Share this article:
As you may or may not know, Pluto is not considered a planet, officially anyways, as of 2006. Mike Brown, the author of "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming" released in December 2010, talked with Earthsky.org about this subject.
First, a little background on Mr. Brown. He is the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. He specializes in the discovery and study of bodies at the edge of the solar system. He is perhaps best known for his discovery of Eris, the largest object found in the solar system in 150 years, which is the object which led to the debate and eventual demotion of Pluto from a real planet to a dwarf planet.
The first question that pops up in my head is why bother to "demote" Pluto? Mike points out "there are very few people in the astronomical community who think that there’s any reason whatsoever to revisit what planets are." After he discovered Eris in 2005, there "was the realization that Pluto is not this unique object in the solar system, in the way that the eight planets are. It’s really part of this whole field of debris."
The fact that Pluto was really not more of a planet than Eris caused a dilemma as people began to ask do we name another (10th) planet? Do we drop Pluto as a planet? Mr. Brown explains the reasoning why we went with 8 planets instead of 10. "The real deal of the solar system is that Jupiter is huge compared to anything else out there. The Earth is much, much smaller than Jupiter. And Pluto is even tinier still. It’s half the size of our own moon. Getting people to see that correct impression of the solar system, the real solar system instead of the cartoon solar system, I think is an incredibly important part of astronomers trying to educate the public."
So the decision was made that a planet that is half the size of our own Moon just did not make sense, and images of our solar system that the public, generally in grade school, are shown are grossly incorrect as they portray Pluto as relativately comparable to Jupiter. Yes, I know we still have the solar system diagrammed to our children where the Earth's image is also nearly equal to Jupiter's and that is also incorrect, but we have a saying here at AccuWeather, "you need to draw the line somewhere." That line was drawn at Pluto.
To finish, let me share this quote from Mr. Brown. "I’d say the most important thing to know about Pluto is that in the scale of the solar system, it is insignificant debris. And I say that fondly. The eight planets dominate everything that goes on. Pluto and all the other things like Pluto are simply dominated by these eight planets. They’re kicked around. They’re on these crazy elliptical orbits, and tilted orbits, whereas the planets are on these nice, stately orderly orbits on the inside. Pluto is not this special planetary-class object out past Neptune. Pluto is just one of many, many things like it. In the grand scale of the solar system, it’s just a little speck of debris."
Many, many thanks to my favorite astronomy website earthsky.org. Please go to their site often and support the great work they are doing. Mike Brown's quotes came from an article written on Feb. 21 titled "Mike Brown explains why he killed Pluto" written by EarthSky’s Jorge Salazar. The article in its entirety can be found by clicking here.
Also, please join the brand new AccuWeather Astronomy fanpage by clicking here. You can leave your comments there as well and be part of a discussion on this or any other astronomy subject.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
The next total solar eclipse in the United States is on April 8, 2024 and may be more impressive than last year's Great American Eclipse.
Aurora season is just beginning. Auroras will become more likely as we head toward fall. The moon will be near Saturn and Mars this week. Check out some of my Perseid shots.