Who Killed Pluto?

Shunned and ostracized, the former planet pickets forlornly around the solar system.
Shunned and ostracized, the former planet pickets forlornly around the solar system.
Pluto is, allegedly, the Roman god of the underworld. An immortal being who oversees the care of the souls of the dead. He was often confused or equated with Hades, the Grecian god of the underworld, but the two were distinctly different. For one thing, Hades had a better manager who got him cast in a fun Disney movie. Pluto’s people, on the other hand, bungled things so badly that there are now millions of people who think the planet named in his honor is actually named for the world’s stupidest cartoon dog.

How stupid, you ask? It’s owned by a mouse. Nuff said.

As if that weren’t bad enough, in 2005 his planet was downgraded to dwarf status and removed from the schoolbooks of girls and boys the world over. This, also, forever rendered the planet song useless.

The moon ascribed to him, Charon (named after the Grecian ferryman of the dead), is now just considered a rock. And not a very pretty rock at that.

Talk about kicking a deity when its down.

Now, according to Hugh Collins of AOL News, the man who added the final insult to the injuries has gotten a book deal.

Michael E. Brown, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, killed Pluto. But now there are questions about the murder plot.

After Brown’s study of a celestial body named Eris, he declared in 2005 that it was larger (or at least “more massive”) than Pluto, then the ninth planet in the solar system.

About a year later, the word “planet” was redefined, and Pluto was out in the cold, along with Eris. The two are now known as “dwarf planets.”

Brown says he mourns the loss of Pluto, but he certainly doesn’t seem too sorry. His book, launched in December, is called “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.”

“Kicking it out was the most scientifically sensible thing to happen to planetary classification since asteroids were also kicked out almost 200 years ago,” Brown says on his book’s Amazon.com page.

But some doubts are emerging about Brown’s choice of weapon, Eris. A new study from astronomers Alain Maury and Bruno Sicardy suggests that Eris may not be so big after all.

Measuring the size of a planet is tricky, as you have to rely on how it affects the light of stars around it.

Maury and Sicardy aren’t saying just how big they think Eris is, according to The New York Times. They will say that the smallest-possible Pluto is bigger than the largest-possible Eris.

Eris is “clearly smaller,” Maury said.

So what does that mean for the planet killer?

So far, he seems interested rather than concerned. In a lengthy blog post, Brown detailed the differing estimates of Pluto’s size, ranging from 2,220 kilometers (1,379 miles) in diameter to 2,400 kilometers.

“As a scientist you don’t get an answer key,” Brown wrote. “The only safe statement to make at this point is this: within the uncertainties, we cannot distinguish which of the dwarf planets is the largest.”

Still, Brown downplayed the impact of any readings that would show Pluto to be larger than Eris.

“Scientifically, knowing which one is bigger will teach us … absolutely nothing,” Brown wrote. “The fact that they are nearly identical in size is scientifically interesting; which one is a few kilometers bigger than the other matters not one bit.”

As if that isn’t enough damage to our deity’s ego, all dwarf planets are now called Plutoids, or pseudo-Plutos.

Yeah, that’s gotta sting.

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