Planet Status Apathy

Before I start this post I ask you, dear reader, to read it in its entirety and do not jump to conclusions about my opinion before commenting. This post is about the apparently contentious issue of Pluto. I say contentious because I don't actually know any people in the non-Internet world (astronomers or real people) who really care one way or another about Pluto. They mostly have other worries such as exams, house prices, the reduction of our civil liberties and the price of fish.

This particular post is prompted by Laurele Kornfeld who has commented several times in my Pluto posts over the past year. Laurele appears (unless she is toying with me for her own amusement ;-) to think that I am either partly responsible for the IAU's decision in August 2006 or was in agreement with it. Laurele also thinks that the issue of whether Pluto is or isn't a planet is an issue of elitism and states on her blog that "no one group, no matter how educated, should be given the power to play God in setting boundaries of what is in and what is out".

I am, frankly, very confused as to why people think that the IAU is acting like God. The IAU has not physically done anything to Pluto. Neither has it decreed that people on planet Earth are not allowed to call Pluto a planet. Astronomers and planetary scientists simply don't have that power. The IAU has only defined (and poorly at that) the astronomical definition of planets within our own solar system. The IAU has previously defined that there are 88 constellations and what their official astronomical boundaries are. That decision also changed previously accepted definitions (without much scientific reason) but I don't think it generated the same level of animosity as Pluto has. It was simply a matter of a definition.

The problem here is possibly that some people are confused as to what power the IAU has. The IAU is only a governing body of astronomers/planetary scientists which coordinates efforts and promotes standards. It does not have a Death Star or a Vogon destructor fleet. Even if it did, its aim in this matter is to classify rather than physically remove planets. It doesn't even have the power to change the dictionary or control society in an Orwellian way to make us think that Pluto isn't a planet.

Another issue here is that people worry that somehow Pluto will be treated differently if it isn't a planet. Why should we treat it any differently? I am fairly confident that planetary scientists are not stupid people. I think we should allow for the fact that they may be sensible people who do not blindly follow strict rules about what objects they can and can't think about. After all, isn't it planetary scientists who look at asteroids and comets? Other than some people wanting to be offended, I don't think the decision should matter to any of us.

I would like to point out that, at the time of the debate, I wanted Pluto to remain a planet.

I say "at the time" because my attachment to that position has been

greatly soured by the attitude of many people online - such as Laurele

- who act as if this was the end of a world. It isn't. Pluto is still

Pluto and it doesn't matter what any of us say. Due to the pestering comments I've been getting on my blog, I am no longer inclined towards Pluto being a planet. I'm not against Pluto being a planet either. Pluto's status is not of importance to me; I accept Pluto for what it is.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 05th Sep 2007 (11:23 BST) | Permalink
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