Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Paul Dellinger writes in The Roanoke Times, "The International Astronomical Union did more than demote Pluto from the planetary status it had held for the past 76 years."

He says, "It exonerated a piece of classical music by Gustav Holtz, called into question the veracity of the U.S. Postal Service and instantly transformed all kinds of science-fiction stories into alternate-history tales."

When the world's astronomers met in Prague last week, they passed a measure that limits the definition of "planet" in a way that excludes Pluto. From now on, only (1) a spherical object that is (2) circling the sun and that has (3) "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit" by sweeping up all stray objects with its gravitational pull can properly be called a planet.

Tiny Pluto does not meet the last criterion according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dellinger states, "In stories of interplanetary exploration, Pluto was always the last planet, the border of the solar system, the sun's last outpost, and not only in science-fiction stories. Even the U.S. Post Office thought so. When it issued its "nine planets" stamps in 1991, the caption for No. 9 was "Pluto -- not yet explored."

"Robert Staehle, one of the scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on hand for the unveiling of the new stamps, took that caption as a challenge and ended up as project manager for what was called the Pluto Express -- a planned quick and cheap mission to the ninth planet," reports Dellinger.

"That mission got put on hold in 2000, but eventually morphed into New Horizons, which launched Jan. 19 and is scheduled for its closest approach to Pluto in June 2015."

"Although Pluto was a planet when the spacecraft blasted off, it will no longer be one when it arrives."

To read his entire article, click here.
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posted by Don Schilling at 12:01 AM