The planet formerly known as…

The cosmos is a place of mystery and wonder – never static, forever changing and challenging our perceptions of what it is.

Look at this picture… does it look any different to you? Because it does to me!

Let me give you a clue…

Did you ever recite this when you were growing up?

“My very elegant mother just served us nine pizzas.”

You did? Then you know that this was a way of remembering the nine planets in our solar system.

HANG ON! Nine? Well, when I was growing up, there were nine planets! But things change – and from 2006 – there are officially only eight planets. So, if you look at the picture again, you’ll see that one of those planets is missing: the cold, mysterious one.

The planet formerly known as Pluto.

If you remember, this caused quite an outcry. It turned out that people were emotionally attached to that little ex-planet. Normally mild astronomers turned into wild beasts as they fought for the planet to retain its status as … well, a true planet.

Indeed, such was the outrage that the American Dialect Society chose ‘plutoed’ as the 2006 Word of the Year. The definition of ‘to pluto’ says it all: to demote or devalue someone or something.

Pluto: Discovered in 1930, Plutoed in 2006.

No one likes change – yet without it, there would be no progress. What we once took for granted as a truth can be overturned. And that is a good lesson for us to remember: there are no absolute truths; just many different perspectives of the truth.

The cosmos is dynamic and in constant motion. We have to unlearn what we once learnt. Pluto has now been re-classified as a dwarf planet and is one of the Kuiper Belt objects.

It is not a demotion, but a change of identity for Pluto. It may no longer be the planet furthest away from the sun, but it is now a pioneer; one of the first citizens on the distant but teeming shore of the unknown.

23 responses

  1. Amy

    WOW! That was my learned- something-new-today fact about Pluto. I never knew it wasn’t called a planet anymore….boy you’d think I’ve been living in a hole….or Norway or something….geez….

    Loved that, “there are no absolute truths; just many different perspectives of the truth” WELL SAID! Bravo!!!

    Happy Mother’s Day from Norway :-))

    February 8, 2009 at 18:05

  2. Po

    Too confusing. I treat everything I learned at school as the gospel, 100% truth. You can’t start telling me my teachers lied to me, it will destroy my foundations :)

    February 8, 2009 at 18:19

  3. Meg

    I still haven’t gotten over this. Pluto will always be a planet to me.

    February 8, 2009 at 18:23

  4. Yes, I remember when this happened and thought “ah poor old Pluto.” Still, time and space is in constant flux.

    So now it’ll have to be something like:

    “My very elegant mother just served us nectarines.”

    February 8, 2009 at 19:08

  5. and I nominate Lady Fi to make up our new “saying” to help us remember!

    February 8, 2009 at 20:13

  6. Jen

    Somehow I missed the exit of Pluto, where was I? Hmmmmm gardening?

    Thanks for the informative post. A good one to pull out of the hat at a party. “How many people know that Pluto is no longer classified as a planet?”

    Jen

    February 8, 2009 at 20:57

  7. Not all change is progress. This so-called “identity change” for Pluto is wrong because it is based on an untenable planet definition adopted in a controversial decision by only four percent of the International Astronomical Union, most of whom are not planetary scientists. It was immediately rejected in a petition of an equal number of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and one of the world’s leading scholars on Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

    The IAU definition makes no sense for several reasons. First, it states that dwarf planets are not planets at all. That is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear. It is inconsistent with terminology in astronomy, where the word “dwarf” is used as an adjective. Dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies.

    Next, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto’s orbit, it would not clear that orbit and would therefore not be considered a planet either. A definition that classifies the same object as a planet in one location and not a planet in another location is absurd.

    An alternate planet definition favored by many astronomers is that a planet is any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is critical because when objects get big enough, their size is determined by gravity, which pulls them into a round shape, and not by chemical bonds. We can identify different types of planets by using subcategories such as terrestrial planets, gas giants, ice giants, dwarf planets, etc., but saying one class–dwarf planets–are not planets at all is nonsensical.

    Using this alternate planet definition, your picture should have 13 planets, the current number in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. Even now, there are scientists and lay people working to get the IAU decision overturned in favor of this broader definition. You can read more about these efforts at my Pluto blog, at http://laurele.livejournal.com

    February 8, 2009 at 21:00

  8. Yes, let’s have a mnemonic contest…

    February 8, 2009 at 21:24

  9. I still think it’s rude to pluto Pluto and call it a dwarf planet :-( Dwarf sounds deeply politically incorrect. I like the names of those other Kuiper belt objects though, Xena, Sedna, Quaoar!! Makes me a little bit more linguistically happy.

    February 8, 2009 at 22:20

  10. P.S. Finns en bra novell av Bodil Malmsten som heter Den tionde planeten.
    Nu blir jag ledsen för Plutos skull igen.
    Novellen är med i boken Det är fortfarande ingen ordning på mina papper.

    Här hennes hemsida: http://www.finistere.se

    February 8, 2009 at 22:40

  11. I think a lot of the fuss was because Pluto was the only planet to be discovered by an American, and the Americans were not thrilled about losing this honour. Still, I’m sure the scientific textbook publishers just loved the change!

    February 8, 2009 at 22:49

  12. Kata

    Poor old Pluto, and I thought he was something out of Mickey Mouse.
    if dwarf is now a politically uncorrect word, what are Snow White’s companions called? other than Grumpy, Sneezy, Bashful etc etc

    February 9, 2009 at 04:14

  13. Poor Pluto! I would much rather be a dwarf planet rather than some kind of object in a belt! What an identity crisis Pluto is having!

    February 9, 2009 at 04:38

  14. Lee

    It’s still a lump of rock AND one I have no desire to live on.

    February 9, 2009 at 05:29

  15. SirPe

    Damn! Paddy said exactly what I was going to say!

    Also this: any pre-1930 astrological charts that are now once again “correct” must now be worth their weight in …er… oh, never mind :-p

    February 9, 2009 at 10:57

  16. I didn’t know any of this- must have been living in a cloud when the news broke. *Kuiper Belt* sounds like a truss.

    February 9, 2009 at 13:34

  17. We learned it as “My very excellent mother” instead of “elegant mother.” I guess my very excellent mother is going to have to start serving us nachos instead of nine pizzas!

    February 9, 2009 at 15:13

  18. Jag vet, jag var faktiskt ganska ledsen när Pluto förlorade sin planetstatus. Det var liksom den lilla planeten som man kunde identifiera sig med på något konstigt sätt… eller så var det bara jag. ;)

    February 9, 2009 at 20:22

  19. I mourn the loss of Pluto as a proper planet, I think he got a bum rap:)

    February 10, 2009 at 00:52

  20. Pluto always got a raw deal.
    Mickey never walked him enough, either.

    February 10, 2009 at 20:01

  21. Laurel > Eh? You’ll be at your local golf course calling the little flying white things “planets” in a minute.

    February 10, 2009 at 20:03

  22. Blu

    Well I didnt know that Pluto had changed its status. The link over to Paddys place will take some reading!….later maybe..

    My camera went out in the rain yesterday and yearns for spring time too.

    February 11, 2009 at 10:03

  23. I caught the fuss over Pluto and think it’s interesting to debate, but it’s more fun for me than serious (I know I’m stepping on astronomers toes with that one) :) One year coffee is good for us, the next it’s bad. Don’t worry Pluto will regain planet status again ;)

    February 14, 2009 at 06:42

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