Pluto Might Actually Belong to the Planet Club
by Shiraa Noumbissie-Nzefa (Science and Tech Editor)
Planet is a complicated term, isn’t it? Well, it certainly seems so, especially when it concerns that astral body called Pluto. Remember it? Yes, it is indeed the planet that was demoted a few years ago, thus sending our poor, almost highschooler brains into pain and disarray. Well, it is now time to rejoice, friends, for Pluto finally seems to have left the name of “dwarf-planet” in order to retrieve its former glory as a fully-fledged “planet” once more. After all, size shouldn’t have that much of an importance, right?
I am quite sure most, if not all, of us remember that funny little mnemonic we were taught in school to remember all nine planets: “My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas.” And I am also quite sure that most of us were also quite downtrodden to see that sentence changed to “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos” after our dear Pluto’s untimely demotion. That feeling of disappointment wasn’t so much the disappearance of pizzas in favour of nachos, but rather the loss of that planetary underdog we had all learnt to love.
Let’s recapitulate the story of our second-favourite planet together – the first being, of course, Earth – before its name changes once again.
1930 marked the beginning of Pluto’s history with the human species when Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered its existence and added it to the quite select “Planets Club”. It is also then that it received its name “Pluto”, a name that was proposed by an eleven-year-old girl from England in honour of the Greek God of the Underworld (better known as Hades).
However, Pluto’s triumph was short-lived, for in 1977, skeptics emerged when it was discovered that it wasn’t even the largest planet in its orbit.
2006 was a dark year for Pluto, for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) had ruled it unfit to belong in the very select “Planets Club”. At the time, the New York times reported that “in what many [astronomers] described as a triumph of science over sentiment, Pluto was demoted to the status of a “dwarf planet”,” rendering millions of fans across the world heartbroken over Pluto’s demise. Many people are not quite sure how that happened, so here are the layman’s terms: Pluto failed the exam. There were three criteria for Pluto to clear in order for it to remain a planet: to orbit around the sun, to be round (or almost round), and “to have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit”. That third rule is the reason why Pluto was kicked out of the “Planet Club”: it is too small to have the gravitational pull sufficient in order to make astral bodies deviate from their trajectory. This definition sparked a lot of debate, but no conclusive actions had come from it until now.
However, the time has now come for Pluto to rise from its ashes, like a phoenix, once again reborn. All that is thanks to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, who had the wonderful idea of letting experts discuss the issue before letting the audience vote on Pluto’s fate. And guess what? Yes, you guessed right: the audience voted Pluto a planet!
Now, neither the scientific community, nor the IAU are even remotely bound by this vote, as it was conducted by a non-scientific audience, but for Pluto-lovers, it’s a giant leap forward.