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Demoted Again?

The planet-like body formerly known as Pluto has received yet another hit to its ego. I heard on the news this morning that this planet-like body is now “Minor Planet 134340″ (transcript not yet available for linking). So it’s not a Dwarf Planet any more? This is getting more interesting by the day. All my life I figured the names and number of the planets were one of the least contested facts around. Whoa Nelly, was I ever wrong! Let this be a lesson unto me…

A quick search revealed conflicting information. I found a lot of people repeating the language of the newscast this morning: Pluto is just a number, blah, blah, blah. But no official body was weighing in to actually say definitively that Pluto wasn’t Pluto any more. Oh, and the Wikipedia entry has been locked down because of recent vandalism and revert wars. Yes, that’s right, people feel so strongly about this subject that there are revert wars going on over at dear old Wikipedia, and at least one guy’s feelings are hurt.

Science.com‘s post, “Pluto is now just a number: 134340,” pointed me toward the source of the confusion. Apparently, the Minor Planet Center (MPC) has added Pluto to its catalog of minor planets and assigned it its new number, but has not actually removed it’s Dwarf Planet status. Here’s what the MPC says in one of the Electronic Circulars for September 7th:

It should be noted that, just as some of the numbered objects that have exhibited cometary activity also have designations in the catalogue of numbered periodic comets, the numbering of “dwarf planets” does not preclude their having dual designations in possible separate catalogues of such bodies. (MPEC 2006-R19)

So Pluto is now both a Dwarf Planet named “Pluto” and a “numbered object” with the designation 134340. Tune in five minutes from now for the poor thing’s next controversial designation.

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