In the House, Pluto is a still a planet

Earlier this week the House passed a relatively minor bill, HR 2750, the “NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act”. As the name suggests, the bill authorizes the Treasury to mint a set of commemorative coins to honor NASA on its upcoming 50th anniversary. The bill was sponsored by two Houston-area representatives, Sheila Jackson-Lee and John Culberson, and had nearly 300 cosponsors; the bill passed under suspension of the rules by a 402-0 vote. Interesting news, perhaps, if you’re a numismatist, but otherwise not of much importance.

Unless, though, you’re a Plutophile that’s still peeved that the International Astronomical Union passed a resolution last year that defines the term “planet” in such a way as to exclude Pluto, assigning it instead to a new grouping, “dwarf planets”, the Class AAA minor leagues of the solar system. The text of the bill notes that nine different $1 coins shall be minted, and that the front of the coins “shall bear 9 different designs each of which shall consist of an image of 1 of the 9 planets of the solar system, including Earth.” That would seem to include Pluto, and it does, with even the design of the coin mentioned in the text of the bill:

PLUTO (AND OTHER DWARF PLANETS) COIN.–The reverse of the $1 coins issued under this Act which bear an image of the planet Pluto on the obverse shall include [on the reverse] a design that is emblematic of telescopic exploration of deep space by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the ongoing search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars.

The bill is a bit confusing, since it lumps Pluto with “other dwarf planets” (which, confusingly, aren’t planets in the eyes of IAU), but then goes on to specifically mention “the planet Pluto”. Culberson, in floor debate about the bill, said that “the front of the coin is going to represent each one of the nine planets,” which would seem to include Pluto. A small victory for the Plutophiles in their quest to defend Pluto’s status?

3 comments to In the House, Pluto is a still a planet

  • Two cheers for Pluto which gets its own coin side even if it has to share billing for the name of the coin with the band.

  • Brian Swiderski

    Yeah, hooray for 134340! People should name their children after it. Err, actually I’m glad it got whacked. Irrational classification of celestial objects is clearly prohibited in the Bible. But if they’re giving a coin to dwarf planets, won’t the non-spheroidal object communities feel discriminated against? I think carbonaceous chondritic Trojans deserve their own coin–they’ve suffered enough without being slighted by the planetary ruling elite. And what about all the dust out there? All that nameless, helpless dust ignored by the powers that be and harassed by The Man. There should be a coin specifically for dust.

  • The bill is a bit confusing, since it lumps Pluto with “other dwarf planets” (which, confusingly, aren’t planets in the eyes of IAU), but then goes on to specifically mention “the planet Pluto”

    Of course, this is a result of text being carried forth from the previous version of this bill, which was passed by the House in 2005 (but originally dates back to 2004 and has been introduced in either the House and/or Senate each year since), which predates the IAU’s Pluto decision. It seems the current authors added “other dwarf planets” in recognition (and support?) of the IAU’s position.

    The 2007 version of this bill has a few other changes from years past: omitted are the inscription of the missions and dates of the fallen astronauts along the gold coin’s edge and the “symbolic inclusion” of flown metal from the combined spacecraft holdings of NASA, JPL, the Department of Defense and the Smithsonian, which all prior versions of this bill specified for the Mint.

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