Astronomers and interested parties have debated back and forth about whether or not Pluto is a planet, but it’s hardly the only controversial object in the sky. Makemake in the Kuiper belt is another object classified as a dwarf planet. Unlike other major astronomical bodies, Makemake is actually named for a Polynesian deity. The name is actually a pun. Makemake is the creator god in the mythology of the inhabitants of Easter Island, and the object was discovered several days after Easter 2005.
The object is 900 miles in diameter and is certainly round enough to be considered a planet. This has caused some people to ask why Makemake isn’t considered to be a planet. In fact, some people might consider the solar system to have as many as 13 planets in its makeup.
While 13 planets might be controversial, Ceres was once considered a planet. Most books call Ceres the largest object in the asteroid belt, but that’s an oversimplification. Some groups call it a failed planet. Had Ceres’ orbit been slightly different, it might have been called a planet between Mars and Jupiter. Some scientists did call it a planet for years, but it’s usually classified as a dwarf planet in modern texts.
Other objects like Haumea and Eris are also candidates for planet classifications in the yes of many astronomers. Some people have even proposed orbital models that make classifying Pluto and Charon as twin planets a distinct possibility. Whether or not these proposals will gain a substantial amount of support among any real number of scientists remains to be seen, but there’s certainly a sizeable body of people who have promoted them.
The term “Trans-Neptunian objects” is sometimes used to describe all major bodies that orbit the sun a measurable distance from Neptune. This classification seems to be based more on political correctness than science, according to some observers. Of course, there are members of the public that reacted to the downgrading of Pluto on purely sentimental reasons. While these mild protests don’t carry much scientific weight, they do illustrate the fact that the public is taking an interest in scientific issues.
Considering that each of these objects may soon be the platform for homesteaders in outer space, people really need to get the classifications in order. Futuristic travel agencies aren’t going to want to debate over what to call their destinations.
Image Credit: International Astronomical Union