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From now on Pluto won't just be any dwarf planet, it will be a 'plutoid.'
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced the name today after two years of deliberation. The new classification will be used to refer to bright dwarf planets that spend the bulk of their time outside Neptune's orbit.
So far, Pluto and its larger neighbour, Eris, are the only named objects that qualify as plutoids, but more dwarf planets are expected to follow.
But the name is not universally loved. "It sounds like 'hemorrhoid' and it sounds like 'asteroid', and of course these objects are planets and not asteroids,"
'Plutoids' must also be a minimum brightness, a requirement that will exclude dozens of dwarf planet candidates that have been spotted in the Kuiper belt, a ring of icy objects beyond Neptune, says Michael Brown of Caltech in Pasadena, US.
"That's an odd definition," Brown told New Scientist. "It makes objects of exactly the same size 'plutoids' or 'not plutoids' depending on what's covering their surface." If Pluto were covered with dust, Brown notes, it might not be considered a plutoid.
That left only Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as planets. Joining Pluto as a dwarf planet was Eris—the original 2003 UB313. Eris is, appropriately, the Greek god of discord and strife, which is exactly what followed Pluto’s demotion.
Will junking the disrespectful term “dwarf planet” in favor of “plutoid” appease Pluto fans? With only the two members so far, it’s not exactly an impressive group, but astronomers fully expect to discover more of them in the Kuiper Belt.