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Why Pluto Had to GO!

Lunar & PlanetaryInternational Astronomical Union names 2003ub313 as "136199 Eris", or just ERIS for short. Read the announcement at PHYSORG.COM here.

Pluto HAD to be demoted from planethood, and here is my explanation why. What the International Astronomical Union, (IAU) did on August 24, 2006, was to assign the new desciption of "dwarf planet" to Pluto, but that falls short of truly describing what this object is. PLUS, if you think that what Pluto is called today will be what it's still called in another 2 to 3 years, well, I wouldn't try holding my breath expecting that to stay the same either.

There are several things that must be taken into consideration to have any success at an accurate description of what Pluto should be called. Here are my offerings on what I believe it MIGHT be called at some point in the not-to-distant future. It's only my own speculation, but let me present my case anyway.

A NASA artist's depiction of what Pluto and Charon may look like from the surface of one of Pluto's newest pair of smaller moons. Pluto is at right center, Charon to Pluto's right, one of the two new moons at the left of Pluto and the imagined appearance of the surface of the other new moon in the foreground.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Clyde was a Kansas farm boy who built his own reflector telescope and studied the planets by making carefully detailed pencil sketches of them. In 1928 he decided to send some of his drawings to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. He was both pleased and proud when he received a reply from Lowell saying they liked his pictures and he would be offered a job at Lowell if he could get to Flagstaff. I read somewhere that he left his farm home with less than a dollar in change in his pockets, bound by rail for northern Arizona.

Visual observations of Uranus and Neptune showed mathematical irregularities in their orbits in the late 19th century. The math hinted that something out beyond Neptune's orbit was the culprit. When Clyde arrived at Lowell Observatory, he was put straight to work on the problem of trying to find whatever may have been out there producing those minute little "tugs" on Neptune and Uranus. It would take him nearly 2 years to find it, but on February 18, 1930, he found his elusive quarry.

I was fortunate enough to have attended a presentation given by Clyde Tombaugh in 1988 at that year's Texas Star Party. Clyde was speaking on whether there might possibly be a 10th planet out there somewhere in the frozen outskirts of the solar system. Although in his 80's at the time, he was still a skilled an interesting speaker. Clyde began by telling everyone of his discovery of the 9th planet while using the 13" astrographic telescope at Lowell Observatory. This instrument didn't allow for visual observations, but instead it took images of the sky. Since planets move in their orbits around the Sun, any given image taken on any one night needed another image made of that same area a few nights later. Then the two images were set up in an instrument called a blink comparator which allowed the investigator to carefully examine the starfield with nothing more than his eyes to see if there were any "stars" that had moved from one night to the next. How time-consuming and tedious would you think such a job might be? And yet, this was how Clyde found Pluto.

But Tombaugh didn't stop there. The mathematical studies of the inconsistencies in Neptune's and Uranus's orbit had indicated that whatever was out there should be approximately 6 times the size of Earth. Pluto was MUCH to small to have been that suspect object, and so, for another 15 years, Clyde Tombaugh kept up his steady and monotonous search. Pretty much everyone felt there HAD to be something else out there, something considerably larger than Pluto's 1,300 mile diameter. Hearing Tombaugh give such a vivid, detailed description of "blinking" roughly 14,000,000 stars (by his own estimates), and then winding up his presentation by stating emphatically, "There is NO other planet beyond Pluto, no "Planet X", or I would have found it." That statement gave me all I needed to accept his word on the matter, but I really have to wonder what he would have said about the demotion of Pluto to "dwarf planet".

Click read more for the rest of this story.

Pluto and Charon in a recent Hubble image that also shows their two new moons, Nix and Hydra.
Then came 2003ub313. Right out of the blue, er, I mean darkness, came a new solar system object that was LARGER than Pluto by about 350 miles or so! Was this suddenly a 10th planet, the elusive Planet X? Or was it simply a new type of object needing a new name to describe it, and anything else like it in the future? What would be the final decision by the IAU, the governing body that assigns names to all things astronomical.

When I first heard of 2003ub313, and the estimates that it was larger than Pluto, I knew immediately that this day would have to come. Sooner or later, the IAU would be forced to make a decision about the status of both Pluto and 2003ub313, which has since been named ERIS. If the decision was made to assign this new object a classification of being a new 10th planet, then what would they do if someday another one was found of that size, or possibly even a little larger still? And if there was an 11th planet found, then how long would it be until we had a 12th, or a 13th, and so on until we'd eventually have a several-dozen planet solar system?

This is the KEY point of my arguement.....would we keep adding new planets to the roster forever and ever, or would they do the right thing and simply demote Pluto from planethood once and for all? Doing this is such a simple and straightforward solution, I couldn't see the IAU doing anything other than that. But, today I discovered I was wrong. Sure as the world, they did something totally unexpected and came up with a totally assenine solution by now calling Pluto-like objects "dwarf planets". This new designation is also supposed to include some of the larger asteroids, such as Ceres, the largest asteroid at approximately 600 mi. in diameter. Well, we already HAVE asteroids, so leave the name given to them alone! Why change something in the inner regions of the solar system and add these well known objects to what surely is a new class of objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. What the IAU did by doing what it did will leave room for more debate and more arguementation until, hopefully, they'll eventually get it right someday.

I suggest this. Since the objects that are found out at the very edges of our solar system are regularly being called "Trans-Neptunian Objects", why didn't they just call it this and get it over with? Or, the name "Kuiper Belt Object" would suffice just as well. Our technology has only recently become capable of finding large numbers of these objects, and there's sure to be many, many more yet to be found. Adding planets to our solar system may not have ended for a long time, but why come up with a description of what it takes to be a planet? Why not just announce the addition of the new catagory of Trans-Neptunian Objects and be done with it?

Why indeed? That's just my own personal solution to this, though, for whatever it may be worth to however many individuals may read this piece. I would think that Clyde Tombaugh might have seen it something like I do, too. But I still say, sooner or later, they'll wind up doing something like this anyway. I'm just hoping that maybe, just maybe, it'll be within my lifetime so I can throw out my chest and say, "HA! I TOLD YOU SO!"
Why Pluto Had to GO! | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Why Pluto Had to GO!
Authored by: Chuck Larson onSaturday, August 26 2006 @ 07:24 am EDT
Bob, I enjoyed you comments about Pluto. I think your solution to this
matter appears to be more thoughtful than the one the IAU came up
with. I was also interested in the fact that you had met Clyde
Tombaugh. I have been to the Observatory at Flagstaff, AZ, and as I
recall they had displays of his original images that he studied to find
Pluto. Another side light comment: Back in 1962-64, I was teaching
Science at a small rural community school in Illinois. As part of my
Science program I did some teaching of Astronomy, with some actual
observing done with the class at night on the school playground. At
one point, one of my students claimed that Clyde Tombaugh was his
uncle. I did not doubt him since there was such a remote chance that
he would have known who C.T. was. My student certainly seemed to
know what he was talking about, so I never questioned the
authenticity of his claim. Chuck Larson

Chuck Larson
Why Pluto Had to GO!
Authored by: Anonymous onTuesday, August 29 2006 @ 12:14 pm EDT
I amost consider this a slap to Clyde Tombaugh's face. I think we should consider Pluto as a planet. Thousands of man hours where spent investigating this until it was finally found. At some point a line needs to be drawn, we hadn't discovered anything in our solar system for over 70 years. To start calling every little rock out there beyond Pluto a planet is dumb. Trying to call an asteriod a planet is dumb. In my lifetime or your lifetime we'll probably never be able to get a probe out to look at farther planets.

The thing that saddens me the most though is that only 5% of the world's astronomers voted on this.

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