So we’re down to eight planets.
In a cosmic game of Ten Little Indians, the International Astronomical Union has voted that to be called a planet, an object must be in orbit around a star, be big enough for its gravity to collapse itself into a round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.
This vote on a topic contentious for the past year eliminates Ceres (an asteroid), and Xena (out in the Kuiper Belt) from the competition. It also knocks Pluto completely off the nation’s placemats. They are now lumped together under the new rubric dwarf planet. At least they escaped demotion to small solar system bodies.
Ah, well. C’est la astronomie.
But there is more to redefining our universe than just changing names. (WARNING: Library geek column ahead.) In my online catalog, do I recatalog Pluto under DWARF PLANETS or PLANETS, DWARF? If under the former, then surely I’ll need a SEE ALSO directing students from PLANETS to DWARF. But PLANETS, DWARF seems a bit baroque. The people in charge of these things have been steadily getting rid of the NOUN, ADJECTIVE format for years, so that POETS, AMERICAN is now simply AMERICAN POETS.
And what’s the subject heading for SMALL SOLAR SYSTEM BODIES? Is ASTEROIDS no longer good enough?
This is just the subject headings, of course. The bigger issue is the venerable Dewey Decimal Classification System. Pluto shared a number with Neptune as a “trans-Uranian” planet, 523.48, although if you’re going with the unabridged DDC, you can bump it up to its full number 523.482.
So where does Pluto go now? Do we bump it down to 523.44, with the Asteroids, which I guess we now rename to Small Solar System Bodies? Or do the Dwarf Planets get their own number? I’m guessing they go into 523.49, which is currently unused. We could leave it with trans-Uranian planets, but it’s not a planet anymore, and Neptune, its partner, is.
At least I guess it is. One of the criteria that worked against Pluto was that its path crossed Neptune’s. (It’s orbit is also weirdly tilted out of the paper plate we glue all the others onto.) So if Pluto hasn’t cleared its own orbit, neither has Neptune. Just because it’s huge, it gets to keep its place in the model kits?
All I’m saying is that the IAU clearly has not checked with the Library of Congress (you think Dewey Decimal has issues?) or H.W. Wilson (publisher of the Sears List of Subject Headings) or OCLC (publisher of the DDC). And as any librarian can tell you, you don’t ever ever want to make us mad. If we say it’s still a planet, then the IAU can vote all it wants to but that decision will never make it as far as the next kindergartener’s hands. Cataloging power!
Thank you for listening.