Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Planetizing Pluto

It seems that main reason why we care so much about what is and is not a planet is due to the Astrological origins of Astronomy. The word "planet" is derived from a Greek word for "wanderer", as in a star that wanders around the sky. Earth wasn't considered a planet by this ancient definition.

Today, the term planet isn't special, and things we call planets shouldn't be special either. The current definition of the word "planet" by IAU doesn't make any sense since it pretty much invalidates all the planets of "planet" status with the 2006 addition "A planet is a celestial body that has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."  For example, Pluto is tied to Neptune's orbit. So, technically, Neptune's orbit hasn't been cleared of other objects (the biggest being Pluto's system), so Neptune isn't a planet. IAU definition presents us with a mess. We need to stop treating the word "planet" like it's some special term. "Planet" is just a word and it should be used to describe a well defined class of objects that aren't determined by ancient superstitions.

Always emotions

One of the common statements by those who argue against the application of the term "planet" to Pluto is that those who want to categorize Pluto as a planet want this for "mostly for emotional reasons".  However, the very reason Pluto was "demoted" was for mostly emotional reasons. Here's how:

The definition of "planet" adopted in 2006 by the IAU actually invalidates all other planets from the class as well, particularly the big ones.  Also, the IAU still named Pluto a type of planet called "Dwarf Planet" while in the same breath saying that it is no longer a planet.  These oversights were due to the 2006 definition not being vetted by scientists in the field of study (which is supposedly a violation of IAU policy).  Why was this definition pushed so hard that it by-passed normal procedures?  Someone was trying to game the system.

In my opinion, the whole thing is a mess because Michael Brown (self-described "Pluto Killer") and others of similar opinions wanted to have some fun trolling the IAU.  He has reportedly stated many times how much fun he had with the reclassification of Pluto.  If anything is emotional, it was the whole effort to "demote" Pluto for a bit of fun.

A Different Perspective

What would our thoughts be if we evolved on a rocky orb that revolved around some Gas Giant?  If we looked out at this alternative solar system, we'd see all these other rocky orbs; some orbiting one of several Gas Giants and some orbiting the primary star.  Would all the Gas Giants be known by the same name that we'd called our own rocky orb?  No. We'd call the Gas Giants something else, and all the rocky orbs would be called by the same classification as our own world, regardless to them orbiting a Gas Giant or orbiting the star.  There wouldn't even be a concept of "moon".

The main reason we have trouble with this whole "moon" and "planet" classification is because of our own Earth-centric view of our solar system. The reason some people try to protect the word "planet" is rooted in ancient superstitions that people don't realize they are still perpetuating.  We need to break free of this ancient beliefs and just use science to categorize things in a neutral and fact based manner.  We need a real definition for the word "planet" which isn't implemented for unvetted and emotional reasons, but rather being based on hard facts.  We need a definition developed by a body of Planetary Scientists who base their conclusions on geophysical traits.

For more information about Pluto and New Horizons, please read Chasing New Horizons.

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