I am neither planning to be an astronomy major nor am I particularly interested in the sciences, but I do believe we should still refer to Pluto as a planet. It takes just one look at contemporary pop culture — a culture in which Pluto has already carved its own planetary niche — to realize that if we choose to give the issue of Pluto a cultural, rather than a scientific, edge, the answer is clear. Yes, science is powerful, but even science cannot triumph over an established mindset.
It is a known fact, even to us, the unscientific ones, that the solar system is constantly changing. As astronomers make new discoveries, we are compelled to accept and internalize a lot of new information. But with all due respect, people’s lax response to astronomical findings shows us that, as noble as the astronomic community’s pursuit is, their work rarely makes a profound difference in most people’s lives. The average person won’t spend too much time pondering over the contents of the newest article in “Astronomy Now.” Most of us can therefore afford to be selective regarding what scientific news we choose to actually integrate within our mindsets, and what news we prefer to push back somewhere in limbo.
Let me not be misunderstood — I do acknowledge the fact that the science community needs to serve its purpose and inform us of its worthy projects and discoveries. At the same time, however, I think that when a change of a scope as large as Pluto being stripped of its planet status occurs, there might be social implications that need to be taken into consideration. As dramatic as it may sound, our generation has been born and raised with the notion that there are nine planets in the solar system. Planet Pluto has been featured in sci-fi literature, comics, television series, animations and games — as a planet. Pluto has created a name for itself as such both in people’s thoughts and in the tangible representations of those thoughts. And once a scientific fact — such as Pluto’s status as a planet — accumulates meaning that transcends its purely scientific purpose, it is difficult to change.
If you still prefer facts to social phenomena, I have those as well. Not only did the decision to demote Pluto result from a vote involving only four percent of the International Astronomical Union’s membership, but Pluto also got the status of a “dwarf planet,” an apparently misleading term which, in a linguistically nonsensical way, still contains the word planet in it.
The fact of the matter is — we cannot argue with emotionless scientific data, but we can still choose to include Pluto when we enumerate the planets of the solar system. If Pluto has proven itself an integral part of our upbringing, left a permanent mark as a planet in our memory, or is simply something we don’t want to change, who can stop us?
Long live Pluto, the planet.
Aleksandra Gjorgievska is a freshman in Pierson College.
Correction: September 15, 2011
An earlier version of this article misspelled the author’s name.