Being a small planetoid some 2.7 billion miles from the sun, Pluto is used to feeling frigid. But the cold shoulder it received from Earth back in 2006 when it was demoted to a dwarf planet was bad even for this tiny yet lovable rock. The demotion was received with mixed reviews, but now scientists may have uncovered calculations that suggest we may have given up on our diminutive distant neighbor a bit too quickly. And as the calculations are rerun again and again, it seems Pluto may be soon making a comeback.
The fight to keep Pluto a planet has been a debate just as entrenched in emotional loyalty to the idea of a twelve planet system as it has been in scientific classification. Many who grew up memorizing the nine planets orbiting the sun feel a bit left out when the mnemonic devices once ending in P no longer work. The emotional response is almost akin to a Death Star suddenly appearing at the edge of our system and blasting the planet out of our lives entirely. But a new opportunity to measure the size of Pluto and (perhaps more importantly) the size of other dwarf planets suggests the solar system of tomorrow may be more like the one we are used to.
Calculations measuring the dwarf planet Eris, once a key component in deciding to downgrade Pluto, have revealed that Eris is no longer considered larger than Pluto. While this in itself may not seem like much, the difference is just enough to give Pro Plutonians the much needed boost to allow this planet to escape its fate as a forgotten planetoid.
But the calculations are close. The true size of Eris has yet to be fully explored. And when the values are so close to one another, a matter of only a few square miles can mean all the distance in the world for this world. The primary reason Pluto is no longer a planet is the discovery of a massive collection of stellar objects beyond Neptune. And if one of these were to be discovered larger than Pluto, astronomers would have to make a serious decision when it comes to the classification of stellar objects. Do they consider Pluto a planet and then allow any other objects of equal or greater size also join in the cosmic family? Or do they instead demote it and avoid the fevered constant addition of new planets? The fact that Eris was initially slightly larger than Pluto only sealed the now dwarf planet’s fate. But now that a contrasting discovery has been made suggesting this was a slight error, Pluto may stand a chance of being welcomed back.
Whatever your opinion on Pluto’s current classification, little has changed on the planet’s surface. Though it has no life on its surface, theoretical being on its surface would be largely unaware of Earth’s existence let alone its decision to downgrade the planet to dwarf status. Of course if it had a television receiver it may receive word of this fact, but with Earth somewhere between 28 and 50 astronomical units away at any given point, it will continue unheeding of its warm welcome if Plutonian advocates emerge victorious. Any meaning would likely rest solely with the human race alone.