Illinois to recognize Pluto as planet again

By Bethany Reinhart

Illinois legislators recently took time away from overtly pressing issues to pass a resolution that reestablishes Pluto as the ninth planet-at least in Illinois.

On Feb. 26, the state senate voted in favor of reinstating Pluto’s planetary status. The resolution came in response to a 2006 ruling by the International Astronomical Association that reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet instead of a full-fledged planet.

In a statement to the state senators preceding the vote, Gary Dahl (R-Granville) said, “Senate Resolution 46 is a resolution that … reestablishes [Pluto] as a full planetary status.”

According to the resolution, Pluto was unfairly downgraded to a dwarf planet. The newly adopted resolution honors Clyde Tombaugh, the Streator, Ill.-born astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.

Tombaugh was a young, aspiring astronomer who had just been hired at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., when he first discovered the planet, said Jim Sweitzer, principle and owner of Science and Communications Consultants, member of the International Astronomical Union and faculty member in Columbia’s Science and Math Department.

Along with reestablishing Pluto’s planetary status, the resolution declared March 13 “Pluto Day” in the state of Illinois.

But despite successful resolution adoption by the state senate, many local scientists are not pleased with the decision.

“Voting on matters of science really has no place in legislation,” Sweitzer said. “The decision to reclassify Pluto was voted on by members of the [International Astronomical Association] after suspicion of the planet’s classification was raised in the 1990s. Decisions like this should be made by scientists, members of the scientific community and discussed among peers-not in the state legislature.”

Sweitzer said in the scientific community, especially among astronomers, the “discussion of nomenclature is unimportant and more of a distraction than anything else.”

Pluto’s classification-either as a planet or a dwarf planet-doesn’t change the fact that there is still an important object in the solar system that should be recognized and studied despite its status, Sweitzer said. He agreed with the 2006 decision made by the International Astronomical Union to reclassify Pluto and said it is important to remember that science is ever-changing.

“People still love Pluto; they always have,” Sweitzer said. “Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a dozen cats at home, but one of them has always been kind of strange. It’s furry like a cat. It has four legs like a cat. But every so often it barks. But you just think, ‘Oh, that’s just strange Sparky. He’s a little off.’ Then one day you learn about dogs and all of a sudden you realize Sparky is actually not a cat at all-he’s a dog. That doesn’t change how much you love Sparky. And that is how it is with Pluto.”

Jerry Adams, a scientist and faculty member in Columbia’s Science and Math Department, agrees that legislators should steer clear of passing laws regarding scientific facts.

“Any time you allow a politician to decide something that is outside their understanding, it sets a very dangerous precedent,” Adams said.

Sophomore graphic art and design major Spencer Rysman said, “It’s a silly thing to waste our time going back and forth on. It’s laughable.”

Laughable or not, Pluto is now officially recognized as a planet in Illinois, and children statewide can again use that old phrase, “My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas,” to remember the order of planets in this solar system.