Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pluto Day in Illinois: It's a Planet Again!

Illinois politicians seem to constantly be reinventing themselves this year and now they've gone from goofy to Pluto. The Illinois General Assembly recently issued the following resolution that:

"as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies, that it be reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930."
(via Discovery Magazine)

I think this is really going to turn things around for the little guy. We can only hope that the other 49 state assemblies will be brave enough to follow in Illinois' heroic footsteps and pass a similar resolution. Who cares about the economy? We've got a planet to reinstate!

The best part of all this is the fact that--in Illinois, at least--Pluto Day and Pi Day will give us the first recorded instance of back-to-back nerd holidays. How will you celebrate?

1 comment:

Laurel Kornfeld said...

The Illinois legislature has way more sense than the International Astronomical Union has shown in two-and-a-half years. It’s the IAU who have acted like idiots, with one tiny group forcing a nonsensical planet definition on everyone. The truth is there is NO scientific consensus that Pluto is not a planet. The criterion requiring that a planet “clear the neighborhood of its orbit” is not only controversial; it’s so vague as to be meaningless. Only four percent of the IAU even voted on this, and the vote was driven by internal politics. A small group, most of whom are not planetary scientists, wanted to arbitrarily limit the number of planets to only the largest bodies in the solar system. They held their vote on the last day of a two-week conference with no absentee voting allowed. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto.
Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader definition of planet that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is key because when objects become large enough, they are shaped by gravity, which pulls them into a round shape, rather than by chemical bonds. This is true of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and comets. And yes, it does make Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake planets as well, for a total of 13 planets in our solar system.
Even now, many astronomers and lay people are working to overturn the IAU demotion or are ignoring it altogether. Kudos to the Illinois Senate for standing up to this closed, out of touch organization whose leadership thinks they can just issue a decree and change reality.

Celebrate by emailing the IAU and its president Catherine Cesarsky, asking them to reopen the planet debate issue at this year's General Assembly in August. You can find the contact information at