August 24, 2006

Eight Planets

Sense wins out over politics, as the IAU declares that there are only eight planets in the solar system. This decision demotes Pluto to "dwarf" status and disqualifies a raft of other more-recently discovered Sun-orbiters that had been vying to be called "the tenth planet."

I don't really know why I care. Maybe because the motivation for calling all the smaller bodies "planets" seems to have been to boost the discoverers' research, or help justify funding for missions like New Horizons in the name of "studying all the planets." I am enthusiastic about astronomical research including KBO studies and New Horizons, but if the IAU had expanded the list of planets to include a dozen bodies, it would have been a clear victory of funding-politics over sense.

Somehow sense won out in a last minute reversal of the IAU votes. The IAU's decision is evidence that scientists dislike like playing games with their terminology, even when grant money is on the line.


So today my kids can still count the planets on their fingers. They will be able to memorize all the planet names. And someday they will be happy to be able to see them all through a backyard telescope (if only barely in the case of Neptune). Planets are still planets. Hooray!

Posted by David at August 24, 2006 10:10 AM

i wonder what is the importance of knowing that there is a change in the solar system(planets) and not the importance of the o-zone layer. that is what the emphasis should be on,to save the future not non-planet to a dawrf.

Posted by: marshalee at January 13, 2009 10:06 PM
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