Ever woken up one day to find that the universe as you once knew it has changed? The day before it looked one way, and now it looks entirely different.
Such is the case with Pluto. Discovered back in 1930, she became the 9th planet and that's how she remained until just a few days ago when she was demoted from what astronomers are now calling the "classical planets" (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, etc) to what they now refer to as a "dwarf planet." Which makes me question, in the wonderful world of Walt Disney, if Pluto is a dwarf does that mean that Snow White now has Eight Dwarfs? Which leads me to question, can you name the Eight Dwarfs? (Answer below)
So what makes a planet a planet? I know it has something to do with its size, shape, and orbit. For instance, in terms of size Pluto is smaller than a number of our solar system's moons, including Io, Titan, Europa, and our own moon, Luna. Also, Pluto's shape is not quite round, due to it small mass, and its orbit is oblong, which of course is a great embarrassment to any decent celestial body.
But what else makes a planet a planet? Well, let's look at our own planet earth. Here on earth we have about 6 billion people, seven continents, four major oceans, the Olympics every four years, motion pictures, DVDs, iPods, laptop computers, fast food restaurants, traffic jams, major league baseball, mail delivery, prepackaged applesauce, air conditioning, an electoral college, hurricanes, global warming, and Labor Day weekend.
Pluto has none of these, but its days are 6.4 earth days long and its year is equal to 248 earth years. Man, the work week on Pluto must seem to go on forever! By the time Thursday rolls around you must be ready to go out of your mind!
On earth we have NASCAR, the Big Dig, the Mass Pike, Mars bars, Milky Way bars, Chunky bars, Snoopy, Garfield, Big Bird, Congress, the Supreme Court, hanging chads, hanging ten, ten pin, candlepin, pin the tail on the donkey, Democrat, Republican, Independent, undecided. Pluto, of course, has none of these, but it has three moons - Charon, Hydra, and Nix - and is located 39.5 Astronomical Units (AU) from the sun ... that's 39 1/2 times further away from the sun than earth, or 3.7 billion miles!
On earth we have the Weather Channel, HGTV, CNN, ABC, CBS, local news, world news, terrorism, and war. Pluto, on the other hand, has an icy surface, an average surface temperature of -380 degrees F, and an atmosphere of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane. This last bit points to the possibilty that Pluto has organic material, in which case some millions of years from now a race of Plutonians could rise up and take over the solar system. Of course, most of us living today won't be around when this happens.
As for the eight dwarfs, they are: Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, Happy, Bashful, Pluto, ... oh, and Doc.