Michael A. Burstein was interviewed for a piece by Lyndsey Layton and Elizabeth Koh in the July 15 Washington Post — “One of today’s great generation gaps: Whether you think Pluto is a planet”.
Described as “a science writer and former teacher,” Burstein was quoted for his role as co-founder (with his wife Nomi) of the Society for the Preservation of Pluto as a Planet, and he talked about how Pluto should be a planet again.
“It’s more an emotional argument,” said Michael A. Burstein…. “Up until now, Pluto was the only planet discovered by an American astronomer, the only planet discovered in the 20th century and generations have learned about nine planets. It seemed abrupt that we would downgrade it.”
[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]
Eh. I’m just shy of 50, and grew up with space exploration – I remember Dad checking out an 8 mm projector and a press office reel with wire-frame footage of the then-upcoming Voyager encounter with Jupiter. This stuff is in my blood. (I also remember the bitter pessimism-building sense of decline as NASA mission plans got whacked and whacked and whacked again so that what could have been a Grand Tour went away in favor of Space Shuttle stuff that ended up not going either.)
To me, saying “turns out that Pluto actually has a whole bunch of other bodies it shares many things in common with, and shares less with the planets further in” is…just not a demotion. It’s an awareness of a wider universe. I don’t get the feeling that somehow Pluto is diminished in this regard.
At least it’s nice to see that they’re now admitting that the “Pluto is a planet!” argument is based on nothing other than sentimental nationalism.
Of course, it was another American’s discovery of what was temporarily called the tenth planet that got Pluto demoted. The argument had been going on for some time about whether Pluto should still be called a planet, but it didn’t get serious until Mike Brown discovered Eris. At that point, the IAU decided they couldn’t put off a definition of the word “planet” any longer. The various arguments were interesting, and personally, I would have preferred a definition that kept Pluto classified as a planet, but with the assumption that there could eventually be dozens of recognized planets orbiting the sun. I like the idea that kids would be taught that, since school curriculum mostly ignores all the interesting worlds that aren’t considered to be planets. But it isn’t that big a deal to me personally – the worlds are still out there, whatever you call them.
Ok, I will translate this text from our Science Fiction bookstore:
Once a planet, always a planet.
Yes, I am an old-fart biased k-krusty nerd. What of it? You want a piece of me? Well, do you, punk? Did we name only 8 planets, or 9? Kinda lost count…. Feeling lucky?
Once a planet, always a planet? What do you think about Ceres, Vesta, Juno and Pallas?