Nog een keer pluto
- Pluto may lose its place in the Sun
By Aisling Irwin
THE nine major planets, memorised by generations of schoolchildren, may
drop to eight this year as one of their more questionable members is
demoted by astronomers.
Pluto, the tiniest major planet and one of the most distant of those
orbiting the Sun, is the victim of a growing campaign calling for everyone
to admit that it is not a major planet at all. Enemies of the enigmatic
object say it should never have been granted such elite status alongside
awesome bodies such as Saturn or Mars.
Pluto, 500 times smaller than Earth, is just an over-sized comet or perhaps
a planetesimal, an asteroid, a minor planet, a trans-Neptunian object, an
interplanetary body, or a stray asteroidal-cometary object.
Experts disagree profusely about what it is, but a growing number say that
if it was discovered tomorrow, it would never even occur to them to link it
with the Big Eight. The argument has been brewing for decades and began
after Pluto's discovery in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, an astronomer at the
Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Within five years, the disputes had begun,
and two astronomers argued that Pluto was too faint to be a major planet.
Yet Americans like the idea that one of their compatriots had discovered a
Perhaps the fatal blow was the 1990s discovery of the Kuiper Belt, a band
of 60 more "Plutos" - or asteroids - hurtling through the solar system.
It is only since Tombaugh's death in 1997 that pressure has grown for the
International Astronomical Union, the only internationally recognised
authority for naming celestial bodies, to take a tough line on Pluto.
Members have been voting on the issue, and a decision may be made within