Justice for Pluto

By Alison Butz

A significant part of my childhood was my father, who had a sort of fascination with all things space-related. Therefore, young me was also intrigued and wanted to learn everything I could in order to impress him. I even had my own posters of space, courtesy of my dad; my most treasured poster was a signed copy of the first men on the moon.

One day in elementary school learning about the Solar System, we were told that — what I had known prior to that lesson — was suddenly incorrect.

 I can vividly remember Pluto still being considered a planet in the textbooks that were nearly ten years old. The teacher said Pluto was not a planet, but the textbook said it was. From that point forward, I vowed to hate science class because of how confusing it was.

On Aug. 24, 2006 — or 17 years ago — Pluto was officially renamed as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union. Specifically, the IAU had redefined the term “planet” in such a way that Pluto would no longer be considered. 

This definition describes a planet as something that is in orbit around the Sun, be nearly or even perfectly round, and has a clear path in its orbit. This would mean that the Solar System would hereby be made of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto moved into the dwarf planet category among what could be hundreds—even thousands of others—that we may not even know about yet.

Pluto has only met two of the three requirements to be considered a planet with the only thing that stands in its way is it not having a clear orbit. This basically means Pluto’s orbit is still quite messy and would be theoretically hitting things that are pulled into its gravity.

A fun fact about Pluto is that it was named on May 1, 1930. It was named after who the Romans considered as the God of Death, because it was the furthest away from the Sun, therefore making it the coldest.

One new thing I learned while reading more about Pluto is that it was spotted at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona in 1930. In this era, planet hunting was a big craze, and every scientist wanted to discover a new planet to add to the collection of planets.

However, this discovery was not the first occurrence, with at least 16 other Pluto-spottings before it was named and registered.

For the remainder of that school year, I sat in my assigned seat just staring at the poster of the Solar System that still had Pluto on it. It wasn’t until maybe two years later that the poster was removed and replaced. 

To this day I try to keep myself in the loop about space in a way to keep my childish curiosity alive. I’ve even tried learning all about horoscopes but I haven’t had much luck keeping up with it.

You could, in a way, blame this on the disinterest I had in all things science after my childhood declaration of hating science class.