The Sassy Scientist – Pluto Panic

The Sassy Scientist – Pluto Panic

Every week, The Sassy Scientist answers a question on geodynamics, related topics, academic life, the universe or anything in between with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Do you have a question for The Sassy Scientist? Submit your question here or leave a comment below.

After a distraught period (of more than a decade!) since the news first came out that Pluto was not considered a true planet anymore, and due to a post and comment/discussion on this very blog, Goofy finally found the courage to ask:

Do you think Pluto is a planet or a dwarf planet?

Dear Goofy,

Somethin’s wrong here! Definitely. I think Pluto is stellar in his own right, and I don’t think that the way you look at Pluto should change simply because some ‘authority’ dictates that you should change your opinion. That being said; does it matter that Pluto has been demoted to a dwarf planet status? There are a lot of great dwarfs: I know about seven who took in a beautiful lady lost in the forest and a couple who found a dragon in their pile of gold inside a mountain. Let’s take the rough with the smooth and don’t think of Pluto anymore as the last of the planets in our solar system, but rather as one of the main, and certainly the best known, dwarf planets.

Aw shucks. Pluto should have a special status. Beyond the possibility of planetary status, I’m with Laurent in that status should be imposed upon geological/geodynamical features. Why bother with all those heavenly bodies that are just swerving around? Focus on interesting features. Let’s bundle Pluto with Ceres, Titan, Europe and all those other moons, satellites, dwarf planets and create a new scale, taking one step beyond the “Geophysical Planet Definition” of Runyon et al. (2017): “Interesting Units”. So Earth, with all its tectonics and earthquakes and atmosphere scores 10 IUs. Venus, with active volcanism, tectonics and atmosphere scores 9 IUs. Mars, with signs of water presence, geology and relief, but no atmosphere, scores 8 IUs, whilst the gas giants score 7 IUs. Pluto, along with Titan and Ceres scores 5 IUs – our own, rather unimpressive, Moon only takes 3 IUs home. Not too shabby for Pluto I would say. To be fair, let’s award space rubble like Halley’s comet still 1 IU on account of possible, future space mining. For now, as a humble Earth scientist, I urge us to put our primary focus on the highly ranked space monsters, and leave the rest to the astrologers. Oops, astronomers. That’s right (in my mind all the same…).

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written after some distressing emails from miss. Goofy about her husbands depression due to Pluto’s demotion. I urged her to arrange some counseling.

Runyon, K.D., Stern, S.A., Lauer, T.R., Grundy, W., Summers, M.E. and Singer, K.N. (2017), A Geophysical Planet Definition, Lunar and Planetary Science XLVIII, Abstract 1448
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