The Sciences

New Mexico to Pluto: you’re always a planet to us

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitMar 8, 2007 8:04 PM


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I'm a little late on this one, which came out this morning: the New Mexico legislature has declared that Pluto is a planet. Kindof. Here is the text of House Joint memorial 54:

HOUSE JOINT MEMORIAL 54 48TH LEGISLATURE - STATE OF NEW MEXICO - FIRST SESSION, 2007 INTRODUCED BY Joni Marie Gutierrez A JOINT MEMORIAL DECLARING PLUTO A PLANET AND DECLARING MARCH 13, 2007, "PLUTO PLANET DAY" AT THE LEGISLATURE. WHEREAS, the state of New Mexico is a global center for astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science; and WHEREAS, New Mexico is home to world class astronomical observing facilities, such as the Apache Point observatory, the very large array, the Magdalena Ridge observatory and the national solar observatory; and WHEREAS, Apache Point observatory, operated by New Mexico state university, houses the astrophysical research consortium's three-and one-half meter telescope, as well as the unique two-and-one-half meter diameter Sloan digital sky survey telescope; and WHEREAS, New Mexico state university has the state's only independent, doctorate-granting astronomy department; and WHEREAS, New Mexico state university and Dona Ana county were thelongtime home of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto; and WHEREAS, Pluto has been recognized as a planet for seventy-five years; and WHEREAS, Pluto's average orbit is three billion six hundred ninety-five million nine hundred fifty thousand miles from the sun, and its diameter is approximately one thousand four hundred twenty-one miles; and WHEREAS, Pluto has three moons known as Charon, Nix and Hydra; and WHEREAS, a spacecraft called new horizons was launched in January 2006 to explore Pluto in the year 2015; NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that, as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be declared a planet and that March 13, 2007 be declared "Pluto Planet Day" at the legislature.

It sounds like it's only a planet when it's over New Mexico according to that last line, but I think they mean that when that happens, as of that moment, they will declare Pluto a planet. I guess they can do that if they want (their government must have solved all other problems in the state), but that leaves me wondering: just what does the size of the orbit have to do with anything?

Tip o' the dew shield to Alan Stern (yes, the Alan Stern) for sending me the copy of the memorial.

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