Save the planet! (Pluto, that is)

Save the planet! (Pluto, that is)

Summary: A group of over 300 scientists and astronomers have started a petition to protest the definition of a planet approved by the International Astronomers Union at a meeting last week in Prague. The new definition had the effect of demoting Pluto to "dwarf planet" status.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

A group of over 300 scientists and astronomers have started a petition (now closed) to protest the definition of a planet approved by the International Astronomers Union at a meeting last week in Prague. The new definition had the effect of demoting Pluto to "dwarf planet" status. That vote involved only 424 people who stayed for the last day of the meeting, out of around 4,000 attendees.

Sufficient signatures from planetary scientists and astronomers have been gathered to bring into serious question the definition for planet adopted by the IAU as fundamentally flawed, as was the process by which it was generated.

Signatories to the petition include prominent experts in the field of planet formation and evolution, planetary atmospheres, planetary surfaces and interiors, and international prize winning researchers.

Planning is underway to establish an open and inclusive grass-roots process by which planetary scientists and astronomers from around the world can approach a better resolution to the issue of planets in our own solar system and elsewhere, with every step and discussion in public view. This process should culminate in a conference, not to determine a winner, but to acknowledge a consensus.
According to Science Daily, the debate about what is and isn't a planet is nothing new:

Astronomers discovered the asteroid Ceres on January 1, 1801--literally at the turn of the 19th century. Having no reason to suspect that a new class of celestial object had been found, scientists designated it the eighth planet (Uranus having been discovered some 20 years earlier).

Soon several other asteroids were discovered, and these, too, were summarily designated as newly found planets. But when astronomers continued finding numerous other asteroids in the region (there are thought to be hundreds of thousands), the astronomical community in the early 1850s demoted Ceres and the others and coined the new term "asteroid."

The petition sponsors plan to make an announcement later this month about how the new debate will be structured. Hopefully, in addition to Pluto they'll also give us back Planet Xena (and its satellite, Gabrielle).

Topic: Tech Industry

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Pluto Fightback by the Common People

    As the scientists are fighting against IAU's decision, the common people are opposing the decision with their own petition with 450 over signatures at
  • The Elite hide pluto from the future for it proficy

    The Elite hide pluto from the future for it proficy
    We are now approaching the half-way point in the Maya ?Age of Revealing? which began in 1999. December 21 1999 began the final 13 year countdown to the zero-year of 2012. The half-way point is 2007, so we can expect some major changes on all levels of our being during and after that time. Pluto, the planet-archetype of radical change, cleansing and deconstruction will conjunct with Galactic Center in November of this year. It is very strange that they do all this on the eve that pluto come into lunar cycle

    Pluto (re)creates (it also governs the reproductive system), it loves to destroy just as much. This Planet rules destruction, death, obsession, kidnapping, coercion, viruses and waste. That's certainly not pretty. Pluto also governs crime and the underworld, along with many forms of subversive activity (terrorism, dictatorships). This Planet is about all that is secret and undercover, that which is hidden from view. Is this the story of good versus evil? Yes.

    The elite of the world and the new world order know this is the coming of the new age of the bible and want to hide it from the future to discredit myan prophecy.

    more info here
    • Without Pluto, Mickey would get sad.

      Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
  • Are we there yet?

    Astronomers are welcome to define Pluto any way they like. I'm
    sure this is a matter of consternation for book publishers and
    wackos. It's no skin off my teeth. I am mildly interested. Let me
    know when the astronomers stop yipping at each other.
  • Honk if Pluto is still a planet

    It really was a bad decision. To exclude Pluto, the IAU added a last-minute rule that a "planet" has to have cleared the neighborhood of its orbit. By that standard, Earth doesn't qualify, either; there are more than 18,000 asteroids identified as "near-Earth" objects.
    diane wilson
  • Ridiculous

    This is science. It does not matter how we describe an object or occurance. as long as our description helps us properly understand that object or occurance. And the fact of the matter is that if we truly want to study the objects in our solar system we need to be consistant in what we call things. Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are iron and silicate planets, formed in an area of the solar system where hydrocarbons could not coagulate; and Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are hydrocarbon planets, formed in the same manner (or so we think) as the innner planets only in a cooler area where hydrocarbons could coagulate. Pluto does not fit the description of either, so it should be called something else unless future science proves us wrong.
    Michael Kelly
    • Thank you

      I can't believe that people are getting so worked up about whether or not Pluto should be called a planet. There are thousands of objects out there orbiting the sun and what we decide to call them doesn't matter very much. It certainly doesn't matter very much to the objects themselves. Just come up with a system of naming them that makes sense and then we can all make up new acronyms and be happy.
  • How many planets you want?

    It's not that Pluto is being ignored, it's more that if we allow Pluto we'll need to add the other 4 ot 5 objects near its size and also probably another 100 or more as our detection techniques get better.
  • Amusing...

    Amusing people get so focused on a not-so-important issue. Forget war, hunger, poverty, ecology... save Pluto. Oh, pleeeease.

    It's like wasting time arguing about a reality show. :P