Boulder Scientist Stands Up for Tiny Pluto in Planet Debate

March 1 2010, 11:11 AM

Though the International Astronomical Union recently shocked the world by concluding that Pluto is not a planet, but rather a giant boulder amid the Kuiper Belt of icy rocks, Boulder's Alan Stern, one of the country's foremost Pluto scientists, is rallying on behalf of the "dwarf planet" at the edge of the Solar System. Stern will appear in "The Pluto Files" on PBS' Nova Tuesday night, when he's expected to advocate the simple "Star Trek" test in which he postulates Captain Kirk would have described Pluto as a planet. "The Star Trek test is really easy," Stern tells the Daily Camera. "You look at the picture of the thing, and it's pretty much decided in the mind. It's a rock, it's a planet, it's an asteroid, it's a star." Neil deGrasse Tyson, who in 2000 sparked controversy when his Solar System exhibit at the Hayden Planetarium in New York relegated Pluto to the Kuiper, will take on Stern. The debate may involve new dimensions by 2015, when after nine years NASA's New Horizons spacecraft visits Pluto. Stern, with NASA, is anticipating that mission. Want to see the best guess at what Pluto would look like if you were flying by in a spaceship now? Check out a recent groundbreaking animation (via Wired).