Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Look at what my daughter pulled out of a cereal box the other day:

Yes, Pluto. Thankfully she gave it to me. It is a great addition to my office.

Pluto has been getting a bad rap since the IAU demoted it from planet to a dwarf planet. It still is a pretty interesting place. If you are interested you should read 10 Things You Don't Know About Pluto from the Bad Astronomy Blog.

If you want to learn more about the world that helped to demote Pluto, you should visit Mike Brown's website on Eris.

Just a couple of weeks after the IAU made their big vote in 2006, Tom Jarrett was observing on the 200-inch Hale Telescope when he photographed Pluto (arrowed) next to a trio of stars that strongly resembles a certain mouse that Pluto the cartoon character is associated with. Coincidence?
For anyone who is looking to learn more about the mythical "Planet X", I strongly recommend this resource.

By the way, today is my 6th anniversary of working here at Palomar Observatory. It has been a good ride so far. I am honored to be here and look forward to continuing to expand our public outreach programs.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

The controversial demotion of Pluto was done by only four percent of the IAU, most of whom are not planetary scientists, and it was immediately opposed by a petition of hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. This is very much still an ongoing debate, and readers deserve to know both sides. Since you're providing a link to Brown's site, and Brown is strongly partisan in his belief that Pluto should not be classed as a planet, you should also present links to the other side. One of those is my Pluto blog, to which I invite all, which states the reasons why Pluto is in fact a planet and chronicles efforts around the world to overturn the demotion. You can find my blog at http://laurele.livejournal.com

Scott Kardel said...

Thanks for your comment and the link to your blog Laurel.

Don't feel that I have taken an official stand on the the Pluto issue. I am personally very much torn on it. Please note that I put a link to Mike Brown's page about Eris because his discovery of Eris was made here at Palomar.

Edward said...

Congratulations on your six years of service. Your ongoing work with public outreach has touched thousands of people. As one of them, I say a sincere Thank you for all that you do.

Hoping that you have at least another six years to see all of your projects through. Should be an exciting time.

Anonymous said...

Pluto is NOT a main planet.

It is smaller than the Moon.

It has a very eccentric orbit compared to the 8 true main planets.

There are several KBOs bigger and almost as big as Pluto, and no doubt many more waiting to be found.

Pluto was only made a planet because it was discovered in 1930, not 1992 when the first KBO was recognized.

Get over it and find something better to do with your time than waste it on a distant iceball you will never visit or can even show people in the night sky.

And I mean that in the nicest way.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Anonymous, there can be multiple subcategories of planets. I have no problem with calling Pluto a dwarf planet as long as dwarf planets are made a subclass of the broader term planet, which the current IAU resolution precludes.

There is actually only one known Kuiper Belt Object larger than Pluto, and that is Eris. As for size, the only determinant should be that if the object is large enough to be pulled into a round shape by its own gravity, a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium and characteristic of planets, not asteroids and shapeless KBOs, it qualifies as a planet.

Eccentric orbits do not preclude objects from being planets either. Mercury has a somewhat eccentric orbit, and many large exoplanets recently discovered have orbits far more eccentric than Pluto.

You can do whatever you want with your life, but I'm not "getting over it" just because you think I should. I don't tell you how to live your life, and I expect the same courtesy in return. Pluto is important to me, and I choose to fight for its planetary reinstatement.

To Scott Kardel: I'm happy to hear you're open to both sides of this ongoing debate. Interestingly, Dr. David Rabinowitz, who co-discovered Eris, Haumea, and Makemake with Mike Brown and Chad Trujillo, disagrees with Brown. He signed Stern's petition rejecting the IAU decision.

Anonymous said...

That is right, you can do whatever you want with your life as an American.

And I will continue to say that Pluto is NOT a main/major planet, as is also my right.

And I hate the term dwarf planet.

It is a KBO, a glorified comet, along with the rest of its kind.

And Happy 6 Years, Scott! You have done an excellent, excellent job with this site and may you have many more.

Anonymous said...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pluto fizzled at IAU's Rio meeting

The IAU's Rio meeting never discussed the sensitive issue of Pluto's status.

"Pluto still not a planet after astronomy meeting"

by Dan Vergano

August 13, 2009

USA Today

An international astronomy meeting ended Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, and Pluto is still not a planet. The closing ceremonies of the 2009 International Astronomical Union (IAU) concluded with nary a peep about the planetary brouhaha that saw walk-outs and table-banging three years ago at the venerable astronomer's assembly, in Prague.

"None of that stuff at all came up," said IAU spokesman Lars Lindberg Christensen, speaking from a taxi speeding away from the meeting for one of Rio's restaurants. "I believe people still disagree, but the focus was really on science at the meeting."

In 2006, the IAU meeting assembly demoted Pluto into a "dwarf planet" (sometimes called a "plutoid") because it has failed to have "cleared the neighborhood around its orbit," in the words of the assembly's resolution. Pluto only weighs 0.07 as much as the rest of the objects in its orbit, which includes "Kuiper Belt" comets and Neptune, an ice giant planet. Earth, in contrast, weighs 1.7 million times more than the remaining objects in its orbit, asteroids and the moon, making it a planet, according to the just-released Pluto Confidential: An Insider Account of the Ongoing Battles Over the Status of Pluto, by astronomers Steve Maran and Laurence Marschall.

The two authors split on whether Pluto is a planet, with Maran arguing for the demoted world. "Pluto is still the people's planet and, if anything, more popular as an underdog than ever before," Maran writes.

Full article (and cartoon) here:


Pluto is "the people's planet"? Uh oh, maybe socialism is rising in America.

Clearly "the people" don't quite realize what and where Pluto is exactly, otherwise they would
probably prefer something much bigger and prettier, like Saturn.

When science starts being determined by popular vote, then all of society is in trouble.

Heidi said...

This is so off the obviously serious subject- but I was looking for another one of these little Plutos. I gave this to my kitten for a toy- she sleeps with it, plays fetch, and runs around carrying it in her mouth (thus the reason she needs a new one- it's a disaster now)! Anyways, I am glad to see that someone else has found a good use for little Pluto! :)