Last updated August 3, 2018 at 2:25 pm
A statement claims that calling another object Planet 9 is ‘insensitive’.
In this week’s edition of the Planetary Exploration Newsletter, a group of 35 scientists have complained that the use of the term Planet 9 is “insensitive”.
In the statement titled On the insensitive use of the term “Planet 9” for objects beyond Pluto, they criticise the naming of a hypothetical giant planet orbiting on the absolute outer reaches of our solar system as Planet 9. Their argument seems to be that Planet 9 should only refer to Pluto to protect the legacy of its discoverer.
“Given the incredible accomplishment of the discovery of Pluto, the harbinger of the solar system’s third zone – the Kuiper Belt – by planetary astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930, we the undersigned believe the use of the term “Planet 9” for objects beyond Pluto is insensitive to Professor Tombaugh’s legacy,” they write.
Not everyone was supportive when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006. In attempting to create a clear definition of what constitutes a planet, they found that Pluto no longer fit the criteria – a decision that still has its critics, including the authors of the statement.
With its downgrading, Pluto is no longer the ninth planet, but the hypothetical planet in our outer reaches could well be. Therefore, it is commonly referred to as Planet 9.
However the scientists believe it should be given a “culturally and taxonomically neutral” term instead. They suggest names “such as Planet X, Planet Next, or Giant Planet Five”.
Professor Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on 18 February 1930, announced at the time as the first planet discovered in our solar system for 84 years (although not fitting the modern criteria for a planet). The name Pluto was officially decided upon on 1 May 1930, barely two months after its discovery.
Since then, the planet has been far better known as Pluto – and Tombaugh’s legacy lives on as its discoverer.
It could also be argued that something more insensitive to Tombaugh’s legacy would have been giving nicknames to features on Pluto that include Cthulhu, a fictional beast with wings and an octopus head.