Galaxy’s guardians make the case: upgrade Pluto back to planet-size!

Eight years ago it was relegated to dwarf planet status. But Harvard astrophysicists are arguing that being small shouldn’t disqualify it

Just cos I’m small … Pluto, several billion miles from where you’re sitting. Photograph: Alamy

Age: 4.6bn years old.

Appearance: Slightly different to its appearance last week.

You know, I thought that too. Has it had its hair done? No, not that, you idiot. Between you and me I think it might look a little more, well … planet-y than usual.

Surely that can’t be the case. We’ve been through this before, remember? I know, I know. Pluto had been a planet since its discovery in 1930, only to be unceremoniously relegated to dwarf planet status by the International Astronomical Union in 2006. And yet …

And yet what? And yet the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysicists is lobbying hard for Pluto to become a planet again.

Why? We’ve just had all the textbooks reprinted. It’s all about the definition. According to the Harvard-Smithsonian news blog, even if Pluto is a dwarf planet, we should still treat it as a planet because: “A dwarf fruit tree is still a small fruit tree, and a dwarf hamster is still a small hamster.” The centre had a debate, and then there was a vote, and the result was overwhelmingly in favour of Pluto’s reinstatement as a planet.

What happens if we do let Pluto back in? Well, there’s a chance that other distant trans-Neptunian objects – such as Triton or Eris or 50000 Quaoar or 90377 Sedna – could also qualify for official planetary status.

But this is madness! The floodgates will open! We’ll never be able to turn back the tide of shifty-looking would-be planets looking to get an unjustified cut of our solar system! All right, Farage, rein it in.

Fine. But does any of this actually matter? If you’re a member of the International Astronomical Union or the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysicists – basically the Sharks and the Jets of the planetary-definition game – then yes.

And what does Pluto make of all this? Pluto is a massive clump of rock and ice trapped in a lonely silent orbit through the dark recesses of space several billion miles away from Earth. As such, it could not be reached for comment.

Do say: “Welcome back to the solar system, Pluto. We’ve missed you.”

Don’t say: “Now get out. We’ve changed our minds again.”

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