Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
Either Pluto got a demotion or Xena got a promotion. Thank goodness the scientists at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) were sensitive to poor Pluto’s feelings. Owen Gingerich of Harvard University, who chaired the IAU panel said that:
“We might be demoting it from the list of eight classical planets, but we’re promoting it by making it the head of its own special class”
Pluto, Xena (aka 2003 UB 313) Charon and Ceres are tiny, distant rocks with wacky orbits. So the IAU decided that these not-quite-planets at the edge of the solar system (where a year lasts 200 or more earth years) will be called plutons. No word yet on whether this new category will rhyme “crouton” or “button,” though we expect President Bush to weigh in on it shortly.
So why all the fuss? Well, because Pluto is far smaller than any of the classic eight planets. Several moons in our solar system - including Earth’s - are larger than Pluto. In fact all of Pluto’s 16.7 million square kilometers of surface area would fit inside Russia. If IAU’s plan is approved, the four additional plutons will be classified as planets increasing our solar systems total to twelve.
Statastico got to wondering, what if the planets were shrunk down to the size of countries on Earth? If we scale all of the planets down to about 1/3600th of their total surface area, we can find a comparably-sized country for all of the planets and plutons.
The results? Jupiter would be revoking democracy in Russia, Saturn would be curling in Canada, Uranus would be trying to figure out how to speak Kalaallisut, Neptune would be desperately looking for water in Saudi Arabia, and Earth would be in Tajikistan searching in vain for Borat.
While the big planets get countries with huge tracts of land, you’re probably more likely to vacation on a Pluton. Zena would be playing World Cup soccer in Trinidad and Tobago while Pluto takes in the sweet sounds of Cesaria Evora in Cape Verde. Meanwhile, Charon would be doing some sunbathing in Martinique, and tiny Ceres would be snorkeling in the Dutch Antilles.
Notes: Surface area was calculated from the mean radius for each planet and assumes (incorrectly, I know) that the planets are all perfect spheres.
Planet images on the map are not to scale, not even close. However, the actual scale of 1:3592 does holds up surprisingly well. If you’re really interested click here for the percentage that each country over or under-represents each planet on the 1:3592 this scale.