos and up to 255 other planets (list here)
Now I don’t know about you, but that list is gonna be pretty dang hard to remember. Granted, I’d love to learn about a planet named Chaos, or Orcus, or Ixion, those kind of sound cool to me.
To add to this, as time goes on, the IAU is actually looking at revising how we define planets again. They’re actually considering changing the definition of Pluto to make it a binary planet. This is because alot of astronomers don’t consider Pluto a planet, they actually consider it two planets – Pluto-Charon and want the IAU to add a new definition because it’s quite possible we have more multi-planet groups in our own solar system, and a virtual certainty that they exist outside of our own system.
Will Pluto ever be a planet again?
If you have to ask that question, then you need to re-read things, it already is a planet!
Granted, it’s hard to say where this whole re-naming convention of planets will go. Our understanding of planets and solar systems is still in the infant stages. Just like the explorers on Star Trek were constantly finding new planets they had never seen before, we too are finding groundbreaking things just about every day.
Here’s a pretty AMAZING animation showing just how far our planet-finding capabilities have come. This should give you hope and understanding that our knowledge of planets is growing at a truly fantastic rate.
The first exoplanets were not discovered in the 1700s. Those dark blue dots are actually solar system planets that have been placed there for comparison. Here is a color cipher to help differentiate between the marks.
The horitzontal axis (x-axis) measures the orbital period of a planet, which is how long it takes for the planet to orbit around its star. The vertical axis (y-axis) is simply the mass of the exoplanet in Earth masses.
Dark blue: Solar system planets.
Light blue: RV planets.
Maroon: Direct Imaging planets.
Orange: Microlensing discoveries.
Green: Planets found via the transit method.
In the end, it would be much better if everyone understood the totality of Pluto and other dwarf planets, rather than just regarding them as semi-important, minor bodies in our totally amazing solar system.