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Monday, February 18, 2008

Lobby Congress for Pluto

Today is the 78th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh, on February 18, 1930, at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. To commemorate this day, I urge all who support reinstating Pluto's planet status to contact your senators and representatives in support of a measure advocating such, recently introduced in Congress.

Thanks to the efforts of Siobhan Elias of Streator, Illinois, birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, Illinois Representative Jerry Weller on December 19, 2007 introduced a resolution into the Congressional Record supporting the reinstatement of Pluto as the ninth planet in our solar system.

The text of the Weller's statement is as follows:

"Speaker: Representative Janice D. 'Jan' Schakowsky (IL)
Title: Support for Recognition of Pluto as a Planet
Date: 12/19/2007
Location: Washington, DC

December 19, 2007)
[Page: E2645] GPO's PDF


Mr. WELLER of Illinois. Madam Speaker, I rise today to express my support for the renewed recognition of Pluto as a planet.

The planet Pluto was discovered on January 23, 1930, by Clyde Tombaugh.
Although just 24 years of age with no formal education beyond high school, Mr. Tombaugh discovered this new planet by painstakingly and systematically examining and comparing photographic plates he had made of the night skies over New Mexico. For this achievement, Mr. Tombaugh received a prestigious award from the Royal Astronomical Society along with a scholarship to the University of Kansas, which allowed him to continue his formal education.

Clyde Tombaugh went on to make a large number of additional contributions to our knowledge of the universe and to receive many more awards and honors before his death on January 17, 1997. I am proud to note that Mr. Tombaugh was born on February 4, 1906, on a farm near Streator, IL, in LaSalle County--a community which I am privileged to represent in the Congress of the United States.

Unfortunately, on August 26, 2006, the International Astronomical Union, IAU, meeting in Prague and relying on the votes of only a handful of its approximately 10,000 members, made the decision to downgrade the status of Pluto.

This decision was met with protests from eminent scientists and astronomers all over the world. Perhaps foremost among those in the international scientific community strongly disagreeing with the IAU decision was Dr. S. Alan Stern. Named earlier this year by Time magazine as one of the ``One Hundred Most Influential People in the World,'' Dr. Stern is also one of the lead consultants for the New Horizons Mission.

The New Horizons Mission is an unmanned spacecraft launched in January of 2006, which is projected to reach Pluto and the outer edge of our solar system in the year 2015. This spacecraft is carrying some of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh.

In closing, I urge my colleagues to express their support for the reversal of the International Astronomical Union's decision and the official reinstatement of Pluto as the ninth and outermost planet in our solar system."

A direct link to the text can be found at

When you get to the site, enter in the page # E2645 in the space next to "go to page" at the bottom of the screen, then click the go to page button. The record is in the column on the right. The end of the record is on the next page, so you'll have to click, "next page" to finish reading it.

You can find contact information for your senators at the following link:

And you can find contact information for your representatives here:

A strong statement by both houses of Congress supporting Pluto's planet status may be largely symbolic, but it will send a clear message to the IAU and to the world that could influence the revisiting of this issue by the IAU at its next General Assembly next year. On this anniversary of Pluto's discovery, please take a few minutes to make your voice heard for our ninth planet, the only planet discovered by an American.

Also, for anyone interested, I would like to point out that a news article I wrote last year here in New Jersey on a talk about Pluto given by astronomer Guy Consolmagno has been posted on the blog of the United Kingdom Space Conference. If you are interested in reading it, you can find it at

Finally, I would like to give credit to my astronomy instructor at Amateur Astronomers, Inc. in Cranford, NJ, for his planet definition, which is far superior to that of the IAU. Please note that this view is his individual opinion and does not necessarily reflect that of the club, which has over 300 members with a wide variety of opinions and does not take a formal stand on this issue.

According to my instructor Al Witzgall, a planet is "a non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star." I hope IAU members seriously consider this definition at next year's General Assembly.

Save Pluto!!!