Why Pluto Is/Is Not a Planet – IAU in Rio Update – 6 August 2009 (updated Aug 10)

The International Astronomical Union is now meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This gala gathering commenced on August 3rd (with Ceres slipping into Libra and squaring Pluto) and runs through 14th. Astronomer Mike Brown, co-discoverer of Eris, is in attendance and tweeting on Twitter as PlutoKiller whenever Twitter is not under ahack. Before Brown departed for the event, he posted his current thoughts on Pluto’s planetary status and the likelihood of an IAU debate in a blog. While suggesting the IAU is not likely to resurrect the Pluto-planet controversy in a style astrologers would deem worthy of the underworld god, he did write: “But don’t give up hope! Perhaps something will unexpectedly spill into the open and Rio can turn into a place as fun as Prague. Stay tuned…”

This blip drew my sensors into higher alert. As of the first posting of this blog (August 6th) no such debate has yet appeared. The only new posting of bodies in Pluto’s neighborhood was today’s notation on the Scattered Disk Objects Centaurs page maintained by the Minor Planet Center of the awareness of the reasonably small, highly elliptical SDO, 2009 KN30, discovered on May 25th of this year. As well, four TNO’s of non notable natures posted, discovered on the same date. The data on “Snow White,” as Mike Brown likes to call the possible dwarf planet, 2007 OR10, remains the same.

Brown’s pre-IAU blog reiterated his view that Pluto simply is not a planet. When lecturing at the University of Arizona last fall, he contended those holding the planetary view of Pluto, are quite simply, delusional. Pluto, per astronomical notation, as are Ceres, Eris, Haumea and Makemake, are dwarf planets. Pluto is not a planet.

The tweets from down at the IAU indicate that the idea that Titan has cyrovolcanoes was met with skepticism. Early IAU talk that Earth’s water came from asteroids and “it’s a good thing Jupiter has the orbit it does” was replaced with no one knows the source of Earth’s waters. Evidently, no one knows where Sedna originated either and as Mike Brown suggested in his talk, “Almost every time we try to predict something about the outer solar system we get it wrong.” So per this tweet and the comment noted above from his blog, there still is hope, right?

Astrologers balk at the declaration that Pluto is not a planet. While adamantly contending Pluto is so a planet, they neglect Eris (largely because goddess of discord is hard to work smoothly into a reading by those who have not studied her). This makes astrologers look… well stupid…. or ignorant (per my previous blog). Astrologers, to avoid being categorized as planetary conspiracy theory proponents, must: accept Pluto’s dwarf planet status, recognize the reorganization of the solar system, study the other dwarf planet effects with equal regard to Pluto, and continue to use Pluto as the potent planetary entity we know it to be. Problem solved.

The best astrological quote about Pluto’s planetary status came from Gloria Star. Star quipped that, “a Chihuahua may be small, but it’s still a dog.” Now that Gidget, the Taco Bell spokes-chihuahua has gone to the taco stand in the sky, does that mean Pluto is no longer a planet? Yes. Pluto is a dwarf planet – by astronomical terms, at least today. Get used to it.

Let’s re-evaluate the solar system. There are three planetary groupings: terrestrials (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars), gaseous giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) and dwarf planets (Ceres, Pluto, Charon, Eris, Makemake, Haumea and who knows about Sedna and Snow White?). While pondering if size matters in the solar system, I constructed a collection of plots of the physical data of the solar system. While on a late night tear, I decided to examine plots involving the logarithms of the bodies. Lo and behold, an affiliation between the dwarf planets, based upon density, came to light. The lack of proximity of Ceres to the other dwarf planets no longer matters. The relationship has been found. Consider the following two plots involving the diameter of the planets plotted aganst the log of the density (how tightly packed, symbolically representing focus, intention) of the primary “planetary” bodies.

diameter versus log of Density









The same effect as above can be witnessed with a plot of mass versus the log of Density.

As well, note the following graphic argument for the potency of dwarf planets based upon the ratio of density to gravity:









Similar effects are seen with plots for mass/Gravity

Ultimately, it does not matter what the bodies are called. A name is a name. Pluto is a dwarf planet. So what? Big deal. Call it what it is and while you’re at it, start using Eris. Otherwise, when astrologers ignore the snub-sensitive Eris and call Pluto a planet, they appear superstitious and conspiratorial. We wouldn’t want that. So let’s be the ever-evolving, open-minded collection of humanity we profess to be and let’s start with Pluto. Still, given the exploration of physical planetary characteristics, I think of Pluto and Eris and more as planets, deluded though I may be. In public, though, I make sure I make it known I am aware of the actual scientific status. I don’t want to be “plutoed” for my view of Pluto.

Update 8/6: Dr. Gonzalo Tancredi suggests 14 dwarf planets, 8 probable, 19 unclear. Suggested diameter > 450 km. Astrologers are really in trouble now!

Update 8/7: Today on the MPC TNO post a new body appeared. The same happened with SDO’s and centaurs. Mike Brown tweeted that the panel on Icy Bodies in the Solar System is complete with no discussion of what a planet makes.  The tally for talks dedicated to specific dwarf planets: Haumea 4, Pluto 2, Sedna 1 and nada for both Eris and Makemake. Damn, shouldn’t they know better than to snub Eris?

Update 8/10: Well, it appears that the IAU made it through the part of the gathering that might rile up any new debate on planets, Pluto, Eris or dwarf planets. I must admit I am disappointed. If you search Mike Brown’s planets you can read his summary of the IAU and see his promise to go on in the future about the way the IAU has handled the planet debate. So, I’m guessing we now need to wait for more data on “Snow White,” which to me seems unlikely to stir more debate, or for something new and odd and way beyond known models to appear. I suspect we may not have long to wait – at least in the scheme of eternity or the length of orbit of a plutoid-class dwarf planet. More on Pluto from my corner soon.

If you enjoy these cosmic blogs, remember to check back frequently. There will be more. And when done here, please visit my website and sign up for the Galactic Times where you’ll receive free e-zine posts of current trends, galactic events and all the latest in solar system discoveries. Please visit my “about” page for the website URL.


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