It was a dark day in 2006 when our solar system, our little corner of one spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, got just a little bit smaller. Pluto, the plucky little planet furthest from the sun, was demoted to the status of “dwarf planet.” This created a lot of buzz and people were understandably upset. Another, possibly larger dwarf planet was discovered near Pluto and named Eris around the same time. It seems the trend of reclassifying celestial objects is catching.
Earth is a sphere of rock hurtling on its endless orbit around a burning ball of gas, just like Pluto. So why should we get the title of “planet” while Pluto is degraded for being smaller? Sure, it’s smaller than Earth’s moon but Pluto has five moons of its own! And it’s named after the Roman god of the underworld. I wouldn’t want to mess with that planet. The nearby dwarf planet Eris was named after the goddess of chaos, a name fitting all the discord this business has caused. Unfortunately, the definition of a planet was changed by some stuffy scientific types and Pluto failed to make the cut. It also has a bit of a tilted orbit, which could lead some people to say that Pluto isn’t truly one of the planets in our solar system. But look, that shouldn’t matter! If we start judging planets by things like their atmospheres, their tilts and orbits (looking at you, Neptune), or how large their rings of dust and rock are (is that really necessary, Saturn?), we’re going to lose all sense of unity as a solar system.
Recently however, it seemed that all the doom and gloom could come to an end. The chairman of the planet definition committee (yes, this really exists and our solar system is linguistically in good hands) stated that the true definition of a planet is something cultural and if everyone wants Pluto to be a planet, it can be a planet. Of course, this being a committee and all, his word is not law and other experts argued to uphold the official definition.
The scholars have not come to a conclusion yet, but I believe we’ve deprived Pluto of its true status for long enough. From its discovery in 1930 to its demotion in 2006, Pluto barely completed a third of its orbit. I think Pluto deserves to finish at least one orbit as a planet. It plods along around our sun, just like all the other planets, and schoolchildren learned its name just like all the other planets. Our solar system is so tiny on a galactic scale that we need all the planets we can get. It’s a big scary universe out there and Pluto is a part of the family. We can’t just cut it out of the photos in the album and remove its place at the dining table.
I urge the scientists on the planet committee to make Pluto a planet again. And if they don’t change its official designation, I don’t think anyone will mind much. To my generation of students, it’ll always be the ninth planet in our little corner of the universe that we learned about in fourth grade.
dents, it’ll always be the ninth planet in our little corner of the universe that we learned about in fourth grade.