US state rebels over Pluto’s status

A US state is set to vote tomorrow to restore Pluto as a planet. New Mexico intends to make a unilateral declaration challenging last year’s decision by astronomers to demote the distant world on the edge of the solar system.

A colour map of PlutoThe state was home to Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto in 1930. It was the first to be spotted since Neptune in 1846 and the only one found from America.

In a controversial move last August, the International Astronomical Union dumped Pluto from the premier league and into a second division of “dwarf planets”.

Today, the New Mexico Legislature plan to pass a resolution declaring that “as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico’s excellent night skies, it be declared a planet.”

The politicians will also mark a day in the calendar in honour of their “planet”. The motion says that March 13 – the day the world’s discovery was first announced – is to be declared “Pluto Planet Day”.

New Mexico’s move is purely symbolic as it has no jurisdiction over outer space. But it is the latest move in an angry backlash that began in the US as soon as the IAU had voted in Prague.

Objectors complained that the decision was taken by a tiny minority of delegates at the conference and was unscientific. It also overturned an official recommendation by an IAU committee chaired by UK astronomer Professor Iwan Williams.

The New Mexico resolution is being moved by Joni Marie Gutierrez. She told the Wired website: “When they declared Pluto a dwarf planet, we took it as a personal affront.”

The above picture was assembled from images taken with the Hubble space telescope and represents Pluto’s true colours. Credit: Eliot Young (SwRI) et al., Nasa.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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