Cthulhu enters SF authors’ Pluto fight

Scott Westerfeld, one of my stepdaughter’s favorite writers, braves the terror of Cthulhu to convince John Scalzi and others that Pluto is not a planet.

Now here’s where the Plutophants always get nostalgic. They think that the millions of plastic Denny’s placemats printed over the last 70 years that call Pluto a planet somehow legitimate the term. Pluto should be “grandfathered” in, or maybe we should make a special name like “minor planets” for Pluto and its numerous Kuiper Belt pals.

Image [at top of post] courtesy of Northwest Nature Shop. Get them while they still make ’em.

But here’s the problem with that, Plutophants: we’ve been down this road before. And your side LOST!

In 1801, Guiseppe Piazzi discovered a new “planet” called Ceres Ferdinandea. The lame last name was soon dropped, but otherwise everyone was thrilled and excited. Then a second “planet” was spotted in Ceres’ orbit, called Pallas. Then two more: Juno and Vesta.

Now, some folks immediately suggested downgrading Ceres and its buddies to non-planets, and suggested the term “asteroids.” But the Ceres-lovers refused, because planets are wonderful and pretty and Denny’s had already printed up some lovely placemats!

In 1828, a book called First Steps to Astronomy and Geography listed the planets as, “Eleven: Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, Jupiter, Saturn, and Herschel.” (Herschel is the old name for Uranus, changed to facilitate the snickering of generations of schoolkids.)

That’s right, we had eleven planets, and that was before Neptune or Pluto hit the scene.

From 1845 to 1851, 11 more “planets” were discovered in Ceres’ orbit. It was pretty clear to everyone that things had gotten out of hand. But the always optimistic planet-o-philes didn’t want to outright demote anyone, because that would be mean.

So they came up with the lame idea of “minor planets.”

(Via Making Light.)

Update: But see Scientists find space for three new planets.


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