DAILY RANT Pluto: no longer a planet. Give us back our ninth planet, you planet robbers!!

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1 DAILY RANT Pluto: no longer a planet. Give us back our ninth planet, you planet robbers!! Disney dog is now the only notable object with that name actually Union (IAU). Their meeting in 2006 decided on the today at the downgrading of Pluto (named after the Disney dog * ) to a Dwarf Planet. Pluto has been a planet for as long as we can remember. We've all used mnemonics to learn the planets' names.. Elevensuggested the name to her Granddad over breakfast. He passed on the idea to an astronomer friend. thinking'. We don't want new thinking we want our planet back! Do you think the IAU astronomers came to the most logical conclusion? Interpret the data. Think about it creatively. Then decide! 1

2 1 Study the data cards about nine big objects 2 Decide on in the Solar System: three Put the objects in order of size characteristics that a body Put them in order of discovery date must Put them in order of distance from the Sun have in order Group them by orbital type to qualify as a planet. Group them by type of object Does Pluto have these characteristics? What patterns can you see? What are the differences between planets and dwarf planets? Do you think astronomers will find other dwarf planets? 3 Study the information on page 4 alongside the data cards: How confident are you that the reclassification of Pluto was the most logical action the IAU astronomers could have taken? 2

3 Object: Mercury Time to orbit Sun: 88 days When discovered: 2000 BCE Diameter/km: 4,800 Distance from Sun/AU: 0.4 Orbit and notes: Orbit nearly circular. Has cleared its orbit of Classification: Planet Object: Pluto Time to orbit Sun: 250 years When discovered: 1930 Diameter/km: 2,200 Distance from Sun/AU: 40 Orbit and notes: Orbit inclined to the orbits of other planets. Elliptical (30-50 AU). Crosses orbit of Neptune. Object: Ceres Time to orbit Sun: 4.6 years When discovered: 1801 Diameter/km: 1,000 Distance from Sun/AU: 2-3 (in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter). Orbit and notes: Does not have a clear orbit. Was the largest asteroid. Object: Charon Time to orbit Sun: 250 years (with Pluto) When discovered: 1978 Diameter/km: 1,200 Distance from Sun/AU: 40 Orbit and notes: Orbits as a moon of Pluto. Very big almost Pluto's 'twin'. Classification: Moon of Dwarf Planet (Pluto) Object: Eris Time to orbit Sun: 560 years When discovered: 2003 Diameter/km: 3,000 Distance from Sun/AU: 67 Orbit and notes: Elliptical ( AU). Crosses orbit of Neptune with Pluto. Was called Xena. Object: Sedna Time to orbit Sun: 10,500 years When discovered: 2004 Diameter/km: 1,800 Distance from Sun/AU: 90 at closest Orbit and notes: Very elliptical. Crosses orbits of small solar system bodies. Object: Europa Time to orbit Sun: 11.8 years (with Jupiter) When discovered: 1610 Diameter/km: 3,100 Distance from Sun/AU: 5.0 Orbit and notes: Orbits as a moon of Jupiter Classification: Moon of Planet (Jupiter) Object: Mars Time to orbit Sun: 1.9 years When discovered: When humans first looked at stars. Diameter/km: 6,800 Distance from Sun/AU: 1.5 Orbit and notes: Orbit nearly circular. Has cleared its orbit of Classification: Planet Object: Io Time to orbit Sun: 11.8 years (with Jupiter) When discovered: 1610 Diameter/km: 3,600 Distance from Sun/AU: 5.0 Orbit and notes: Orbits as a moon of Jupiter. Classification: Moon of Planet (Jupiter) 3

4 Why did astronomers question Pluto's status as a planet? Scientists collect data, look for patterns in it and use creative thought to predict how things will behave. New observations, more accurate data and uncertainty about data interpretation got astronomers worried. A group of astronomers campaigned to relegate Pluto. They said it was too small and that its elliptical, tilted orbit made it different from the other 8 planets. Better telescopes show that there are probably many Pluto-like objects orbiting the Sun. One of these, Eris, is bigger than Pluto! Logically, all these bodies would have had to be called planets, too. How can a body quality as a planet? It must be in orbit around the Sun. It must be large enough that it takes on a nearly round shape. It must have cleared its orbit of So what's Pluto now? It's a Dwarf Planet, along with Eris and Ceres. How did they make their decision? In August 2006, 2,500 IAU members voted on the proposal to demote Pluto. Emotional scenes accompanied the announcement of the dramatic result: Pluto is no longer a planet. So why isn't Pluto a planet? Pluto's orbit overlaps Neptune's orbit. So it has not cleared its orbit of Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's mission to Pluto Is everybody happy? I have a slight tear in my eye today but we have to describe the Solar System as it really is, not as we would like it to be. The decision is embarrassing. The criteria amount to sloppy science. Iwan Williams, chair of IAU panel that worked to define the word 'planet' 4

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