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New Mexico Might Declare Pluto a Planet 328

Posted by kdawson
from the dwarf-schwmarf dept.
pease1 writes "Wired and others are reporting that for New Mexico, the fight for Pluto is not over. Seven months after the International Astronomical Union downgraded the distant heavenly body to a 'dwarf planet,' a state representative in New Mexico aims to give the snubbed world back some of its respect. State lawmakers will vote Tuesday on a bill that proposes that 'as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be declared a planet.' The lawmaker who introduced the measure represents the county in which Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto's discoverer, was born. For many of us old timers, and those who had the honor of meeting Clyde, this just causes a belly laugh and is pure fun. Not to mention a bit of poking a stick in the eye."
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New Mexico Might Declare Pluto a Planet

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  • Fine (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cyraan (840132) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:14PM (#18308706)
    "Nothing for you to see here. Please move along."

    Well fine, I'm gonna start my own Pluto-recognizing state, with blackjack, and hookers!
    In fact, forget the state, and the blackjack.
    • Re:Fine (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:32PM (#18308840)

      Well fine, I'm gonna start my own Pluto-recognizing state, with blackjack, and hookers!
      In fact, forget the state, and the blackjack.

      So just Pluto-recognizing hookers?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fyngyrz (762201) *

      I never stopped considering Pluto a planet; the new definition is no more attractive than the previous hand-waving, and frankly, I like my definition better anyway:

      If it orbits a star, and has characteristics such that the main mass has formed a sphere or oblate spheroid and it will remain that way barring impact with something, it's a planet. If it orbits a star but will not form a sphere, it's a comet or asteroid, depending on composition (ablative or not, respectively.) If it orbits a planet, it's a m

      • Re:Fine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Time_Ngler (564671) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:47PM (#18308934)
        Wouldn't marbles released into space far enough away from a planet to orbit a star fall under your classification as planets?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by fyngyrz (762201) *

          No, because marbles didn't (and wouldn't) naturally form themselves into spheres in space. I'd just call them "artificial debris."

          There are lots more things, but most are pretty much unchanged - only the debate about what a planet is has really been stirring things up. For instance, if an object was formed by intelligent beings rather than nature, then it gets prefixed with "artificial." I also like "planetesimal" for planets too small to walk on, "planetoid" for planets that are very low mass (specific

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by JackMeyhoff (1070484)
            What do you think planets are made out of, debris.
            • Re:Fine (Score:4, Interesting)

              by fyngyrz (762201) * on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:43PM (#18309400) Homepage Journal
              What do you think planets are made out of, debris

              In my view, debris is the result of the actions of intelligence, so no, planets aren't made of debris. They are generally made of materials condensed out of a stellar (or proto-stellar) accretion disk, or otherwise naturally found in space.

      • by Scarblac (122480)
        I believe the main problem with that is that there could be more than 1,000 of them in the solar system. Not so useful for popular use then anymore, and that's the main use of the word.
        • by fyngyrz (762201) *

          I believe the main problem with that is that there could be more than 1,000 of them in the solar system.

          I guess my first reaction is, where did you get that number? We have 11 or so major planets, collectively they have a fair number of moons; once you remove those from the count, what and where are the other naturally formed spheres or oblate spheroids? Secondly... I'm not sure I have a problem with them being planets in any case, but as I am unaware of them, and I'm kind of a space bug, I don't see t

          • There are a number of Pluto sized chunks of rock floating around where Pluto is. Many of them are pretty big.
            They arent planets though. Too small. Pluto isnt a planet for that reason too.
      • Go check out Pluto's orbit. It doesnt really look much like any of the other planets.
        Its at quite a big angle compared to everything else.

        Thats one reason why imho its not a planet.
  • Doesn't making laws which define what a word means violate the first amendment or something?
    • by Bluey (27101) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:18PM (#18308734) Homepage
      That depends on what the meaning of the word "word" is.

      Read up on "Freedom Fries" for a good example of redefinition.
    • by mikesd81 (518581)
      First Amendment is freedom of speech not freedom of definition. If you're arguing about the word "planet" then what's the difference of people calling an SUV a SUV?
      • by Jartan (219704)

        First Amendment is freedom of speech not freedom of definition.

        I know not everyone is a linguist but if you believe this you are mistaken. Freedom of speech and freedom of definition are very intimately linked.

        For instance if I say George Bush is a traitor and the government changes the definition of the word such that me saying that becomes libel then they have very effectively limited my freedom of speech.

        For this instance if I don't call pluto a planet in some situation that this law decrees I must call

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maccam94 (840004)
      This bill is a complete waste of time and taxpayer money. It is not the place of government (nor religion) to declare something a fact when it contradicts information obtained using the scientific process.
      • by SeaDour (704727)
        But Pluto's definition is not a hard fact we can determine through trial and error, it's just a name. We could call Pluto and the other small spherical objects in our solar system "cosmic peanuts" but that wouldn't change any of their properties. The International Astronomical Union VOTED on it at their last conference -- it's not something they really "discovered" by staring through their telescopes for a long time -- and the new "dwarf planet" term has received quite a bit of criticism from people all o
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by omeomi (675045)
          Heck, by the "as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be declared a planet" definition, pretty much everything up there is a planet...the moon, the stars, some comets, satellites...the international space station...just about everything but the sun, I guess...
      • This bill is a complete waste of time and taxpayer money. It is not the place of government (nor religion) to declare something a fact when it contradicts information obtained using the scientific process.

        Oh no, this is exactly what you want legislators to do. Nothing. Remember the Douglas Adams' catchphrase "mostly harmless". We'd like to keep the legislators that way, thank you very much. Give them more time and then they're messing with the budget, your rights, the interns...

    • by AchiIIe (974900)
      I don't think it violates the first amendment, (gee teenagers coming up with lols and brbs// ./'s coming up with IANALs would have been prosecuted by now)

      However I wonder if they will make sedna a planet too. Sedna is bigger than Pluto. -- Or how about the many moons of jupiter, some of them are bigger than pluto as well. Do they get planetship?

      Similar & related:
      Arkansas House passes resolution changing possessive of state's name to "Arkansas's" [signonsandiego.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by giminy (94188)
      Actually it reinforces the first ammendment in a way which the first ammendment does not need, and as such could be seen as weakening the first ammendment, yes.

      The first ammendment states that noone can interfere with anyone calling Pluto anything they want, including a cartoon dog. If the state legislature decided that calling Pluto a Dwarf Planet violated the state constitution, that in turn would violate the US Constitution because as a New Mexico and a US Citizen, I would simultaneously be restricted f
    • Someone needs to tag this article "wikiality."
      What exactly gives this guy the idea that government should be involved in deciding to meddle in what is a politically approved "fact" or not?
  • by Spazntwich (208070) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:18PM (#18308740)
    They're just arguing on a slippery slope fallacy. First Pluto is stripped of its title, and before we know it, there will only be one Mexico again.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Don't submit to the international fascist conspiracy! Pluto IS a planet!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by RogerWilco (99615)
      Xena for planet!

      Petition your local representative for more planets and bigger telescopes, so all your favorite people can have a planet named after them.
  • And I suppose that state representative is getting a salary for employing her time in such a productive way.

    Well, at least it keeps her out of the streets, I guess.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by grasshoppa (657393)
      Well, at least it keeps her out of the streets, I guess.

      I wouldn't be so sure of that; She is a politician after all. It's in her nature to whore herself out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bobcat7677 (561727)
      Actually it is a smart political move. Scores points with the constiuents that for the most part agree that demoting pluto was totally dumb to begin with. And creates some good tourist marketing material. "Come visit sunny New Mexico where Pluto is still a planet!".
  • arrrrr? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jjeffries (17675) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:20PM (#18308760)
    It be declared a planet.

    Given the relative scarcity of larger bodies of water there, I did not realize that New Mexico had any pirates at all, let alone some in the legislature. Good work!

    Also, pi = 4. Or maybe 3.2. The government has spoken, let it be written!

  • Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dduardo (592868) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:21PM (#18308766)
    I don't like the fact that scientists say the world is round so I'm going to petition my local government to enact legislation to make the world flat. Does that sound right?
    • by MoonFog (586818)
      Not just absurd, it's crazy. They disregard what the scientific community has said and make up their own definition "just because"? They are politicians and should stick to that.. Sadly, this isn't exactly the first we've seen of blatant disregard of the scientific community by politicians..
    • by JimBobJoe (2758)
      I don't like the fact that scientists say the world is round so I'm going to petition my local government to enact legislation to make the world flat. Does that sound right?

      No. But you can petition your local government to declare that the world is flat.

      Does it make a difference? It could depending on a few things, but such an arbitrary declaration would probably be symbolic today.

      But it illustrates that quite a lot of what politicians do is arbitrary, though much of it has enormous implications. The proces
  • Who cares (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <mikesd1@NOsPam.verizon.net> on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:26PM (#18308784) Homepage
    Is it really that big of a deal that they want to pass this to honor the person that found Pluto? A link to the Memorial Text [state.nm.us]. This probably won't cost the state much money so let it be.
    • by rucs_hack (784150)
      honouring is not the problem.

      The big issue is that he is honoured for the wrong thing.

      When Pluto was found it was the first *ever* Kuiper Belt object to be observed by mankind. A serious achievement, and a notable step in the evolution of astronomy.

      Alas this real achievement has been mired in argument for decades, because people want Pluto to be something it isn't.
    • by Jim Hall (2985)

      Actually, I don't have a problem with the bill if they were to strike the "Pluto is a planet" thing. As you point out, it's a short bill, and doesn't call for any money to be spent. Here's the bit I have a problem with (in bold):

      THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that, as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be declared a planet and that March 13, 2007 be declared "Pluto Planet Day" at the legislature.

      If you remove the stuff in bold

  • by openaddy (852404) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:27PM (#18308798)
    I mean, really. Who would know more about astronomy? Astronomists? Or Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, Landscape Architect? Let's just let her and her colleagues sort out stem cell research and evolution and global warming and blah blah.. I don't want to have to think about it. :P
    • by CRCulver (715279)

      Who would know more about astronomy? Astronomists?

      No, that's not it. Professional astronomy scientists are called astrologers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by despisethesun (880261)
        I hope you're joking, but in case you're not, someone who studies astronomy is an astronomer. Astrologers are people who study the pseudoscience of astrology.
    • by adnonsense (826530) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:56PM (#18308980) Homepage Journal

      Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, Landscape Architect

      I see a possible vested interest here. Pluto = planet = greater chance of manned mission = greater chance of human colonisation = opportunities galore for landscape architects. (I hear Pluto is in a very secluded location, but could benefit from some remodelling, and possibly an ornamental pond or two).

  • ...have been solved and they have time for important declarations such as this.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:32PM (#18308832) Homepage Journal
    1) Argue with scientists
    2) Pass a law declaring victory
    3) ???
    4) PROFIT!!!

    Legally speaking, at one time tomatoes were not considered fruits.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheoMurpse (729043)
      Actually, it's still considered a vegetable when talking about tarriffs. The Supreme Court Case Nix v. Hedden [wikipedia.org] decided that and has never been overruled; according to Westlaw (can't link to you since it's a paid service), it's still good law.

      Here are a few summary pieces from the Westlaw headnotes:

      Tomatoes are vegetables, rather than fruits, in the common and popular acceptation of such words, and were not free of duty under the provision of the free list for fruits, green, ripe, or dried, but were dutiable

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NonSequor (230139)
        The court's job was to determine the intent of the law and it decided to go with what most people consider to be fruits rather than the more rigorous definition used by botanists.

        My favorite part is the justification about how the people think it's a vegetable because of when they eat it:

        in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, t

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:32PM (#18308834)
    Next they should outlaw disease. Just imagine the healthcare savings.
  • In other news. . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bastian (66383) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:38PM (#18308876)
    Illinois to vote on a bill to define pi as 22/7.

    Oklahoma's legislature to say that eclipses really are dragons eating the moon.

    North Carolina is considering a bill to re-instate earth, water, air, and fire as elements.
    • by AuMatar (183847)
      What, no heart? Why does heart always get dissed?
    • There's a big difference. All those things describe bills asserting something that is blatantly untrue. The New Mexico bill defines what something is called. It's just about names. It's like saying "the constant 3.1415296 etc. shall now be known as "BoobleBobble" instead of pi. Silly, yes. Unscientific? Not really. No name is more "correct" than any other.

      If the line between "planet" and "not planet" is vague and contrived, which is why the scientific community when from calling pluto "a planet" to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bastian (66383)
        Yeah, I realize that the distinctions among bodies in the solar system are somewhat arbitrary, but the decision to switch Pluto from being a planet to creating a new category called "dwarf planet" is reasoned and rather insightful. Pluto bears a lot more similarity to all the other bodies that fall into the dwarf planet category than it does to other planets. Meanwhile the only reason I can see for legislating Pluto back into planethood is an obsessive need to hold to tradition.

        I don't think tongue-in-che
  • Politics. Pandering to the idiot vote. For Astrology believers, the 'downgrading' of Pluto was a slap in the face, provoking those feelings of religious outrage which politicians love to exploit. Millions and millions of voters in New Mexico have some sort of belief in Astrology, ranging from slight interest to passionate conviction. Many of those votes have just been guaranteed to those legislators responsible for this bill.

    Being enlightened slashdotters, most of us have little appreciation for how stu
    • Isn't astrology a lot older than the discovery of Pluto? In fact, it old enough that the sky no longer matches the astrological symbols.
    • by fontkick (788075)
      "Being enlightened slashdotters, most of us have little appreciation for how stupid people really are."

      Not so fast... my threshold is set to -1, which means I have tremendous appreciation for how stupid people really are.
  • by HalAtWork (926717) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:47PM (#18308938)
    Can't anyone see? This whole debate was created by Pluto itself as media hype to keep Pluto in the news!
  • The saddest thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jiawen (693693) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:52PM (#18308952) Homepage
    The saddest thing about all this, to me, is that the legislators probably did this because their constituents demanded it. There are way too many people out there who think that Pluto being declared not a planet is the biggest astronomy story in recent memory. Hints as to the source of gamma ray bursts? Flowing water on Mars? The Hubble's main camera having trouble? Landing a probe on the surface of Titan? More beautiful photography of Saturn than you can shake a stick at? None of those seem to get a grip on the popular consciousness. But Pluto, subject to more anthropomorphizing than any planet should be, somehow gets to be the cute underdog, fighting for its rights against nasty scientists. Blech.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AnswerIs42 (622520)
      I take it that 1) You don't live in southern New Mexico 2) Have never been to Las Cruces, NM (Clyde Tombaugh's name is all over the place). If you have or had been, then you would understand.

      Tombaugh is a local hero (The "do it yourself" guy that found a planet) to people there and having his discovery "watered down" is akin to going to someone that has three purple hearts and taking them away because of an "oversight".

      So, the saddest thing is your complete lack of details as to WHY they want to do thi

    • I know what GRBs are, and I looked at all those Saturn photos. But that doesn't mean I think these people are totally moronic. Maybe for trying to legislate it, but that aside, don't you have at least a little sentimentality for the old system? Now all those times I looked in a telescope at pluto, I have to remind myself that I was just looking at a friggin rock.





      It is dumb to try and legislate it though, I suppose.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MollyB (162595) *

      But Pluto, subject to more anthropomorphizing than any planet should be, somehow gets to be the cute underdog, fighting for its rights against nasty scientists. Blech.

      1. Exactly who is doing the anthropomorphizing here? Hint: you.
      2. Some people from the New Mexico county in which Clyde Tombaugh (the tireless discover of said celestial body) was born wanted to honor him, in defiance of the slithy toves and slimy weasels that would deprive him of his hard-earned recognition. I'm not going to provide a link you probably won't follow anyway, but you might find that he deduced the presence of an unseen planet from perturbations of Neptune's orbit and found the tiny pinprick

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by clickety6 (141178)
        And your scientific rather than emotional reasoning for calling Pluto a planet is.... ?
  • Uh, schoolbooks? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:05PM (#18309048)
    Yea, funny and even cute, until you figure that as they look at new science books for state public schools, the state will be more concerned with the books promoting the official state version of the planetary population than they will be with overall quality or cost to the taxpayers.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Connecticut has declared Pluto to be a social networking site.
  • by popo (107611) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:10PM (#18309094) Homepage

    which, by the way has more bearing on reality than the semantics of the word "planet".

    this is *still* a non-story.

  • by Kabuthunk (972557)
    This is what I see upon looking at the article:

    "I'm right and everyone else is wrong! I'm going to believe it MY way, and that's that."

    I mean cripes... I wonder how many of them still believe the world is flat? Just because you say that it's true doesn't mean that it is.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:16PM (#18309128) Homepage Journal
    It would be fun to stand on the border between New Mexico and Texas and hop back and forth over the borderline, thinking "now it's a planet, now it's not. Planet again...."
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@@@optonline...net> on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:18PM (#18309162) Journal

    Clyde Tombaugh.

    He found Pluto at a time when detecting planets was done with glass plate negatives and telescopes that were manually driven. He knew he was looking for a planet but where to find it was a matter of subjective debate. But he was the consummate scientist; as his wife noted after the demotion of Pluto, he would have been disappointed but he would have understood.

  • Thank you New Mexico (Score:5, Interesting)

    by volcanopele (537152) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:22PM (#18309202)
    I, for one, like this resolution. The IAU decision last year consisted of one of the most ridiculous definitions I have ever seen and it is nice to see a legitimate resolution being offered to attack it. There was a resolution last year in the California statehouse, but that read more like a joke, than something more serious like this one. I've emailed my state assemblyman this story so maybe Arizona will do the same thing. After all, this PLANET was discovered using an Arizona telescope. For those who think this is a waste of money, how much money do you think this will cost? This is a symbolic resolution, no appropriations are associated with it. The text looks like it took 10 minutes to write. As commented earlier, this will take about a minute to vote on. So certainly compared to other government wasteful spending, this ranks pretty far down there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by skrolle2 (844387)
      The Kuiper belt has a lot of stuff in it. If Pluto is a planet, what is Eris, Ceres, Varuna, Ixion, Quaoar, and Orcus? All of those are definitely in the same ballpark as Pluto, should we upgrade all of those to planet status as well? Or should we only keep Pluto classified as a planet, since that's the object we discovered first? The discovery of Pluto isn't lessened because we since have discovered objects with the same characteristics, We know now that it was premature to call it a planet, but it was st
  • Rather than further limiting citzen rights and increasing the size and reach of government. We should encourage our government to focus more on stupid things like this, then more bills like the Patriot Act and DMCA might not happen. ;)
  • do you go to jail for stating that Pluto is not a planet, or does the Freedom of Speech trump this stupid law?
  • Bad Priorities (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lbmouse (473316)
    As a former resident of New Mexico (along with Bill Gates :), I'd hope that a state representative would focus aim on the poverty of the south valley barrios in Albuquerque, the fact that NM has the highest rate of police shooting people in the back, or maybe even the violence and drug problems on the SE side of Abq. That should be a priority... but then again, that is just me.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @04:35PM (#18309848) Homepage Journal
    Daylight Savings Time gave me an idea: Between November and March, Pluto is a planet, but a dwarf-planet between April and October.
  • The farce continues (Score:4, Informative)

    by khallow (566160) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @04:59PM (#18309998)

    This is what happens when a poorly thought definition change occurs. The dynamics of the Pluto orbit were known for a long time. There's been no sudden increase in scientific insight due to this capricious change. Let's look at the facts. Pluto was considered a planet for more than 75 years. In recent times, many Kuiper Belt objects (which by definition interact gravitationally with Neptune) were found, one which is probably even larger [wikipedia.org] than Pluto and at it's closest approach can be closer to the Sun than Pluto is at it's most distant. There may be many such objects larger than Pluto. So yes, if Pluto were discovered now (ignoring the new definition), it probably would not be considered a planet.

    But let's look at the definition. Pluto satisfies the first two conditions, it is in orbit around the Sun and is massive enough to form a sphere. The third condition is that "it must have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit". That phrase has yet to be defined. So we're saying Pluto is not a planet even though we don't yet know the meaning of a critical term. Let me point out what should be obvious. Namely, if one defines the neighborhood of an orbit as a locus of the trajectory (in four dimensional space-time, eg, the space within distance d of the object at time t), then anything big enough to be round most likely has cleared an impressively large neighborhood of anything of similar mass. I assume reasonably that "cleared" means here that no amount of mass similar in order of magnitude routinely runs through this neighborhood. Also, it ignores the grief that the definition change causes to the outside world. Science textbooks need to be modified to reflect this new definition. Given that the definition is "official" yet is still mostly incomplete, the IAU will need to complete the definition of planet (and you can bet that Pluto == planet is still on the agenda). Finally, the definition explicitly only defines "planet" in the Solar System. The related definition of "dwarf planet" (ie, if it is massive enough to be rounded by gravity, it's a dwarf planet) does apply to exosolar dwarf planets (by a 2003 decision by the IAU).

    So all this effort fails to apply to other star systems. This is quite relevant. First, the Solar System is a mature star system, more than 4 billion years old with no signs of recent perturbation. Second, all the orbits of the "planets" are circular. That's unusual. Most of the objects yet discovered have very elliptical (ie, large eccentricity) orbits. The definition would be hard to observe anyway since one would need to be able to account for most of the nonstellar mass in the star system before they could claim that anything has "cleared its orbit".

    Finally, the decision was made with little concensus. The IAU is not an open-membership body. My impression is that it admits members directly by election only or at the behest of a "national member", a national level organization (like the US National Academy of Science's Board on International Scientific Organizations [nationalacademies.org]) which may have similar membership requirements. IMHO, IAU membership isn't constituted in a way conducive to concensus outside the astronomy community. Second, as noted before, only 5% of the members of the IAU actually voted on the definition in question. Further, only IAU officials had the power [space.com] to modify the definition when it was being voted on. Finally, no report of the actual vote has ever been made public, as far as I can tell. We know that 424 members voted on it (this is widely reported in the media), but I have never seen reported the actual vote tally.

    In summary, a redefinition of a common term, "planet" which manages to remain ill-defined and to have little scientific value by an international body that failed to generate any concensus either inside or out on the decision.

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