Guess what’s back in the news. It’s Pluto, that once proud planet relegated like West Bromwich Albion or Stoke City to a dwarf planet 12 years ago.
Well, you can’t keep a tiny non-planet orbiting the sun billions of miles away down for long. Heck, 12 years is nothing to Pluto. Its orbit around the sun takes 248 years. That’s a little more than a week in Earth time.
If Earth’s status as a planet was taken away for a week or two, then depending on what else was going on in the news we would hardly notice. With some of the people Trump has running things, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, it might have already happened.
To refresh everyone’s memory on Pluto, back in 2006 a group calling itself the International Astronomical Union (Local 458) set about to create a list of criteria on what makes a planet a planet.
Then they applied this criteria to the nine planets we’ve known and loved for years. Planets that at one time or another in our school careers we depicted using various-sized Styrofoam balls attached to coat hangers in a vain attempt to make a solar system mobile.
What the IAU found after applying their new criteria was that, surprise, Pluto did not meet their just-made-up requirements for a planet.
Does this seem fishy to you? This group knew going in what the nine planets were and their characteristics. Yet they developed a set of rules that seemed specifically designed to exclude just one of these planets?
It was a rigged system. Pluto never had a chance. The IAU might just as well have made up a rule saying it can’t be a planet if the name begins with a P.
The basic rules that the IAU came up with stated that to be considered a planet a celestial body must orbit the sun, be roundish in shape, and “clears the neighborhood” near it.
I guess it’s this last rule that sunk Pluto. Being on the smaller side, Pluto doesn’t clear the neighborhood. In other words, it’s not big enough to push other objects out of its way.
That’s being size-ist.
The trouble is no one has ever used that criteria about neighborhood clearing when defining a planet, according to a research study that challenges Pluto’s demotion.
The IAU took this single aspect that makes Pluto different and decided to include it as a major criteria of planethood, knowing full well that Pluto could not meet it.
To do this, someone must harbor a serious grudge against Pluto. Although, I’m not sure how one gets into a grudge match with a planet. Perhaps the Styrofoam Pluto fell off their Solar System mobile on the way to school and they spent the entire science period arguing with the teacher that there are only eight planets.
Then, when they received a D- on the project because everyone knows there are nine planets, this person vowed to one day prove everyone wrong.
A couple years ago I would have thought that scenario to be crazy and far-fetched. Imagine, someone with a childish grudge seeking revenge by making sure all those who ever slighted them paid.
Then Trump became president.
Now it seems the most likely reason why Pluto was stripped of its planethood: Because of someone’s decades long beef.
The good news is that we don’t have to live with this decision forever. Changes can be made.
Lee lives in Medway. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.