We Need to Grow Up and Accept That Pluto is Not a Planet Anymore
July 22, 2012 2 Comments
When I was a kid, I grew up learning that there are nine planets. It was ingrained into our very being that we needed to know the planets from Mercury to Pluto. We were taught tricks to remember them, “My Very Exciting Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”. Kids weren’t taught much about astronomy and the solar system in school, except for the fact that there were nine planets and that we needed to know there names. To be honest, children from 1st to 8th grade really don’t need to learn more than that.
Anyway, it came as a shock to me several years ago to learn that Pluto was being demoted as a planet. “How could they do this?” I cried, “How can you just say something isn’t a planet?!?!” I rejected this idea wholeheartedly as did everyone else. We all learned “My Very Exciting Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas”. What the hell was I supposed to say now “My Very Exciting Mother Just Served Us Nothing!!” No. No. No, that’s not going to happen. So I persisted in delusion like everyone else, “Pluto is still a planet, this is just scientists going to far!!” That was until I actually started…THINKING!! I decided I needed to know why scientists decided to demote my favorite planet.To understand the reasons behind the demoting of Pluto from planetary status, you need to go way back to the 1800′s. Back then, there were 12 planets, believe it or not. Then, all of a sudden, people began to get curious because another planet was discovered, and another and another. Finally, people took a step back and said, “Hang on, we need to take a closer look at this.” With the advancements of telescope technology in the late 1800′s, astrophysicists discovered that these were not planets but a belt of asteroids that existed beyond Mars. So, after demoting all those planets to the category of asteroids, we were left with 8 official planets.
Fast forward to the early 1900′s. Huge advancements were made in telescope technology. In 1930, Pluto was first discovered by an American astrophysicist named Clyde Tombaugh. This was a major event in American history. It was the first planet discovered by an American. It was a big deal, so much so that Walt Disney named Mickey Mouse’s dog Pluto, officially engraving the importance of Pluto into the American psyche.
Moving forward all the way to the latter part of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. Advancements in telescope technology are at their best. Astronomers are looking farther into the universe than they ever have before. All of a sudden, they start discovering these huge icy bodies floating around past Pluto within our solar system. They notice that some of them are even bigger then Pluto. This began a debate within the astronomy community about Pluto’s classification as a planet.
In 2005, after much debate, the scientific community finally concluded that Pluto most likely is not a planet, but an icy body that exists past Uranus. I laughed, too. This is called the Kuiper Belt, and it is a belt of asteroids that is 20 to 200 times bigger then the asteroid belt that exists past Mars. These asteroids are so far away from the Sun, some of them consist almost entirely of ice. This is a huge discovery within the field of Astrophysics and sometimes doesn’t get the credit it deserves. In fact, most, if not all, people don’t know that the Kuiper Belt exists.
The controversy about Pluto’s status was thrust upon the public with the re-opening of the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan. The director, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made a decision to not include Pluto within its display of the Solar System and classify Pluto for what it is, an icy asteroid. Needless to say, this was not only controversial but his office was flooded with letters from 4th graders asking him why he doesn’t like Pluto. It is true that Dr. Tyson was incredibly influential in the debates about Pluto’s classification because of his status within in the field of Astrophysics, but it was not his decision alone. The scientific community made the conclusion about Pluto’s status was based on overwhelming evidence.
For all of us that are still fourth graders at heart, I know that it is difficult to accept that Pluto is no longer a planet, but we have to come together and agree that this is sadly the case. All you need to do is look at the evidence and past events. It’s part of moving forward, especially when it comes to science. The things one generation may know to be true can just as easily change with coming of the next. So, this ex-fourth grader has decided to grow up and accept the fact that I live within a solar system that has only 8 planets.