« Mental health first aid | Main | Pocoyo: A little piracy can be a good thing »

August 26, 2006

Pluto fights back

Honk if Pluto is still a planet bumper sticker

It's been three days since The International Astronomical Union ruled that Pluto is no longer a planet (BBC story on the ruling) and as you might expect there's been a groundswell of protest about the ruling.

I'm mentioned in an Associated Press story about products available online in the wake of the Pluto ruling. As a result, my "Honk if Pluto is still a planet" bumper stickers are selling like hotcakes. If you want to pick one up (only four bucks, all proceeds donated to The Planetary Society), you can order one here.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at August 26, 2006 07:13 AM


I tried to buy a bumper sticker, but Cafepress is down. I'll come back. Check out the page when you "click on my name". It's home of the "Pluto is a Planet In My Heart" movement. Keep up the good work and spread the word! Peace.

Posted by: James at August 26, 2006 07:46 AM

I wish there was commentary on this subject about how classification of bodies orbiting a sun relates to theories/ hypotheseses about how such bodies were formed. Eg - is there evidence that Pluto might have been captured by the Sun after the event(s) that formed the bodies classified as 'planets'? (One bit of evidence to consider is that Pluto has an orbit which crosses other planets, unlike the 'standard' planets.)

Posted by: JR at August 26, 2006 10:37 AM

Coming soon: The Astronaut Who Went Up To A Plutonic Planetoid But Came Down From A Planet

The story of a global village determined to prevent a team of International Astronomical Union planet-surveyors from delisting their beloved little world. The quirky villagers gather tons of random garbage from the asteroid and Kuiper belts, dumping it all on Pluto in hopes of enlarging it to the size of a proper planet, and thereby saving its designation in the textbooks.

Posted by: G. L. Dryfoos at August 27, 2006 08:33 AM

Hi Chris,

I thought you might want to know the origin of the map of Pluto that's featured on your bumper sticker...

First of all, Pluto is far away. Even the Hubble Space Telescope can only resolve about 4 pixels across Pluto's disk in direct imaging. The map on your sticker was based on a trick - a rare alignment of Pluto and its satellite Charon.

During the period between 1984 and 1990, Charon and Pluto would obscure each other every 6.38 days for groundbased observers. If you were to watch the little dot in the sky that represented Pluto and Charon, you would see it grow fainter when Charon was transiting across Pluto's disk, then grow brighter a few hours later. If you kept track of how faint the dot became when certain parts of Pluto were covered up, you could eventually piece together a mosaic of Pluto's surface brightness.

Rick Binzel (now a professor at MIT) observed many of these events while he was a graduate student at the University of Texas. The colors in the map you've got come from pairs of transit lightcurves taken in B- and V-filters (about 4400 and 5500 Angstroms, respectively). I published this two-color map of Pluto in the Astronomical Journal in 2001 with co-authors Rick Binzel and Keenan Crane.

One more thing...
Keenan was a sophomore at Boulder High School when we published this paper. The original two-color map figure (on which this one is based) was generated by Keenan and appeared on the cover of the Astronomical Journal. I've always thought that was a pretty good accomplishment for a 16 yr old high school intern.

Best Regards,

Young, E.F., Binzel, R.P., & Crane, K. 2001, Astronomical Journal, 121, 552, "A Two-Color Map of Pluto's Sub-Charon Hemisphere."

Posted by: Eliot Young at August 28, 2006 03:47 PM

The news coverage must be a bit off when it says "Chris Spurgeon took 15 minutes to design a bumper sticker on the site featuring a Hubble Space Telescope image." I bet you took 16 minutes and realized it was from ground-based data.

For anyone who's interested in the story behind the map: see the short explanation at the Astronomy Picture of the Day (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap010319.html). For those wanting the full story, the paper is in the Astronomical Journal,

Honk if you believe in the darkish bluish bits near the equator!

Posted by: Leslie Young at August 28, 2006 03:52 PM

I am honking!! Pluto is a planet, but I am just a silly amatuer astronomer and not schooled in higher thought. I started a pluto ribbon campaign on my web site. Visit it and copy the image. Let the IAU know the general public, who utimately pays the bills through taxes and donations are not happy. I hope people start protesting. Our own solar system does not even stand up to the definition they created. And they call me stupid.

Posted by: David Graham at August 28, 2006 03:55 PM