Astronomers Give Pluto the Boot as Planet
By WILLIAM J. KOLE, AP
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (Aug. 25) – Pluto, beloved by some as a cosmic underdog but scorned by astronomers who considered it too dinky and distant, was unceremoniously stripped of its status as a planet Thursday.
The International Astronomical Union, dramatically reversing course just a week after floating the idea of reaffirming Pluto’s planethood and adding three new planets to Earth’s neighborhood, downgraded the ninth rock from the sun in historic new galactic guidelines.
Powerful new telescopes, experts said, are changing the way they size up the mysteries of the solar system and beyond. But the scientists showed a soft side, waving plush toys of the Walt Disney character – and insisting that Pluto’s spirit will live on in the exciting discoveries yet to come.
“The word ‘planet’ and the idea of planets can be emotional because they’re something we learn as children,” said Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who helped hammer out the new definition.
“This is really all about science, which is all about getting new facts,” he said. “Science has marched on. … Many more Plutos wait to be discovered.”
Pluto, a planet since 1930, got the boot because it didn’t meet the new rules, which say a planet not only must orbit the sun and be large enough to assume a nearly round shape, but must “clear the neighborhood around its orbit.” That disqualifies Pluto, whose oblong orbit overlaps Neptune’s, downsizing the solar system to eight planets from the traditional nine.
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