Monday, October 06, 2008

Pluto ... Neat Name For Planet And Dog ...

When is a planet not a planet? When it is a plutoid. In other words, if a planet is a plutoid, then it is not a planet. Confusing? Yes, but I am getting ahead of the story.

In 1943, when I was 7 years old, my family lived on Pipkin Street in the South Park area of Beaumont. I was a third grader at J. L. Giles Elementary.

During that year, I became interested in the study of planets, stars and constellations. My parents wanted to encourage this astronomical interest so they bought me a three-foot telescope and a book about stars.

I was totally mesmerized with this hobby. The telescope was very fascinating. The book on stars was a little less fun because it was written for older readers. But by the end of third grade, I tested eighth-grade level in science. The reason was because I knew the names and positions of all the planets and most of the popular constellations.

The book entitled “Seeing Stars” was written by W. B. White and published in 1942 by Rand McNally & Company.

In his book, Mr. White wrote how the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh of the Lowell Observatory. Pluto was designated the ninth planet of our solar system. This planet became the favorite for grade school kids. One reason for this favoritism is that Pluto was the smallest of all the planets. Kids related to that. Also in 1930, Walt Disney produced a new dog character. The dog was named Pluto in honor of the new planet. So kids loved the planet and the dog.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) met and decided that Pluto was not a run-of-the-mill planet. Therefore it was designated to be a dwarf planet. Then the IAU decided that it would sound more official to call Pluto a plutoid. The IAU is the international organization that brings together almost 10,000 distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world. They are the recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies. Plutoid was selected as the term for “dwarf planet” to appease those offended by the demotion of Pluto.

It is noteworthy to point out that at the meeting where the IAU demoted Pluto from “planethood,” there were less than five percent of the voting membership present. And absentee voting was not permitted.

There are many reasons given for demoting Pluto to a plutoid but none of those reasons made sense to me. There were nine known planets in our solar system as of 1930. But in 2003, the discovery of Eris, a body bigger and farther from the sun than Pluto was discovered. Rather than designate Eris as our 10th planet, the IAU decided that all bodies beyond Neptune should be called dwarf planets or as noted earlier, plutoids. As of now (2008), we have 8 planets and 3 plutoids plus one asteroid.

But I am upset about Pluto being demoted from planet status. I rally behind the state of New Mexico’s House of Representatives. They passed a resolution declaring that in honor of Tombaugh, a longtime resident of that state, Pluto will always be considered a planet while in New Mexican skies, with March 13 being known as Pluto Planet Day. Also the California state assembly passed a light-hearted resolution denouncing the IAU for “scientific heresy,” among other crimes.

My opinion must be prefaced with apologies to William Shakespeare for the following parody on his work entitled, “Romeo and Juliet.”

“O Pluto, Pluto, wherefore art thou Pluto? … What’s in a name? That which we call a planet by any other word would be a planet still.”

Pluto always will be a planet to this 73-year- old-kid. (now 75 and still loves Pluto)

Winston Hamby


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