"Pluto Huggers" Fight to Renew Planet Status

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Public Outcry

Besides a vocal public outcry about Pluto's demotion, scientists also lamented the decision based on both procedure and scientific integrity.

"A vote saying this is the definition we shall impose on everyone, that kind of gives a bad impression about science," Sykes said in a telephone interview before Thursday's debate.

"I think the IAU did harm to the public understanding of science."

Sykes says that if a nonstellar object is massive enough to be round and orbits a star, it ought to be a planet.

Tyson has less of a problem with the mechanics of the definition—it's the very word planet, which he said has "lost all scientific value."

He noted that a planet can be rocky or gaseous, among a number of other traits.

The word planet "had utility when there wasn't much to talk about when you talked about these wandering bodies. We are in desperate need for a lexicon to accommodate this new knowledge."

New System

Sykes and his camp would like to see a 13-planet system, which includes not only Pluto but its outer solar system companions Eris, Charon, and the newly named Makemake, formerly known as 2005 FY9 or Easterbunny.

Ceres, the largest known object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, would be admitted as the solar system's smallest planet.

Tyson calls for an open-minded system of terms that will be applicable not only to our own solar system, but to the hundreds of so-called planets orbiting other stars.

Three terms: "terrestrials," "asteroids," and "jovials" for gas giants, would be a good start.

He added that he sees no cause for concern for schoolteachers, who must explain more complex categories of astronomical bodies in the classroom.

(Related: "Pluto's Demotion: What Will We Tell the Children?" [August 30, 2006].)

"The last time I saw a third-grader, they'd memorized far more dinosaurs than planets," he said. "Don't worry about that."

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