Pluto a Planet Again -- On Friday the 13th, in Illinois

Victoria Jaggard
National Geographic News
March 11, 2009

It took about three minutes for members of the Illinois state senate to make the unanimous vote: "that March 13, 2009, be declared 'Pluto Day' in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930."

Quietly adopted on February 26, the state resolution is meant to honor Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, who was born and raised in the farming village of Streator.

"This is one of those things that the village is very proud of," said Illinois State Senator Gary Dahl, who sponsored the resolution.

"I don't think we are changing the status of the planet. We're simply asking that March 13 be declared Pluto Day and that, for the day, Pluto is a planet."

National Pride

Despite these seemingly humble intentions, the bill has reignited heated debate over what exactly a planet is.

"Go, Illinois!" said planetary scientist Alan Stern, principle investigator for NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.

"I think it's wonderful, in the sense that, as an American, I'm proud that Clyde Tombaugh made one of the biggest finds in 20th-century astronomy."

Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, agreed that Tombaugh deserves accolades.

"I am amazed at what he did," Brown said.

Even with advanced computers and larger telescopes, "it took 77 years until we found something bigger than he did"—the distant object now called Eris, which Brown discovered in 2005.

Still, Brown calls the Illinois resolution "very silly," noting that such legislation can be dangerous to public understanding of science.

Continued on Next Page >>




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