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Erase your memory;
Pluto's been dwarfed

Posted Sept. 15. 2006

Yelena Ovcharenko
LV Life Editor

It is done and will be erased from our classrooms forever. Its title will be stripped from every poster and scratched out from every textbook. Pluto has been demoted. It is no longer a classic planet.

The group of astronomers known as the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto should be demoted from the family of the classic planets to a “dwarf planet.”

Seventy-six years ago there was no controversy in naming Pluto a planet.

No one knew the size of Pluto and some thought that it was the size of the Earth.

But as technology advanced and scientists became more aware of the cosmos above, questions began to arise.

First branded as Planet X, Pluto left scientists probing and searching.

They discovered that the outermost planets were being tugged by the gravity of another object, but then realized that Pluto was too small to have that effect and that they miscalculated the masses of Uranus and Neptune.

In other words, Pluto just happened to be at the right place and time to be discovered.

All went well until Xena was discovered in 2003: A ball of mass that was 5 percent bigger than Pluto.

 Scientists began to ask whether Xena should be called the 10th planet or if there are other objects that are much larger in the Kuiper Belt, where both Pluto and Xena are located.

Scientists decided to refine their definition of a Planet.

Unfortunately, Pluto did not make the cut.

Pluto has been a member of the classic planets for 76 years. It is almost 40 times the distance from Earth to the sun and is about 1,400 miles in diameter, the distance from Boston to Tulsa. At its discovery, it was barely seen by telescopes on Earth, and was unknown to ancient astronomers.

Clyde Tombaugh, a farm boy from Kansas, discovered Pluto, the ninth planet, in 1930.

If he were alive today, he would have been disappointed that his discovery was inaccurate.

The diligent astronomer, Tombough, died in 1997 and was cremated. His ashes were blasted into space on the New Horizons space probe, making him a part of what he loved most.

Even though I will miss calling Pluto a planet, and will mistakenly on occasion refer to its original name, I think some are taking this disappointment too far.

In August, Assemblyman Keith Richman penned a resolution that would condemn the International Astronomical Union for stripping Pluto of its planetary status.

Surprisingly, he was able to recruit 50 co-authors from the assembly.

The resolution claimed that Pluto’s demotion meant that assemblymen would have fewer planets to hide their inconvenient political reform measures on.

It also stated that this decision puts a burden on schools and publishing companies that are left responsible to reprint millions of textbooks in order to teach accurate information.

I will miss Pluto deeply because its former status has been ingrained in my mind since second grade. But I comfort myself knowing that it is still out there and that it has served well for many years as one of the classic nine.

Yelena Ovcharenko, a senior journalism major, is life editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at