Shut Up About Pluto

Seriously—be quiet. Your weird loyalty to a frozen wasteland the size of Texarkana is annoying.

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  1. In 2006, Pluto, formerly the ninth planet in our planetary system was reclassified as a "dwarf planet." With the 2005 discovery of Eris, another plutoid, which is indeed more massive than Pluto (not larger), this seemed reasonable. Yet, somehow, this upset people. Scientists, even.
  2. A farce? Not specific? The current definition of planet is far more specific, at least, than the last definition, which was "it just is, okay."
  3. "Pluto, now considered a dwarf planet, is actually smaller than seven of the solar system's moons. While its classification may be accurate, do you miss Pluto’s place as the ninth planet in the solar system? (Courtesy of Flight 33 Productions LLC)"
    History 2's The Universe Facebook fan page—2 May 2012
  4. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Moan. Whinge. "Not having Pluto under it's original classification has literally ruined my life." Seriously, if I loved my own mother with the ardor these nostalgia-loving hipsters have for Pluto (and supported literally anything that wasn't directly related to some kind of cosmetic nominalism), then the world would be a better place, and also I wouldn't be paying for college. 
  5. Okay, so why "dwarf planet?" What does that mean? How many things are in the solar system? Is Pluto sad now?

    I promise I will answer every single question you have. I do not, however, guarantee satisfaction. I've learned not to do that. I seriously cannot handle that pressure.

    First thing's first. Is Pluto sad?
  6. Damn straight, Jeroen. Also, Pluto is not sad. Pluto does not have feelings. And if it did, it would have a lot more to be sad about than being reclassified.

    For instance, Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh. So, before that, not a soul even knew Pluto existed. It was like middle school. Worse still, Tombaugh was looking for the fabled "Planet X," which had been postulated to explain discrepancies in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. The discrepancies lay in the miscalculated mass of Neptune at the time, but a careful search of the sky revealed Pluto, which was most certainly too small to make a difference. So, Pluto's discovery was not only accidental, but a complete disappointment.

    Allow me to illustrate why this is not a problem for Pluto:

    [The far reaches of the planetary system "Solar System," in the Orion Arm of Milky Way, famous for its yellow "Sun," carbon-based life and hoagies. Enter PLUTO and JACKSON.]
    Jackson: Pluto, you were an accident and a disappointment. How do you feel?
    Pluto: I feel more or less unaffected because I am at least 100% space-rock. Did you know that I have four satellites—Charon, the largest, Nix, Hydra and S/2011 P 1?
    Jackson: No, I did not. That was informative. Thank you.
    [Scene.]
  7. "If pluto isn't a planet. Then midgets aren't people." - @OhMrWonka (Condescending Wonka), Twitter—1 May 2012.
    Sound logic.
  8. If Pluto is not a planet, then Saturn and Jupiter should be considered protostars, don't you think?
  9. "If Pluto is not a planet, then Saturn and Jupiter should be considered protostars, don't you think?" Noam Winter, Facebook—2 May 2012

    No, I don't. I have an incredible feeling that that's not how that works. I saw your profile. You work at Verizon. I do not trust your science.

    So, how many things are there in our star system? The answer is one cubic ass-load (sciencey-term). Far beyond Neptune and Uranus lies the unseen Oort Cloud, an enormous debris field that marks the exact end of the Sun's gravitational control, roughly one light year out. But, before that, there's the Kuiper belt (rhymes with "viper"). It's much larger than the asteroid belt and filled with all kinds of things.
  10. The 2005 discovery of dwarf planet Eris and its moon Dysnomia, which orbit roughly three times farther from the Sun than Pluto (the farthest known natural objects orbiting the Sun), yet is 27% more massive, necessitated a more accurate classification and naming system, should more discoveries (likely) from the (incredibly dense) Kuiper belt follow.
  11. "A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), is a celestial body in direct orbit of theSun[1] that is massive enough that its shape is controlled by gravitational rather than mechanical forces (and thus anellipsoid in shape), but has not cleared its neighboring region of other objects.[2][3] More explicitly, it is a planetary-mass object—having sufficient mass to overcome its compressive strength and achieve hydrostatic equilibrium—but not a satellite."

    Whatever, nerds. In English:

    The definition of a Solar planet changed in 2006 to mean something that
    1. orbits the Sun (seems obvious)
    2. has sufficient mass to become planet shaped (again, seems obvious), and
    3. has "cleared the neighborhood."

    That basically means the object in question is the dominant gravitational force in that space. Pluto is not.

    And, as sad as some of you people seem to think that is, it's so not the first time this exact situation has happened. Must you all neglect Ceres?
  12. In 1772, a planet between Mars and Jupiter was postulated because—and this is pretty good reasoning, actually—there is a lot of space there. In 1800, a team of 24 European astronomers were tasked with finding Ceres. What they actually found were asteroids. Just an unbelievable amount of asteroids. Which were called at the time (I'm assuming) "things."

    The term asteroid was later coined in 1802 to describe objects that appeared to be tiny stars, even through telescopes, but were evident to be otherwise, and was used also to label Ceres (discovered in 1801; they were so close!—if only those guys had looked one year later . . . just one year), and, well, the asteroids. Fortunately, Ceres enjoyed a mild "planetary association" for about half a century after the fact. And, though the 2006 International Astronomical Union classification labeled it a "dwarf planet," given that the term "asteroid" remains relatively undefined, Ceres is, technically, still an asteroid. Though it is the largest one. So that's one feather in its cap.
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