“That could propagate a Constitutional crisis.”

You might have thought, after its 2006 annus horribilis, that Pluto’s downfall was complete. The arguments over, a plutoid from here on in. But no. Illinois legislators are still honking – and I don’t mean about Blagojevich nor even Roland Burris. Discoblog notes that the Illinois Senate, having nothing better to do, has resolved that “as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies, that it be reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930.” The Guardian’s Ian Sample has the story. And, via Slashdot, the BadAstronomer notes, “Thank heavens — so to speak — Pluto doesn’t pass over any other states. That could propagate a Constitutional crisis.” Indeed.

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  • dodrade

    Amazing how people can be sentimental over a frozen ball of rock 2.7 billion miles away no one has ever been to.

    But then who would care if Walt Disney hadn’t named Mickey Mouse’s dog after it.

  • danielmoran

    the word propagate, as far as i can tell means to spread. not, i think what is meant here.

  • A lot of us care about Pluto because we are interested in the solar system and in astronomy in general, not because of the Disney dog.

    Pluto’s “downfall” is not only not “complete”; it’s not even a certainty. This debate is very much still ongoing, and the term “plutoids” has been rejected by many astronomers.

    The Illinois legislature has way more sense than the International Astronomical Union has shown in two-and-a-half years. It’s the IAU who have acted like idiots, with one tiny group forcing a nonsensical planet definition on everyone. The truth is there is NO scientific consensus that Pluto is not a planet. The criterion requiring that a planet “clear the neighborhood of its orbit” is not only controversial; it’s so vague as to be meaningless. Only four percent of the IAU even voted on this, and the vote was driven by internal politics. A small group, most of whom are not planetary scientists, wanted to arbitrarily limit the number of planets to only the largest bodies in the solar system. They held their vote on the last day of a two-week conference with no absentee voting allowed. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto.

    Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader definition of planet that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is key because when objects become large enough, they are shaped by gravity, which pulls them into a round shape, rather than by chemical bonds. This is true of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and comets. And yes, it does make Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake planets as well, for a total of 13 planets in our solar system.

    Even now, many astronomers and lay people are working to overturn the IAU demotion or are ignoring it altogether. Kudos to the Illinois Senate for standing up to this closed, out of touch organization whose leadership thinks they can just issue a decree and change reality.