In August of 2006, Pluto’s planetary status was revoked when the International Astronomical Union declared an official definition of a planet in our solar system. Pluto fell short of these new requirements for planet-hood and was thus reclassified as a “dwarf planet.”
This is old news. What most students do not know is that there is a plaque located behind the historical Austin Hall bearing the name of this doomed planet.
It is part of a compilation of plaques spread out in the “backyard” of Austin Hall: nine plaques for nine planets. The one for Pluto is located near the lamppost in the northeast side of the yard. It offers information about the planet, such as its distance from the sun and how it came to be a planet in the 1930s. With Pluto’s recent classification as just a “dwarf planet,” some are left wondering what will happen to the plaque.
“I actually had a few ideas about the Pluto plaque,” said Associate Professor of Physics, C. Renee James, who teaches an astronomy course at Sam Houston State University. “I thought we could have a funeral and dig it up. Everyone could wear black, just sort of a half-joke with a few lab instructors. It would be fun though, to have a community event for astronomy awareness.”
The actual fate of the Pluto plaque has yet to be decided. The plaques were placed on campus several years ago, a feat instigated by the physics department. So far there is no official talk about the future of the Pluto plaque, but the issue has come up since the IAU’s decision.
Students have also joined the informal debate about the plaque. Some feel that the plaque represents history. Even though Pluto is not technically a planet anymore, it represents a time when it was, and the campus should keep the plaque to respect the way the solar system existed for more than 70 years.
“I think they should keep the plaque,” freshman Brian Klackner said. They might take it away to stay current, but I think they should keep it. Pluto will always be a planet in my eyes.”
The situation with the plaque brings to mind the recent debate about whether Pluto should even be considered a planet. The decision to officially demote Pluto was made during a meeting of the IAU in Prague two months ago. The assembly voted on the first definition of a planet in this solar system, and the characteristics of Pluto failed to qualify it for planet-hood.
The IAU’S decision has not only sparked debates within the astrological community, however. Students and professors too are discussing whether Pluto should be preserved as a planet. Some even argue that the issue is a dispute between science and sentimentality and there is no real basis for the argument.
“This is really going to disappoint people, but it makes absolutely no difference. We have been finding similar objects in the solar systems for years, it doesn’t matter what you call it,” James said.
Even though most students and staff on campus are still attached to Pluto, some see Pluto’s planetary status being revoked as a move the science community had to make.
“I think it was a good decision,” Selena Brinegar, student advisor for the campus Presbyterian group, said. “If they keep Pluto as a planet, they would have to reclassify all of the other objects like Pluto. I think they should try to keep as close to the original solar system as possible, but some things need to be changed.”
Like most issues on the minds of students these days, Facebook has proven to be a front line in regard to the war on Pluto’s planet-hood. Groups such as “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet . . . .” and “I voted for Pluto” have popped up since the IAU’s decision and remain to support Pluto.
Whether the Pluto plaque is here to stay, students and faculty have voiced their opinions loudly about the Pluto situation, and some will continue to mourn the loss of the distant ninth “planet.”