By Heather Farrell
2006 was a year that changed astronomy–Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet. Scientists and students alike were shocked at the decision made by the International Astronomical Union.
Pluto was discovered in 1930 in Flagstaff, Arizona and was donned the ninth planet in the solar system. It remained a planet until 2006 when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided three criteria points that determine a planet.
IAU said that for something to be a planet it must:
1. orbit the Sun
2. be large enough to be a sphere with its own force of gravity and
3. there should be no other object in its orbit.
Pluto failed the planet test at number three. It became a dwarf planet and “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” had to be changed to “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.”
Astronomers have recently been debating whether the IAU had the right to change the planetary status of Pluto. Harvard astronomer and IAU planet definition committee chairman Owen Gingerich said, “my feeling is that in retrospect, the IAU should not have attempted to define the word ‘planet.’ ”
Gingerich spoke of details from the conference. “People said, ‘This can’t go on. We can’t have this many planets. We’ve got to call them something else,'” Gingerich revealed.
He explained that 424 voters of the 10,000 IAU members were given the chance to rethink Pluto’s status. “They voted not to vote again because they wanted to go to lunch, so that was the end of it,” Gingerich revealed.
The New Horizons spacecraft will be making a trip to Pluto next year. Many people hope it will give off new information about Pluto and provide evidence that Pluto should, in fact, be a planet.
The debate over Pluto is ongoing but there is no official statement saying that Pluto’s planetary status is being re-evaluated.