back to article NASA restores Pluto to league of planets

NASA has rather cheekily joined the campaign to restore Pluto to the solar system's league of planets, following the distant body's demotion to dwarf status back in 2006. The International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision to relegate Pluto didn't go down too well in some quarters across the pond, largely due to the fact …


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  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Balls to the IAU

    and also Wikipoedia (sic).

    Pluto is and always shall be a dog.

    And a little Planet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      So is Haumea, Makemake, Eris, ... Oh wait, no, these aren't because [insert a valid excuse here that invalidates those but not Pluto, and good luck with that].

      These were discovered by Americans as well, so surely they are planets?

    2. DJ 2

      The fun thing is.

      The description of a planet, is that it is sufficiently large enough to clear it's orbit of asteroids.

      Then they find yet another asteroid in a horse-shoe orbit

      Earth isn't a planet, it's a minor planet.

    3. Doug Glass


      Woof woof woofity woof woof!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @DJ 2

        Did you actually read the article you linked to?

        "Given that the Earth is larger its gravity will work to pull the asteroid away from the Sun, eventually pulling the asteroid into an orbit which is a greater distance from the sun than Earth."

        That sounds like the Earth would clear its orbit of that asteroid to me.

        1. Steve Brooks

          Read it? yes, understood it, no!

          @Norfolk 'n' Goode Did you actually read the article?

          You obviously missed these bits;

          "A long-lived horseshoe companion to the Earth,"

          "The belief of astronomers has been that horseshoe orbits are not stable. However, Christou and Asher have run simulations and they show that SO16 remains in this horseshoe orbit for anywhere from 120,000 to over a million years."

      2. Captain TickTock

        Not really a horseshoe orbit...

        .. it just looks that way from Earth.

        Does that make it a horseshit orbit?

        Mine's the one hanging on the stable door

      3. Laurel Kornfeld


        They are all planets because they are large enough to be rounded by their own gravity.

  2. Annihilator Silver badge
    Paris Hilton


    So what's Ceres doing floating beneath Jupiter in that image then?

    1. Hermes Conran

      Ceres is in the asteroid belt,

      between Mars and Jupiter.

  3. Frostbite


    The IAU always talk out of their Uranus

    1. Anonymous Coward


      ...that was truly groan-worthy.

      It's still better than most one-liners on here, so +1.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Brace yourself...

    ...for the strange (as indicated, usually American) people who feel the need to shout about Pluto still being a planet. Seriously: it doesn't matter what it's called. "Dwarf planet" is just a useful categorisation. If you feel passionately that it's still a planet then call it what you like, just stop whinging to everyone about it and do something useful. I wonder if we'll be hearing from Laurel Kornfeld in this thread...

    1. Psyx


      ....People who don't care that it's not a planet could stop whinging at people whinging that it's a planet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yeah you do have a point there.

        If we all start ignoring them then maybe they'll go away. Best not to prod a cornered badger with a pointy stick.

    2. Laurel Kornfeld

      Thanks for the mention

      It is not only Americans who oppose the controversial demotion of Pluto. Opposition to the demotion is based on the very legitimate geophysical definition of planet, which focuses on an object's composition and structure. The IAU definition is based solely on dynamics, classifying objects only by where they are while ignoring what they are. It is inherently flawed in that the further an object from its parent star, the bigger an orbit it has to "clear." If Earth were in the Kuiper Belt, it would not be considered a planet either. This results in the absurdity where the same object would be a planet in one location and not a planet in another. Since someone will undoubtedly raise the issue of spherical moons of planets, according to the geophysical planet definition, these are "satellite planets" because structurally, they are far more like planets than like asteroids. They just happen to orbit other planets. The term "dwarf planet" is a useful categorization only if it is recognized the way it was intended--as an adjective modifying a noun. A dwarf planet is a type of planet just as a dwarf star is a type of star, and a dwarf galaxy is a type of galaxy.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old pic....

    Although the news item may be new, the graphic is dated 2009 from those lovely people at the 'Jet Propulsion Laboratory' -

    Have had it as my wallpaper for a few months....yes, I know....

  6. Anonymous Coward


    Pluto is a de facto planet since it was discovered and added to the "known planets" list before the "dwarf" definition was introduced by the IAU. Fine, they can call it a dwarf planet, and beardy boffins can be remain technically correct in their papers. The rest of us can carry on going to Disneyland.

    It's like calling a vacuum cleaner a Hoover. Pluto is a planet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      It's called progress, you might call it a planet but you'll be wrong.

      Your argument is along the same lines as regarding that the knowledge the earth is flat is de facto (many moons ago) knowledge, so we all might as well just accept that, but those pesky scientists know it's not ;p

      Our planet classification was crap. We got a better one.

    2. Just Thinking


      I thought vacuum cleaners were called hoovers because they hoover things up?

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Vacuum cleaners are called hoovers because of the manufacturer Hoover which established the concept of a domestic vacuum cleaner.

        For some reason the manufacturer became the verb.

  7. Andy E

    Made up article

    Come on Lester you can do better than this. Just because NASA have an old picture of the solar system which includes Pluto does not mean they are waving two fingers at the IAU. A brief search of the site reveals no campaigns to get Pluto restored as a planet.

    The article at is rather interesting. Perhaps you should have read it first?

    1. Test Man


      It was supposed to be a JOKE!

    2. MeRp


      Given that NASA is an American institute, they would be unlikely to wave two fingers at anything, unless they were attempting to indicate a love of peace. For the implied purpose, we (Americans) would be far more likely to employ only a single digit.

      Since this article appears to be more for bemusement than for serious enlightenment, I'd say that both the reference to the two finger salutation and the mere facts of the case can be safely ignored in the spirit of enjoyment.

  8. Thomas 4

    There's one other thing Pluto has going for it

    A song by Johnathon Coulton called "I'm Your Moon". It's kind of a love song sung by Pluto's moon Charon. It's also awesome.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All in the interest of science

    "largely due to the fact that Illinois native Clyde Tombaugh first eyeballed the planet back in 1930."

    Yeah, screw facts and let's put pride before all.

    Further proof that maybe chucking all this money for all these years to NASA wasn't such a good idea after all. I mean, politically it was great, but maybe it would have been better spent in education (says the guy leaving in a country where I'm not able to afford raising a kid, nevermind sending him to graduate).

    Note that the people who originally initiated Pluto demotion were americans, proof that no matter what country you live in, there'll always be some smart sensible people and some dumbasses, sometimes working together. I actually pity the former, especially when the latter is likely to be the boss.

  10. Nigel Brown

    It's always been a...

    Mickey Mouse planet anyway.

    Mine's the one with Patrick Moore's autobiography in the pocket.

  11. LPF
    Thumb Up


    Word!! Balls to the IAU

  12. Anonymous Coward

    NASA? Increasingly irrelevant

    With the last shuttle flight about/possibly/maybe sometime to happen and with no visible replacement in sight AND with funding going down the swanee they are becoming increasingly irrevelant on the world Stage.

    I see this as one more nail in the coffin of US tech Leadership. The more that they give 'two fingers' to the rest of the world, the more that the rest of the world will do the same to them. Then the rest of the world will just get on with doing business elsewhere. After all, who wants to do business in a place where even the lawyers need lawyers before they get out of bed in the morning. A place where anyone can sue anyone else without reason.

    Grenade. Coz that it what the US sends to its former friends.

  13. Graham Dawson Silver badge


    It should never have been a planet in the first place!

  14. ZankerH

    I don't get it

    I still don't get it, are these people making a giant joke and a mockery of themselves, or are they really, seriously arguing over the scientific classification of a ball of rock and ice 30 AU away?

    Come on, it's not like Pluto suddenly became less significant and important just because it was classified in a way that makes sense and is consistent with the definitions of space objects.

  15. Jad
    Thumb Up

    Is it just me ...

    or do you prefer the wikipedia picture as well?

  16. Winkypop Silver badge

    Hey Pluto!

    Why not ask Mickey?

  17. Mike Richards

    IAU definition

    Is bollocks and I can't imagine it won't be revisited before long. Under their own definition (that a planet must have cleared its own orbit) neither Neptune nor the Earth constitute planets.

    A better definition would be something along the lines that a planet is a non-luminous body orbiting a star which has sufficient mass to form a spheroid.

    1. Luther Blissett

      No it wouldn't

      There's a big problem in definining luminosity. If you can't see this, review Predator. As for the orbit-clearance criterion, we can see this as unsatisfactory by reviewing 'Trojan asteroids' and 'Langrangian points'. I wonder if it has occurred to anyone that what we are dealing with here are recursive structures (which as IT people we know all about, right? and simples?).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dwark Planets

    Shouldnt there be 7 dwarf Planets

  19. Anonymous Coward

    I for one

    welcome our American overlords

    1. thecakeis(not)alie

      American Overlords

      You'll have to kill me first. I promise I won't make that particularly easy...

  20. Sam Liddicott


    Pluto is a planet because a dwarf planet is a planet, just as a dwarf person is also a person.

    Their mistake not using the term "large planet" for their larger favourites and then getting huffy when the rest of the world doesn't mentally #define planet large-planet.

    If the boffins had any sense they'd let us use the term planet and secretly pretend that we were speaking in general terms even though most people wouldn't mean that.

    Because Pluto is also REALLY a planet.

  21. Skyraker

    Pluto is a planet

    No it isn't.

  22. Jeckle

    NASA's incompetance grows

    Ja call it what you like, how about a galaxy. Pluto is now a galaxy. Just belittle every other achievement made by American Scientists by behaving like a 2 year old. Yes you can also have a planet. There now, everybody is happy. After all Ronald McDonald is a nobel prize winning physicist.

    Does this mean that Ceres is also a planet? It also has a moon and is more massive.

    Talk about short term gain, long term credibility loss.

    1. rxdg

      RE: Jeckle

      Ceres is more massive than Pluto? Since when? Last I heard at the local brewery, it was still less than a tenth of Pluto's mass.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Perhaps he meant Eris?

        Eris is larger than Pluto and has a moon.

        1. Laurel Kornfeld

          Not the case

          Eris does have a moon, but it is not larger than Pluto; it is actually marginally smaller. This was determined only in November 2010 when Eris occulted a star. Eris is still more massive than Pluto. None of this changes the fact that according to the geophysical planet definition, in which a planet is any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star, both Pluto and Eris are planets, as are Ceres, Haumea, and Makemake. They are planets of the dwarf planet subcategory.

      2. Tom 13

        Actually that would be

        two orders of magnitude smaller by mass.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward

      incompetance = incompetence

      Oh, the irony...

  23. Greg J Preece

    The argument is done, Pluto is not a planet

    Just because the Yanks have to be so obsessive about anything ever said, done or seen by a fellow Yank, doesn't make Pluto a planet. We have 4 terrestrials, 4 gas, and one...ball of half-rock, half-ice, whose "moon" isn't even a moon, as the orbital centre is outside Pluto's mass.

    If they'd have discovered Ceres first, they'd be calling that a planet, but it isn't, and neither is Pluto. The IAU recategorised the solar system so that new discoveries made sense - science does that. It's a trans-Neptunian dwarf in the recently* mapped Kuiper-belt. Get over it.

    *By astronomy's standards

    1. nugge


      Actually, Ceres was discovered before Pluto. It was discovered on 1 January 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi...and first labelled a planet.

      1. Tom 13

        And was discovered by active telescope search

        not by comparing photographic negatives. The original classification of Ceres as a planet is understandable when you recall that it falls where Bode's Law predicted a planet ought to be. Its subsequent demotion makes sense when you realize that many other objects were found in the same orbital range, and that those objects eventually became known as asteroids.

        There are problems with the IAU definition of a planet as some posters have pointed out. At 170,000 years to clear the orbit, is it really clear? I Would Jupiter clear its orbit if it were at the distance of Pluto? Twice its distance? think ultimately the definition will need to be redone on a strict mass basis. Maybe Pluto cuts it, maybe it doesn't. But right now the definitions aren't nearly as clear as the IAU claims they are.

    2. Kibble

      Beat me to it

      Yes, Ceres was discovered first and was originally classed as a planet according to

      1. relpy

        Start Writing the Placards Now!

        They must reinstate Ceres as a planet at once!

        Time for an El-Reg campaign me thinks.

      2. Laurel Kornfeld

        Ceres is a planet

        Ceres is a planet because it is large enough to be in hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning rounded by its own gravity. Nineteenth-century astronomers' telescopes were not powerful enough to resolve Ceres into a disk, which is the reason it was demoted in the first place. Now that we know Ceres is spherical, we also know that demotion was wrong and premature--just like the demotion of Pluto by four percent of the IAU. Both of these are complex, geologically differentiated worlds, very different from asteroids and most KBOs, which are shapeless rocks or iceballs. Pluto is estimated to be 70-75 percent rock.

  24. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    Old habits die hard...

    I didn't even know those 3 new additions existed. Heard they added one or two.. but now, three?

    So... officially now, if someone asks me how many planets there are in the solar system, wtf do I answer?

    And... makemake? those 3 additional planets might have been called configure, make and makeinstall.... sorry. bad joke... I'm leaving.


      Can barely find them with a map and a flash light...

      > I didn't even know those 3 new additions existed.

      The effort required to find these new pebbles being called Dwarf planets was extraordinary. That should put them in a separate class quite distinct from Pluto or any of the other planets (or even Ceres for that matter).

      The fact that Pluto was found by some amateur with simple tools should count for something.

  25. Swoop

    New Horizons

    It's worth noting that NASA's New Horizons Pluto spacecraft was launched in 2006 - same year that Pluto was demoted. Perhaps a bit of chagrin at NASA that a mission costing $700 million is now going to a mere 'minor planet'?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pluto is flat

    and has been since that anvil fell on him.

  27. Anonymous Coward


    If it gets reinstated as a planet, then all those books printed in the last few years will be worth something, even if only as novelty items when our brightest and best seem to lose the plot for a bit.

    They will prove that we really have far more pressing things to do like finding our way out into the universe rather than arguing about something so fucking pointless in comparison to our need to stop fucking up this planet and start heading out "there" to the great unknown!

  28. Michael 28

    And what about Xena/Eris?

    ....Include one, include t'other

    1. Sowff


      I agree. Eris/Xena is also a planet as it meets all the proper criterion of a planet. The clear the field criterion is absurd as the further a planet is from the Sun, the harder it is to clear its field. In fact, if Earth was as far out of Pluto, it would not be able to clear its field and thus, given the current IAU criteria, Earth wouldn't be a planet.

  29. Dr. Ellen


    An adjective modifies a noun. In Pluto's case, the noun is "planet" and the adjective is "dwarf". In Earth's case, the adjective is "terrestrial", and in Jupiter's case, the adjective is "gas giant". But always, the noun is "planet". What's the fuss all about? Pluto is still a planet. It was different enough that it needed an adjective anyhow.

  30. Keris

    When I were a lad...

    There were men walking on the moon, people flew across the Atlantic faster than sound, and there were NINE planets in the solar system!

    Tell that to kids nowadays and they don't believe you...

  31. Me :D

    Pluto to be a McDonalds planet?

    Wow, who would have though Ronald McDonald did anything more than flip burgers! I would have thought those clown shoes would have stopped him getting to close to the telescope! lol

  32. Laurel Kornfeld

    Wikipedia does NOT set the record straight

    Wikipedia does not set the record straight--they do exactly the opposite, a disservice to the public by presenting only one view in an ongoing debate as fact when this is not the case. From the beginning, Wikipedia has refused to recognize that the vote by four percent of the IAU to demote Pluto was not the last word on this matter. Only four percent of the IAU even voted on this, and most are not planetary scientists. An equal number of professional astronomers formally opposed the demotion in a formal petition led by New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern. Stern is the person who coined the term "dwarf planet," back in 1991, to refer to a third class of planets in addition to terrestrials and jovians, objects large enough to be rounded by their own gravity but not large enough to gravitationally dominate their orbits. He never intended for dwarf planets to not be considered planets at all. Significantly, in astronomy, dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. It is disingenuous for you to support Wikipedia's one-sided coverage of this issue and refusal to acknowledge that this debate is far from settled, and it also promotes authoritarianism because the message is, the IAU voted; therefore something is fact. Science does not work this way. It is a perfectly legitimate scientific position to regard dwarf planets as a subclass of planets.

  33. me n u

    get over it, for God's sake!

    "A rose, by any other name, smells just as sweet" If it makes you happy to call Pluto a "planet", then call it a planet! That doesn't mean others who disagree are right or wrong.

    I personally think of Pluto as a planet, simply because it was classified as such when I learned the 9 planets in elementary school. So they changed it! Big F'ing deal! Get a life and get back to work!

    1. Laurel Kornfeld

      That's work at overturning the demotion

      This "they" you speak about were never in a position to dictate their interpretation to the world and expect the world to accept it as fact. They also violated their group's own bylaws by conducting this vote and are now refusing to reopen the discussion on the matter. Who appointed these 424 individuals, most of whom are not planetary scientists, as the "deciders" for seven billion people. What happened in 2006 was politics, not science. I'm getting back to work all right--work on a book about why Pluto is a planet and why the 2006 vote should be either ignored or overturned.

  34. Anteaus


    Fundamentally, they're all lumps of rock. Some smaller, some bigger, some rounder, some knobblier. Some with an atmosphere, some without.

    'Planet' is a purely human notion. Nature knows of no such distinction.

  35. Sowff

    Pluto will have its revenge......

    Speaking of "cheek," to say Pluto was first "eyeballed" by Clyde Tombaugh is certainly cheeky. Americans do not have a monopoly on cheek. Mr. Tombaugh worked very hard to find Pluto, as did Mr. Piazzi. The team that discovered the other planets that are also dwarf planets also worked hard, and it is unfortunate that Mike Brown is going around saying he is the sole discoverer of Eris. If you look up Eris on Wikipedia, you will see two other men also co-discovered it, and also you will note that it is not larger than Pluto, but merely has more mass. When the final calculations of the November 2010 stellar occultation of Eris are published very soon, Pluto will probably be found to be larger than Eris beyond any margin of error, too. Yes, one of Pluto's three moons can also perhaps be called a binary planet, or a satellite planet, but is still smaller than Pluto. Pluto is certainly the King of the Plutonian System, and most certainly clears its path for all intents and purposes. I watched on video the 2006 IAU session in which Pluto was deplanetized, and pro-Pluto speakers were cut off and treated with an utter lack of respect. Not to mention the vote was done without proper notice and vetting. It was wholly unscientific and undemocratic. In fact, one IAU member posted on Facebook that he was threatened with the destruction of his career were he to vote in favor of continued planethood for Pluto. The deplanetization of Pluto is a travesty that must be corrected forthwith. Anyone who bothers to study the issue will realize that Pluto got the shaft.

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