More Planet than Pluto

I got to thinking here recently about how Tiger Woods was a lot like Pluto.  There reached a point where there was just too much drama in the news to keep up with, so I eventually stopped caring when I heard the latest bit of gossip about who tried to kill Pluto with a golf club because it had been out diddling around.  Wait, is that backwards? Ah, whatever.  Remember the years of 05 and 06?  You could barely turn around without hearing something salacious about our outer solar buddy.  First Pluto’s reputation never really recovered from the slander about it not actually being the furthest planet away from the Sun because its elliptical orbit brings it closer in than Neptune’s from time to time.  Then, a new celestial object named Eris is discovered in the solar system that is slightly larger than Pluto.  To add insult to injury, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decides to officially define planet (partly in response to the grumbling over the prospect of Eris as our new tenth planet), and figures that Pluto no longer makes the cut.  Hey, that’s all well and good if you were born after 2006, but if I may speak for the rest of us, that was a bit of a shocker.  I’m used to planets staying planets. Talk about a random boon for the textbook industry – you’ve got to replace them now to avoid that awkward side note in Jimmy’s first science class.  So I gave up on Pluto the dwarf-planet and his trans-neptunian fellows and breezed over every passing reference as a matter of unconscious habit.

Given our falling out, I can see now how I missed the announcement in June 2007 that Pluto was no longer even the ninth biggest rock in our solar system.  Eris again shamed the old number nine when the study of the orbit of its moon permitted the calculation of its mass.  While only 8% greater in size than Pluto, Eris weighed in at 27% more massive.  It lives in the scattered disk, at a distance of 96.7 AU.  That’s over three times Pluto’s orbit at its closest to the sun, so astronomers get off the hook for taking forever to find it.

That means that if the IAU had not redefined planet, they would have been forced to include Eris in the solar lineup anyway; equally as awkward for Jimmy, I think.  Now Pluto is relegated to number two in the dwarf-planet top five, which, as far as titles go, is pretty lame.  It’s a far cry from planet, to say the least.  The news for Pluto gets worse.  The harder we search, the more things that look like proto-planets spring up around the vast Kuiper belt.  Lots of new celestial bodies springing up around the belt, huh?  It seems that Tiger and Pluto really do have a lot in common.


~ by Wil Finley on January 21, 2010.

2 Responses to “More Planet than Pluto”

  1. Pluto was always my favorite old school planet. It sounded much cuter and cooler than Uranus. Probably cleaner too.

  2. Uranus… due to lame jokes was changed in the year 3000 to Urectum.

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