New Mexico Lawmaker Petitions to Restore Pluto's Planet Status

The state of New Mexico could effectively secede from the astronomical community if a resolution to call Pluto a planet is passed.

Joint House Memorial 54 was introduced by representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, who represents Dona Ana County. It states that Pluto, the recently demoted object, "be declared a planet and that March 13, 2007 be declared 'Pluto Planet Day' at the legislature."

Pluto was stripped of its planet status last August when a group within the International Astronomical Union voted to call the diminutive, far-flung world a dwarf planet. The decision was immediately and widely criticized by astronomers, many of whom have said it might not stand over time.

The foundations of planetary science won't likely be shook if the resolution passes, however. A Joint House Memorial "does not have the color of law," explained Peter Hay, a staff member at the New Mexico State Legislature. "It is a feeling of the House."

The resolution is the third item on the agenda "on the Speaker's table" today, Hay said in a telephone interview, and could be called to a vote at any time. If the House passes it, the Senate would then take it up. No vote by the Governor is required.

The reasoning of the resolution:

"WHEREAS, New Mexico state university and Dona Ana county were the longtime home of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto; and
WHEREAS, Pluto has been recognized as a planet for seventy-five years; and
WHEREAS, Pluto's average orbit is three billion six hundred ninety-five million nine hundred fifty thousand miles from the sun, and its diameter is approximately one thousand four hundred twenty-one miles; and
WHEREAS, Pluto has three moons known as Charon, Nix and Hydra; and
WHEREAS, a spacecraft called New Horizons was launched in January 2006 to explore Pluto in the year 2015.

Tombaugh used the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. to first spot Pluto in 1930. Pluto is now known by a number, 134340.

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