Thursday, April 1, 2010

IAU Decides Earth is No Longer a Planet

HONOLULU (AP) -- The International Astronomical Union (IAU), the international body of scientists responsible for naming stars, planets, and other astronomical bodies, announced today that following a vote taken at its annual Spring meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii that it was reclassifying the Earth. The IAU voted to strip Earth of its "planet" designation and reclassifying it as a "giant dwarf planet." An IAU spokesman said that the change is meant to eliminate confusion following its 2006 decision to demote Pluto from "planet" to "dwarf planet" status.

"We chose to reclassify Pluto in part because it is part of a larger body of objects which we call the 'Kuiper Belt,'" said IAU spokesman James Brown. "Since Pluto is too puny to clear this area of debris, we felt that a new designation was necessary to distinguish Pluto from proper planets like Venus and Neptune." Brown went on to explain the motivation which drove the IAU's decision regarding Earth. "As with Pluto, the way we see Earth's place in the solar system must change as new discoveries are made. Earth was once regarded as the center of the universe but as science progressed, our view of Earth's place in the universe had to change. As more and more Near Earth Objects (NEOs) have been discovered it appears that Earth, despite its much larger mass and gravity, like Pluto is not able to completely clear the neighborhood around its orbit. While many NEOs like Apophis will probably either collide with Earth or be ejected from their orbits by Earth's gravity, there are also enough objects like Cruithne with weird but stable orbits that we feel that a new classification was necessary to describe Earth's place in the solar system."

A second vote to decide whether or not Jupiter should be promoted from a "planet" to a "dwarf brown dwarf" has been scheduled for the IAU's winter meeting in December.

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