The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference

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Site Catalog. A short stroll from my home opened a huge world of ideas, a vigorous debate, indeed the entire solar system.

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Tutoring is what brings them in. Then they venture outside for workshops and writing projects. They roam the neighborhood and meet the local businesspeople, artists, and chefs. Their mission: conjure the past and future of Greenwood, come up with mysteries about the businesses, and imagine cool new neighborhood amenities. Perhaps a community swimming pool where you could get sushi, or a bunny cage where you could pet a bunny when you needed to chill out? So the next time you are in our sleepy old trolley stop neighborhood of Greenwood, stop in the space travel supply store.

This is serious stuff, folks! A photo from the Pluto is a planet protest in Greenwood.

The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference by Alan Boyle

When the news that the ninth planet had been stripped of its planethood got out, the public outcry was immediate. From school children to space enthusiasts, and many in between, people leapt to Pluto's defense. Wired's Dwarf Planet Rebranding Contest. How did it inspire so much support from so many corners? Why did the International Astronomical Union decide to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet? Is there any hope the popular celestial object will regain its planetary status? To find out, Wired.


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Now Boyle has reported the rest of the intriguing story in his new book " The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference ," which comes in an appropriately endearing little package. Boyle: Some people say it's because of the Disney dog, that kids that grew up with Pluto the pup just have a natural affinity for Pluto the planet.

And that's definitely part of it, but I think that there's something more to it. Throughout most of the history of that little world, we've thought of it as a poor little oddball that didn't fit in with the rest of the kids in the solar system and really needed to be protected.

So to my mind it's really not so much about the dog, but it's about the underdog. Boyle: Some scientists will go to the barricades to make sure that it's called a planet and other scientists will resist that idea. I think when you get right down to it, I'm not sure the name makes a lot of difference in terms of the scientific study of these planets.

It's more a question of how, for example, the general public thinks about how our cosmos is structured. There might be a slight difference in the way projects are funded if there's a perception that these are just cosmic leftovers and they really don't count for much in the solar system. That might have a marginal effect on what sort of space missions are funded, what sorts of observational campaigns are taken on.

I think that the scientists are really keyed in on that. And even Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, whose Twitter handle is plutokiller , even he is fascinated with these objects that are out there. Boyle: I think the case of the asteroids is a good illustration of what's going on. When people memorized the nine planets they completely forgot about this string of small bodies, the asteroids. The biggest of these, Ceres, is now a dwarf planet. Strangely enough this whole controversy has elevated the profile of Ceres at the same time that it's made people wonder a little bit about Pluto.

We're finding out that for all sorts of reasons, the asteroids are a pretty important element in the solar system. They could be a great source of resources in the future. They could pose a threat as we've seen recently with July's "Great Black Spot" — the collision of some object with Jupiter.


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And just this month there was a pretty significant bolide — what people think was an asteroid came into the atmosphere over Indonesia and was one of the biggest blowups that has been observed yet. I think you can extend some of that example of asteroids to the far zone of the solar system as well. We really need to keep that in consciousness when we're thinking about the solar system.

If you limit your understanding of the solar system to just memorizing eight or nine names, you're really missing out. Boyle: It's kind of like what celebrities sometimes say, that I don't care if you speak ill or well of me, as long as you spell my name right. The fact that people are finding this interesting enough to quarrel over helps put the spotlight on those regions of the solar system that were maybe in the shadows before.

The Case for Pluto : How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference

And I think that having a wider view of what you call a planet really helps to 1 emphasize the diversity in the solar system, and 2 keep in mind that there are very interesting objects that could be weirder than we imagined but still can fit into the planetary tribe. Alan Boyle: There had been another planet, which came to be known as Neptune, which was found by figuring out how the gravitational interactions of all the planets came together. They figured that there had to be something extra there.

So some people thought it was the same situation as after Neptune was found: There had to be some sort of extra gravitational pull. So this guy named Percival Lowell tried to find that planet but couldn't do it.

Is Pluto a planet?

He died in , and it took a while for the Lowell Observatory, which he founded, to get back into the search. But eventually this guy named Clyde Tombaugh, a Kansas farm boy, started the search. Tombaugh was a really interesting guy because he was a very detail-oriented young man. He undertook a very meticulous, dedicated search of the parts of the sky that were imaged by the Lowell Observatory's telescope, and eventually he found it just by sticking with it. At first they didn't know what it was, people started talking about the ninth planet, and the rest is history.

Boyle: There were three names that had been bandied about. One was Minerva, but people found out there was already an asteroid named Minerva. One was Cronus, but astronomers at the Lowell Observatory decided that they didn't want to name it Cronus because an astronomer they didn't like came up with that name, and they were afraid that the astronomer would steal the credit if they used that name.