Prague 16.00hrs 24th August 2006 - the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that Pluto was no longer a planet. As
my wife relayed the news, the electrical power went off
momentarily. Pluto was reminding us that no matter how people like to classify
‘him’, he is still a force in the universe.
this simply semantics?
There has never been and now there never will be a universally agreed definition of a
planet. The word planet comes from the ancient Greek word planetes meaning
wanderer. Then there were 7 known visible planets including the Sun and
the Moon that appeared to wander daily against a background of fixed stars. With
the acceptance of the heliocentric or solar system, astronomers no longer
considered the Sun and the Moon as planets. Later the discoveries of
Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, led astronomers to add three more planets.
The potential to expand the planetary "roll of honour"..
In recent times, increasingly powerful telescopes have revealed a host of new
celestial bodies orbiting the Sun that now need to be classified.
Scientists like strict labels and were faced with a dilemma. If Pluto
continued to be a planet, they would have to consider adding at
least 44 new planets including the large asteroid Ceres, Sedna and 2003 UB313,
first nicknamed Xena meaning foreign woman in Greek and now known as Eris, a distant object slightly larger than Pluto. Then there’s
also Charon, the largest Moon of Pluto, and another candidate for planetary
A decision based on quantity rather than quality. Being scientists of the traditional school, the astronomers needed a clear, objective definition of a planet that was based on physical properties rather than anything nebulous like history, culture or emotion. So, in line with Pluto in Sagittarius, the decision was really down to size! According to the IAU, a planet has to be large enough to become round and to dominate the neighbourhood around its orbit. Pluto is a sphere but fails to qualify because it is not big enough in relation to its moon, Charon and has an untidy orbit.
Scientific categorizations of the solar system can no longer be clear-cut.
Attempts to create a clear classification for "Classical" Planets and "Dwarf" Planets are flawed and open the way for further controversy.
For example, Jupiter is arguably more like a star such as our Sun than a 'classical' planet. Like our Sun, Jupiter is a gaseous ball that radiates light and heat energy. It has a similar composition of the Sun, being mostly hydrogen and partly helium. So does this meet the second part of the IAU criteria for a 'classical' planet that the object must be in orbit around a star, but not be a star itself.
Also, Mars and Neptune have not cleared their neighbourhoods of debris and therefore may not meet the planetary criteria that a classical planet must have cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.
Then, consider this, in 1915 Percival Lowell, a year before he died, accurately predicted the position of Pluto based on discrepancies of Neptune's Orbit. This was 15 years before, Clyde Tombaugh, first identified Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in 1930. Astronomers argue that Lowell's and other astronomer's predictions were coincidence as Pluto was too small to cause perturbations to Neptune's orbit. However, is it possible that Pluto was able to exert a force on Neptune that scientists have yet to identify?
What I find compelling is that the location of Pluto conforms to Titius-Bode's rule of planetary orbits, first proposed in 1776. Pluto fits the pattern, if you take Neptune - the only classical planet not to fit the rule - out of the equation. It is interesting that Ceres, which was considered a planet in the first half of the 19th century, does comply with Bode's formula. Eris does not really fit the theory as it is 67.6AU from the Sun while over 200 years ago, Bode's placed the planet at 77.2AU
Great opportunity to expand the planetary list was missed.
I think the IAU vote was based more on emotion than scientists would care to admit. The fact is there are many planetary definitions that
could include Pluto as a planet without ushering in numerous other ‘minor planets’. As
astrologer Debbi Kempton-Smith suggests, they could so easily have had the generosity of spirit and vision to add more planets. At the very least it would have been great PR for science and cause world-wide celebration, at a time when good news is so scarce.
Maybe it's just a big conspiracy to get us all!
I couldn't leave the debate without being Plutonic and speculating about the real reasons
that Pluto has been rejected : -
It was the only planet discovered in America
and there is much anti-American sentiment around the world because of the
militaristic policies of George W. Bush.
As most astrologers now give Pluto the same
status as other planets, a sceptic might mistakenly think this demotion undermines
astrology. (see comments in the right hand column)
Pluto rules the subconscious. Unless you understand its
psychological impact, people tend to repress the energy or ‘sweep it under the
carpet’. On that basis the majority of the IAU has just gone into denial.
What prompted the reclassification? It was discovery of Eris, a 'planet' associated with strife and discord. This furore is wonderfully symbolic of the nature of this new dwarf planet.
Finally, my wife, Karen
who has the Sun conjunct Pluto in 12th knows it is a conspiracy to usurp her
In backtracking on Pluto, the IAU has lost credibility and the word
planet is now up for grabs. As far as astrology is
concerned, it’s business as usual. Planets are still wanderers and that
includes the Sun and Moon as well as Pluto. We are open to more planets
and since the IAU has lost the plot, it’s time we reviewed the status of recently
discovered celestial bodies. We
are working with 10 planets but our zodiacal system suggests that there should
be 12 (to rule each sign). Astrologers may never agree since our
definition is largely based on which planetary bodies have the strongest impact on a
chart. Which mythological archetypes are most imprinted into our
consciousness? To start the ball rolling, in my book, Chiron is a good candidate to become a planet, even if
astronomers define it as an asteroid and a comet.
Finally a warning ... the IAU should beware of the backlash. Demoting Pluto is not a good move
as this 'planet' ain't no dwarf when it comes to power and has a crafty way of turning the tables. If the IAU can't do it, perhaps the world will start looking to astrologers to define what is and isn't a planet.
Update Friday 1st September Las Cruces, NM, USA - about 50 students and staff from the New Mexico State University turned out to protest at the IAU's decision. Protesters included the son and the widow of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto. Photo courtesy Associated Press.
What do the press and other astrologers say:-
From Fox News [Aug. 24, 2006]: -
You can’t unmake a planet. "Now
scientists say Pluto isn't a planet. It isn't big enough. It's something, but
not a planet exactly. My attitude is: Who says? It's been a planet my
entire life. I learned that in the third grade. Might be the only thing I
remember from the third grade. It's the cold one, the farthest from the sun
and, yes, it's the small one. But no, you can't unmake Pluto as a
planet. Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it.
Why should I? Somebody somewhere, some mysterious person who answers to no
one and seems to have dictatorial power sets new standards for planets and all
of a sudden one of the original nine is dropped? All of a sudden Ringo isn't
a Beatle? All of a sudden somebody changes a standard and Curly isn't a stooge,
or Zeppo isn't a Marx, or Ari isn't one of the "Entourage"?" John Gibson
From Bloomberg [Aug. 25 2006] :- Pluto, Out of Planet Club, Stays on Astrology Charts
``I'm going to continue using it [Pluto],'' said Wall Street's best- known astrologer, Arch Crawford, who has studied the effect of the planets on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. ``They [astronomers] can stick it where the sun don't shine,'' Crawford, 65, said. Vivien Lou Chen
From the Seattle Times [Aug. 26 2006]:- Boot Pluto? Astrology's dismay off the charts
"Whether he's a planet, an asteroid, or a radioactive matzo ball, Pluto has proven himself worthy of a permanent place in all horoscopes," says Shelley Ackerman, columnist for the spirituality Web site Beliefnet.com. Ackerman criticized the IAU for not including astrologers in its decision.
From CBS News [Aug. 25 2006]:- Widow of Pluto's Discoverer 'Shook Up'
Planetary astronomers at Lowell Observatory expressed disappointment. Director Bob Millis said he preferred a rejected proposal that would have added three planets to the solar system instead of dropping Pluto.
Closing the door to additional planetary discoveries is "not exactly motivational to young planetary scientists and astronomers," Millis said. - Tim Korte, Associated Press
The revision of Pluto is just another challenge to the purity and consistency of the Zodiac Model.
Though science has had to revise their view and model of the universe many times, astrology has survived intact over the last two millennia in the face of the following developments:
Precession of the equinox. The signs do not line up with the backdrop of the stars. Answer: Western Astrology uses the Tropical Zodiac which works within the Solar System. Some astrologers also accept phenomena which connects stellar positions to the Solar System like the Age of Aquarius.
The Earth is not the centre of the Solar System. Answer: Astrology is and continues to be a geocentric (earth centered) system and science now accepts the Sun is not the centre of the Universe.
The discovery of 3 additional planets: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Answer: The zodiacal system is greatly strengthened by three new planetary rulerships: Aquarius, Pisces and Scorpio.
Theories about 13 or more signs based on constellations on the ecliptic. Answer: These theoretical zodiacs are based on moving sidereal positions that do not apply to the Tropical Zodiac. The theories have turned out to be hoaxes originated by sceptics to generate publicity or writers climbing on a bandwagon that got stuck at the first rut.
Scientific tests. Answer: though there are experiments that claim to confirm the validity astrology, there has never been a scientific test that successfully disproves astrology based on a birth chart.
Sun Sign Astrology. The popularity of media astrology based on one 'planet', the Sun sometimes leaves a misleading impression of the limits to the depth and scope of astrology. Answer: The media columns have encouraged and inspired a widespread interest in the discovery of personal astrology through a birth chart.
New planets and planetary revision by astronomers. Answer: The Zodiacal model appears to have space to encompass new planets as well as asteroids and centaurs without requiring the authorization of the IAU!
I suppose board games, teaching aids, solar system
mobiles and the mnemonics will have to change. So:
My Very Easy Method
Just Simply Uses Nine Planets. now becomes ... My Very Easy Method
Just Simply Uses Not Pluto.
and My Very Energetic
Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. becomes … My Very Energetic Mother
Just Served Us Nothing! But then
had Xena been included we would have had real challenge!
Pluto is a very small celestial object. However, it has infinite depth. But here's a video illustrating how small Pluto really is in the Cosmos.