Astronomers are normally quite tranquil people, however fierce rows have been erupting in recent years over whether Pluto is still 'really' a planet, or merely the largest member of the Kuyper belt. The latter is a huge belt of rocks and debris out beyoAstronomers are normally quite tranquil people, however fierce rows have been erupting in recent years over whether Pluto is still 'really' a planet, or merely the largest member of the Kuyper belt. The latter is a huge belt of rocks and debris out beyond Neptune. But Pluto's days of planethood were numbered, and astronomers in 2006 demoted it to a 'dwarf planet' - whatever that is.s in 2006 demoted it to a 'dwarf planet' - whatever that i
In mythology, Pluto was the underworld ruler of Hades who could wear a helmet of invisibility. At the position given in the ephemeris for Pluto, there is, literally, empty space. Pluto has an extra-large moon, called Charon (the Ferryman, who carried people across the Styx in mythology), and the two of them both orbit around an empty centre- point. Emptiness is present at the joint centre of gravity of Pluto and its moon, around which they both travel, ever facing it.
Perceval Lowell was the US astronomer who predicted where Pluto was going to be. He spent years scribbling out calculations, concerning Pluto's gravity pull on Neptune, and had the Flagstaff Observatory in Arizona built so he could spend years searching for it, and eventually died disheartened. (1) After his death, a young man Clyde Tombaugh was employed by the observatory to continue the search, and found it, just where Lowell had predicted it would be.
Thereby Perceval Lowell was the only mortal to get his initials onto a planetary glyph, as PL. Neptune's discovery had been a powerful vindication of the law of gravity, having its position exactly predicted thereby, and Pluto's discovery was hailed in similar terms: 'The Orbit, now that we know it, is found to be so similar to that which Lowell predicted from his calculations fifteen years ago, that it is quite incredible that the agreement can be due to accident,' intoned the Scientific American, in December 1930. Lowell's predicted orbit was within five degrees of zodiac longitude, and three degrees for perihelion position! Also, he had predicted a steep inclination of the orbit to the ecliptic, though not quite as steep as was actually found.
Pluto's Moon Charon
Charon of the River Styx
Astrologers very soon acquired their image of what was 'Plutonic,' of how they perceived Pluto's influence, because the world seemed to change so drastically following its appearance. The atom was split, fascism grew in Europe, jazz and psychoanalysis became popular, a new era of invisible astronomy began using infra-red telescopes, antimatter was detected (1932), and the first vampire movies appeared (4).
Clyde Tombaugh (left) was a maverick astronomer. He claimed to have seen UFOs and testified to this effect, which no astronomer would normally do. They could, he suggested, be coming from Mars. From his home in New Mexico, he saw in August 1949 some bluish-green objects in the sky, which were, he said, the strangest things he ever saw. He was even named as being head of some secret UFO project, and wrote to a friend that he had seen several UFO-type phenomena (5). Once, in the dead of night, when strolling home from his observatory, he noticed what he took to be a large dog walking beside him, and then realised that it was no dog, but a prairie wolf (6). These are, perhaps, somewhat 'Plutonic' situations, which most of us would never experience.