A Plutoid By Any Other Name

The IAU, whose job it is to name objects and features in the Solar System, has done it again.

The International Astronomical Union has decided on the term “plutoid” as a name for Pluto and other objects that just two years ago were redefined as “dwarf planets.”

The surprise decision is unlikely to stem ongoing controversy and confusion, astronomers say.

A radical, rebellious coterie of unarmed astronomers is advocating open rebellion.

“Most of the people in astronomy and planetary science community had no idea this was going to come out,” said Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Weaver called the new definition “sort of outdated, outmoded, archaic.”

Other astronomers said the new definition needed more definition or that it might simply not be used. A meeting in August at the Applied Physics Laboratory is slated to debate the entire topic of defining planets.

APL is just down the road from me. I may be forced to attend this meeting and throw my weight around.

So, um… what is a Plutoid, anyway? Here’s the official definition.

“Plutoids are celestial bodies in orbit around the sun at a distance greater than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that they assume a hydrostatic equilibrium (near-spherical) shape, and that have not cleared the neighborhood around their orbit.”

In short: small round things beyond Neptune that orbit the sun and have lots of rocky neighbors.

So far, we have two examples, Pluto and Eris (formally, 2003 UB313). The reasors why Quaoar is not included in this scheme escapes me.

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