Poor Pluto. I wrote a detailed essay about my feelings back in 2014, before New Horizons had gotten close enough to reveal the stunning images of Pluto and Charon that it painstakingly sent back at 38 kbps.
Pluto and Charon. ©2015 NASA
Yeah yeah, I get it. Science moves on. Clyde Tombaugh discovered the Kuiper Belt; Pluto is just another trans-Neptunian object that happened to get captured, and not even the biggest. There are doubtless many more large ones yet to be discovered.
But Pluto was a part of the public’s consciousness as a planet for 76 years – from 1930 when Dr. Tombaugh discovered it, until it was reclassified by the IAU, a move that was opposed by many scientists and astronomers.
I even wrote to Mike Brown, who has referred to himself as “the man who killed Pluto,” and expressed my feelings that for historical reasons, Pluto should have been “grandfathered in” as a planet; he was kind enough to reply, and explained that while he understands why I and others feel emotionally attached to Pluto, the IAU took an opportunity to make planetary classification meaningful instead of arbitrary, which is scientifically more important than nostalgia.
But I’m still sad. And I’m not the only one. Dr. Maggie Lieu, a research fellow at the ESA (European Space Agency) recently posted on Twitter,
The cleaners took Pluto down, but he was quickly replaced:
And the current status is this: (If you can’t read the text, it says
- Don’t worry, Pluto! We dwarf planets will be your friends.
- Yes, those stuck-up full planets are the 1% living in their “cleared neighbourhoods” and oppressing the rest of us with their unequal distribution of mass.
I accept the science, but the IAU’s designation is, after all, just academic nomenclature – and whatever the scientists of today or the future choose to call Pluto, for me it will be the 9th planet in our solar system, Sol IX, forever.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
PS: One of my all-time favorite Woot! shirts, “Gardening at Night.”