'Planet' Pluto: America's 'Eternal Embarrassment'

Are U.S. scientists bending the rules to keep the only planet discovered by an American classified as such? According to this op-ed article from China's state-controlled Xinjingbao [Beijing News], American scientists have 'embarrassed themselves' by trying to force other scientists to accept a new definition of a planet, not only to keep Pluto's planetary classification, but to have many other small celestial bodies discovered by Americans declared 'planets.'

By Huang Yongming

Translated By Haywood Ho

August 28, 2006
China -Beijing News - Original Article (Chinese)    

Under proposals put forth mostly by American scientists,
the number of planets would have expanded. If these were
accepted, this would have preserved Pluto's status as a
planet, and would have reclassified many other celestial
bodies as planets. (above and below).

— BBC VIDEO NEWS: Astronomers meeting in Prague vote
to strip Pluto of its status as a planet, Aug. 24, 00:01:40 RealVideo


For Americans, it's the end of the show, but there's a problem with the ending. On August 24, at the 26th Annual Meeting of the International Astronomy Union RealVideo, 400 astronomers voted to exclude Pluto RealVideo from the ranks of planets of the Solar System. After seven years of dispute, we now have an official result: The Solar System has been reduced to eight planets, with Pluto reclassified as merely a "dwarf planet."

This result won't comfort many Americans. From time immemorial, people have known of the planets from Mercury to Saturn. Further out, Uranus and Nepture were discovered by Germans. Only Pluto was discovered by an American. In 1930, 24-year-old amateur astronomer Clyde Tombaugh RealVideo discovered Pluto at the Lowell Observatory. Percival Lowell RealVideo, the founder of the observatory, struggled and failed for over 10 years to detect any sign of the celestial body. After Tomboc's discovery, Pluto was quickly confirmed as a planet, and with no formal training in astronomy, Tomboc was "recruited" as a professional astronomer.

Despite the rapidity with which it was discovered that Pluto was much smaller than at first thought, no one raised any objections to Pluto's status while Tombaugh was still alive [He died in 1997]. The real debate only began in 1999. This year, the IAU finally drew up an official definition of a "Planet". A seven-person working group first proposed an "American-friendly" resolution. This would not only have retained the planetary status of Pluto, but also would have included Pluto's satellite Charon and another celestial object, 2003UB313, into the ranks of the planets. This too, was discovered by the Americans near Neptune.

This proposal would have meant, according to its proposed definition of a planet, that the Solar System could include tens or even hundreds of additional planets. Under these rules, most of the planets would have been discovered by Americans. The proposal provoked a fierce debate, which, from an outsider's point of view, looked like more like a show than scientific discourse.

European astronomers accounted for a large proportion of those boycotting the bill, and so proposed their own resolution. The President of the IAU [Alexander A. Gurshtein RealVideo] disapproved: "We don't want an American version, a European version and a Japanese version."

The two resolutions later split into three. The embarrassing result for the Americans is that Pluto has become a "dwarf planet." The term "dwarf planet" was invented deliberately to cover celestial objects like Pluto which have been discovered by Americans. It's a comforting term; after all, "dwarf planet" has a kind of familial tie to the word "planet."


But in fact Pluto bears none of the hallmarks of being a planet, we all know that. The formation of Pluto was completely different than the other eight planets. Pluto is also smaller than our own Moon - in fact, it's smaller than seven other planetary moons in our Solar System!

The truth is that Pluto should be completely wiped out. But instead it has received an embarrassing title, the use of which will be continued. Why should this be?

At this latest IAU General Assembly, Asian astronomers delivered a report entitled "Is Astronomy Just Western Astronomy?" This is a critical topic. After all, it is only America's love of Pluto that has made the study of our Solar System so complex and so absurd.

Chinese Version Below


www.thebeijingnews.com · 2006-8-28 1:11:03 · 来源: 新京报


  这个结果不会让美国人感到舒服。以前的九颗大行星里面,从水星到土星都是自远古以来人们就知道的;再往外,天王星是德国人发现的,海王星是德国 人发现的;只有冥王星是美国人发现的。1930年,24岁的美国天文爱好者汤博在洛韦尔天文台发现冥王星,此前,洛韦尔天文台的创始者洛韦尔苦苦观测了十 多年都没有发现这颗天体。冥王星很快被确定为了大行星,没有正规学习过天文学的汤博也被“特招”成为专业天文学家。

  虽然后来人们发现,冥王星比料想的要小得多,但汤博在世时,没有人对冥王星的地位提出异议。真正的争论在1999年才开始。直到今年,IAU 会才要正式对“大行星”做出界定,一个七人工作小组最初提出了一个“令美国人舒服”的草案,他们不仅把冥王星的大行星地位保留了,而且把1978年美国人 发现的冥王星卫星卡戎、2005年美国人发现的海王外天体2003UB313也都纳入大行星行列。



  两份草案后来又分裂成了三份,最终的结果是,冥王星成了一颗尴尬的“矮行星”“矮行星”是这次会议上为了照顾冥王星以及其他美国人发现的球形 天体而特意发明的一个词汇。或者说,它是一个安慰性质的词汇,“dwarfplanet”(矮行星),说到底还是有“planet”(行星)血统的。