Azara Blog: American astronomers want Pluto to be a planet

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Date published: 2006/08/25

The BBC says:

A fierce backlash has begun against the decision by astronomers to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.

On Thursday, experts approved a definition of a planet that demoted Pluto to a lesser category of object.

But the lead scientist on Nasa's robotic mission to Pluto has lambasted the ruling, calling it "embarrassing".

And the chair of the committee set up to oversee agreement on a definition implied that the vote had effectively been "hijacked".

The vote took place at the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) 10-day General Assembly in Prague. The IAU has been the official naming body for astronomy since 1919.

Only 424 astronomers who remained in Prague for the last day of the meeting took part.

An initial proposal by the IAU to add three new planets to the Solar System - the asteroid Ceres, Pluto's moon Charon and the distant world known as 2003 UB313 - met with considerable opposition at the meeting. Days of heated debate followed during which four separate proposals were tabled.

Eventually, the scientists adopted historic guidelines that see Pluto relegated to a secondary category of "dwarf planets".
...
Owen Gingerich chaired the IAU's planet definition committee and helped draft an initial proposal raising the number of planets from nine to 12.

The Harvard professor emeritus blamed the outcome in large part on a "revolt" by dynamicists - astronomers who study the motion and gravitational effects of celestial objects.

"In our initial proposal we took the definition of a planet that the planetary geologists would like. The dynamicists felt terribly insulted that we had not consulted with them to get their views. Somehow, there were enough of them to raise a big hue and cry," Professor Gingerich said.

"Their revolt raised enough of a fuss to destroy the scientific integrity and subtlety of the [earlier] resolution."

He added: "There were 2,700 astronomers in Prague during that 10-day period. But only 10% of them voted this afternoon. Those who disagreed and were determined to block the other resolution showed up in larger numbers than those who felt 'oh well, this is just one of those things the IAU is working on'."

Boy, the astronomers of the world are becoming more and more of a laughing stock. The main body of astronomers who seem to be upset with Pluto not being a planet happen to be American, and of course Pluto was the one and only planet (as it was) discovered by an American. Perhaps this is not a complete coincidence.

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