August 24, 2006 was a dark day for Pluto enthusiasts. It was on that day that the International Astronomical Union established three conditions a celestial body must meet in order to be considered a planet. A planet must orbit around the sun, it must be massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, and it must have “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit, which means, simply put, that it must have a certain amount of gravitational pull.
Pluto does not meet the third condition, so once those rules were put in place, Pluto was demoted to “dwarf planet,” 75 years after its discovery. Hearts everywhere were broken, as the ninth planet was sadly no longer so. What is My Very Excellent Mother going to serve us nine of now? That’s not a problem in New Mexico, who has taken a Jerry Smith-like stance and declared that, in some instance, they will still legally consider Pluto to be a full-fledged planet (via
If you’re wondering where the enthusiasm comes from, the state has a special connection to Pluto, as Clyde Tombaugh, its discoverer, taught astronomy at New Mexico State University for nearly 20 years and was a proud resident of the state (and he’s also the great-nephew of baseball pitcher and the 2014 MLB National League MVP Clayton Kershaw).
Most in the astronomy community probably don’t agree with New Mexico on this issue, but we’re gonna trust them on this one. Welcome back, Pluto!