Say IAU Decision Doesn't Represent Entire
The demotion of lowly Pluto from planetary status has ignited a
firestorm of controversy in academic and astronomical circles...
including, understandably, from friends and colleagues of the late
Clyde Tombaugh... who discovered Pluto in 1930.
The Associated Press reports about 50 New Mexico State students
and faculty turned out Friday in Las Cruces for a good-natured
protest of the International Astronomical Union's week-old decision
to strip the ninth rock from the sun of its "classic" planetary
title -- relagating it to mere "dwarf" planet status.
(right) worked at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ when he
discovered Pluto. He came to Las Cruces in 1955 -- founding the
school's research astronomy department. Among those wearing
t-shirts and carrying signs Friday reading "Protest for Pluto" and
"Size Doesn't Matter" was Tombaugh's widow, Patricia, and their son
Also attending was NMSU astronomer Bernie McNamara... who says
the debate over Pluto is not over yet.
"This was not a statement by the astronomical community at
large," McNamara said, adding the August 24 IAU vote
represented only about 400 of the union's thousands of members --
only those who could make it to the conference in Prague.
More representative of the true feeling of astronomers
worldwide, he said, is a petition now circulating among that
Others note Tombaugh was a groundbreaking astronomer -- as it
took 60 years before much stronger telescopes could locate another
object with an unusual orbit like Pluto's, and another 13 before a
larger object was found in the area.
"Clyde Tombaugh was an American hero," said Tombaugh's former
colleague Herb Beebe. "For that reason alone, Pluto's status as a
full-fledged planet should be kept."
Beebe also suggested -- jokingly, we think -- the IAU's
definition of a planet makes as much sense as the definition of
continents on Earth. "Look at a map -- what's with Europe and
Asia?" he asked the crowd. "I say let's eliminate Europe."
No word yet if protests like these may change the minds of the
IAU when it comes to Pluto... but it appears a quiet groundswell of
support is building for the lowly, well, whatever it is.
Don't rewrite the textbooks just yet... as we may not have heard
the last from the Pluto Proponents.