In The Field

IAU: Pluto’s friends left nameless

The final part of the planet definition resolution offered astronomers the chance to save Pluto fans from despair. If accepted, resolution 6A would make the planet (oops, of course I mean ‘dwarf’ planet, since Pluto is no longer a planet proper) the first of a new category of objects orbiting at our solar system’s edge.

The vote was close: they had to count.“If you’ve voting in favour of 6a, please stand with your little yellow card in front your heart,” prompted the count’s coordinator.

A little chaos later, the results were in. Verdict: 237 votes in favour, 157 [*] against and 17 abstentions. Pluto is, officially, “the prototype of a new category of tran-Neptunian objects”.

But the resolution to name Pluto and the other ‘dwarf’ planets that will occupy this category “plutonian objects” was voted down. It was close. Very close. First we had 183 votes in favour. “Mr President, you’re going to love this,” said the coordinator. “We have 186 votes against.”

There was almost a vote to revote, after the incoming IAU president Catherine Cesarsky urged her colleagues not to leave the category nameless. “We will look a little stupid if we define a new category but have not given it a name,” she warned.

It didn’t happen. For now the new Pluto-like objects are to be known by nothing. But Ron Ekers, current president of the IAU, got the last laugh anyway. He pointed out that IAU rules allow the organisation to set up a body to decide a name for the category, without going having to go through the kerfuffle of a vote at a General Assembly. Maybe, just maybe, plutonian objects will be back.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading this blog. A proper news story will appear on the news@nature site shortly.

*An earlier version of this post said the number of votes against was 257. Thanks to the commenters who queried how this could mean the vote had passed. This was a typo — the number of votes against 6a was 157. Jenny


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