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A Rose By Any Other Name

The Peculiar Case of Pluto


Author(s)

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 Areas

Scientific argumentation

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division

Format

PDF

Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision

Language

English

Subject Headings

Astronomy  |  


Date Posted

3/21/2005

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