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Someone posted this to my facebook wall, I sighed heavily:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center debate comes to conclusion that Pluto IS a planet

Basically a bunch of people got together because they're STILL mad that Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. They held a debate. One guy said "Well I think round things that orbit our sun are planets! So Pluto is a planet!" The people there voted and decided they liked his definition and then said that Pluto is a planet again, just like Earth and Jupiter.

The obvious problem with that is that the "round things" definition means that there could now be now hundreds of "planets" in our solar system. In fact that's why Pluto was reclassified in the first place - we discovered new objects that were a lot like Pluto, even bigger than Pluto. I've written about this before and it still frustrates me.

Overland Park Kansas even just opened a brand new natural history museum with a solar system painted on the wall of the kids area, showing eight planets plus pluto. They did not show Eris, Ceres, or any other dwarf planets. When I asked them about this, they said that they wanted to show the view of the solar system that "people grew up with and felt comfortable seeing". so apparently my kids also have to grow up with whatever you grew up with? is that what we want to teach kids about how science works?

I didn't blog about this when I first visited because I was honestly just so ashamed to have Overland Park contribute to the running joke that is science in Kansas. I thought things were better there.

But what the hell.

One of the great things that Bill Nye said in his debate with the creationists was that if they could show him evidence that they were right, he would change his mind. And that's where most people said he won the debate. Because he was willing to change, he showed that his opinions were not based on dogma, they were built on discovery. An amazing thing about science is that we get to reclassify things based on new things we learn.

If you feel sentimental about pluto, why not feel sentimental about science instead, and how beautiful it is that we can change our views based on the new wonderful things we find every day?



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 4th, 2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
YES YES AND ALSO YES. I was about to rant (I went to Harvard dammit they were supposed to be better than this) but you said everything I was thinking and more.
Oct. 4th, 2014 09:50 pm (UTC)
The obvious problem with that is that the "round things" definition means that there could now be now hundreds of "planets" in our solar system.

I don't disagree with your general point - that Pluto should be classified with Ceres et al - but why would it be a "problem" if there were hundreds of planets in our solar system?
Oct. 4th, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Well, I get the idea that the goal of "team pluto" is to go back in time to 2006 when we had exactly nine planets in the solar system, starting with mercury and ending with pluto, with cute mnemonics about who "served us nine pizzas". Having 100s of planets does not satisfy their goal. They want nine of something. So really it's their problem, not mine.
Oct. 5th, 2014 12:37 am (UTC)
Ah, fair enough.
Oct. 7th, 2014 01:25 am (UTC)
I've never understood why they can't just serve us "naan" or "noodles".
Oct. 5th, 2014 02:07 am (UTC)
I don't have an issue with having lots of planets, but there's more than just the "we found more" argument to be had here. It's really about celestial dynamics, and the fact that Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Sedna, Quaoar, etc have not cleared their orbits.

When I teach planetary science section of my class, I lump a lot of things in with the "planets" from a geology perspective -- including moons like Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto and Titan (and lately Enceladus). But they are not planets; they are moons dynamically even though some of their geologic processes are similar.

Thus Pluto (et al.) are also not planets because while they share some geologic features (such the things being big enough to be round tends to cause such as differentiation), they are not dynamically the same as the major planets.

Already I am not seeing a lot of pushback from the students (some but not much); this discussion happened while they were in middle school (soon it will be from their elementary days).
Oct. 5th, 2014 02:05 pm (UTC)
I want Makemake to be the ninth planet just because I like its name.

Edited at 2014-10-05 02:05 pm (UTC)
Oct. 6th, 2014 01:35 pm (UTC)
Honestly, I do feel sentimental about Pluto, for a bunch of reasons. I can't help how I feel, just what I do with those feelings. What I chose to do with those feelings is to say: Pluto isn't gone, it's still there, just not a planet and that's ok with me because I am a scientist and it would be totally hypocritical of me to expect people to change their minds based on evidence I may present, but not to change my mind based on evidence other people do. So long live Pluto, however it is classified. Classification is essentially just a title after all.
Oct. 8th, 2014 02:54 am (UTC)
I am totally excited about the New Horizons mission to Pluto, for sure! We'll find out all kinds of cool stuff!

And also your post makes me think Pluto needs to hold a sign saying: Down with Labels! Don't put me in a box!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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