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A Rose By Any Other Name

The Peculiar Case of Pluto



Author:

Teresa M. Schulz
Science Department
Lansing Community College
schulzt@lcc.edu

Abstract:

This dilemma case, developed for a general astronomy course, provides an introduction to our solar system by highlighting the peculiarities of Pluto. The main character, Dr. Maria Ocasio, is the chair of the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization charged with assigning permanent names to asteroids and comets. After reviewing the scientific facts and historical background on Pluto, Dr. Ocasio is faced with the dilemma of deciding “What is Pluto” by answering the question, “What is a planet.”

Objectives:
  • Define orbital parameters such as semi-major axis, eccentricity, orbital inclination, orbital period, and orbital resonance; define Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) or Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) and Plutinos.
  • Discuss the similarities of the orbital characteristics among the terrestrial and the Jovian planets.
  • Describe the differences between the physical characteristics (mass, radius, density, and composition) of the terrestrial and the Jovian planets.
  • Compare and contrast the physical and orbital properties of Pluto with those of the other planets.
  • Evaluate the arguments both for and against Pluto’s status as a planet.
  • Synthesize all the above and compose a working definition for the word “planet.”
Keywords: Pluto; planet; asteroid; comet; plutinos; trans-Neptunian object; Jovian planet; Kuiper belt object; Committee on Small Body Nomenclature; International Astronomical Union; Clyde Tombaugh
Topical Area: Scientific argumentation
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Dilemma/Decision
Language: English
Subject Headings: Astronomy  
Date Posted: 3/21/2005
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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