Most people by now are familiar with an outfit by the name of the International Astronomical Union which proposed this week that we expand the definition of the word “planet” to encompass things other than the traditional list of planets everyone memorized in grade school. (That is, the ones that actually paid attention.)
If this proposal is accepted, we’ll gain at least three more planets: a large asteroid between Mars and Jupiter by the name of Ceres, Pluto’s ‘moon’, Charon, and a rock out in the boonies of the solar system by the name of UB313, which sounds more like the name of a reggae band out of England than the name of an actual planet.
The problem with this is that the universe is a big place – we’ve only seen a fraction of what’s out there, and that’s just in our immediate neighborhood. If we lower the bar of what can be called a planet, there could potentially be hundreds of undiscovered planets out there. As it stands now, we already know of at least a dozen.
Funny thing is, there’s one thing out there that’s screwing up this whole equation: Pluto. If Pluto is defined as an actual honest-to-god, according-to-Hoyle planet, then we have to let all these other loser asteroids in, too. But, if we decide to drop Pluto, we can just go ahead and define every tiny floating ball of rock outside of Uranus as what they are: tiny floating balls of rock. It’s nice to know they are all out there, but they’re certainly not something we should trouble our fifth-grade textbooks with.
It’s time to drop Pluto. I realize it was discovered by a Kansan and I understand there’s a Disney character named after it, but this is Science we’re talking about. And the beauty of science is that definitions last only as long as they apply – as we learn more about something, we can reevaluate our positions on it and change our minds. Disease isn’t caused by an overbalance of humors, they’re caused by bacteria and viruses. The sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, we revolve around the sun.
And Pluto – and any other ball of rock out there in the boonies – isn’t a planet. It’s a Pretender.