Professor David Smillie
21 March 2014
The Demotion of Pluto from Planetary Status
“Pluto has been voted off the island” (Inman). In August of 2006 the celestial body was officially retitled a dwarf planet. The media’s portrayal of the demotion of Pluto began in 2006 and covered a broad variety of topics including the official ruling in Prague, the public’s reception of the decision, a book written by a scientist claiming sole responsibility for the demotion, and finally NASA’s most recent statement in 2012 regarding the dwarf planet. Media interest in Pluto’s demotion spiked twice, first in 2006 when Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status with both supporters and detractors displayed in the media; in the following years interest waned significantly until the second spike arose in 2010 when Mike Brown published his book. In the 2010 the media presented to the public was strictly supporters. “Throw away the placemats. Grab a magic marker for the classroom charts. Take a pair of scissors to the solar system mobile…Pluto got its walking papers” (Overbye).
The ninth planet Pluto lost its planetary status when it did not “make the cut” after The International Astronomical Union collaborated in Prague to finalize the definition of the word planet. The International Astronomical Union decided that there are eight planetary bodies in Earth’s solar system and that Pluto should be categorized as a dwarf planet. Online newspaper articles from 2006, the year The International Astronomical Union met in Prague, up until 2012 emphasize how the demotion of Pluto was presented to the general public. The articles covered within this six year span emphasize the more scientific aspect of the media’s portrayal of Pluto’s demotion. This timeline begins with the official demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status, followed by an article detailing the public’s immediate reaction, and continues until 2012 when NASA reaffirmed the original ruling.
In 2006 a group of astronomers met in the Czech city of Prague for what would become one of the most controversial recent decisions regarding astronomical science. A year prior to this meeting Mike Brown, a planetary scientist discovered a celestial object larger than Pluto which he unofficially named Xena. The controversy surrounding whether or not Xena would be officially deemed a planet sparked motivation to define a planetary body. A New York Times article published in 2006 states “Two years ago, the International Astronomical Union appointed a working group of astronomers to come up with a definition that would resolve this tension…This year a new group with broader roots led by Owen Gingerich of Harvard, took up this problem” (Overbye). The vote can in the Czech Republic can be summed up by William J. Kole who wrote for The Washington Post “Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines…After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of...