by L Neil Smith
Here’s a matter that may reveal more about psychology or politics than it does about astronomy. You’ll recall, a couple of years ago, the flap over the “demotion” of Pluto, theretofore the ninth planet of the Solar System, to the mean and niggardly status of “dwarf planet”.
I have always believed that an international conspiracy, possibly composed of those who hate our freedom, carried out this astronomical assassination because Pluto is the only planet discovered by an American, Clyde Tombaugh.
However, given the fact that Pluto, whatever its size, is an independent body circling the same primary we do (unlike the Asteroids of the Belt or those found at various Trojan positions around the System, or parked in orbit around Mars) and the pathetic and petty way this demotion was carried out, many people, including yours truly, objected to it as unnecessary, inaccurate, and stupid.
Now we learn (because we don’t always keep up on these things) that in addition to the moon Charon, which we’ve known about for a long while, Pluto possesses _four_ other moons, Nix, Hydra, and more recently, Styx and Kerberos, all named for various underworld-related entities in Greek mythology.
The System’s “gas giants”, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and the one whose pronunciation mysteriously changes whenever it’s mentioned on TV, all have more moons than we can properly keep track of. Mars, Earth, and Venus, which are also full-blown planets in good standing, possess, respectively, two, one, and zero moons.
And yet Pluto, the little world that has been ignominiously stripped of its rank, and its sword ceremonially broken, has five moons. Count ‘em: five whole moons! I maintain that this confirms its proper dignity as a first-class planet, and to the list of historic phrases like “Carthage must be destroyed!” “Remember the Alamo”, and “Hillary wears army boots!”, we should now add “Restore Pluto!””