Should Pluto be a Planet?


By Clint Bishard

Jesus Created Ministries

Now that all of the hype is gone and the media has moved on to bigger stories than Pluto (pun intended), I thought I would provide a creationist viewpoint concerning whether Pluto should be considered a planet.

Pluto’s planetary status has been a source of debate within astronomy circles since it was discovered in 1930.  The debate stems from its relatively small size, as well as the lack of a set standard for what constitutes a planet by the scientific community.  The debate was finally unavoidable when a more distant Eris (initially known as Xena or 2003 UB313) was discovered in 2005 and revealed a size slightly larger than Pluto.  Initially, it looked like the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision would be to keep Pluto; and we would also add Eris, Pluto’s largest moon (Charon), and the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt (Ceres) as planets (an even dozen).  However, in the end the IAU decided that eight was enough and Pluto’s status was changed from a “planet” to a “dwarf planet”.  Therefore, our acronym is now reduced to “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine” – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

            So, what should we think of the IAU’s decision?  From a creationist's perspective, my (and many creationists in general) criteria for determining Pluto’s planetary status will depend on whether or not it fits a pattern of design found in the solar system instead of possible remnants of catastrophe (the reason Ceres and the fragments in the asteroid belt should not be planets).  For example, does Pluto follow the exponential mathematical formula that predicts the spacing of the planets?  This would be an evidence for original design.  Well, in fact, it does.  The orbital distance of Pluto matches the 9th place in the formula.  Therefore, the orbital distances of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres (& the asteroid belt), Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto all very nicely fit the predicted position as found by the formula.  As a result, we might easily conclude that Pluto most definitely should be a planet.  However, several factors cloud this conclusion as follows:

·        The anomaly of Neptune: Neptune does not follow the formula and match the pattern of design for the planets in our solar system.  Is Neptune then excluded from being a planet?  Surely not, it is the third-largest planet by mass and the fourth-largest planet by diameter in our solar system.[1]  In fact, as a creationist, I would expect Neptune to fit the 9th place in the formula, not Pluto.  But instead, Neptune’s orbit is 22.5% smaller than the 9th position as predicted by the formula.

·        Pluto is very small: Pluto has a mass of less than 1% of the earth and is not much larger than many objects in the same region. Over 100 objects have been identified with the same average distance and orbital period as Pluto’s 248 year orbit.[2]  This area of objects is known as the Kuiper Belt.

·        Pluto is not in the plane of the planets: Pluto is tilted 17 degrees from the ecliptic, significantly more than any of the other planets.[3]

From the list of reasons above, I am inclined to exclude Pluto from planetary status.  Instead, from a design perspective, I think that Neptune was originally created at the 9th predicted orbit and has somehow moved slightly inward to where it now lies.  This would leave Pluto and the other Kuiper Belt objects as a remnant of whatever happened to cause this move of Neptune from its original position.

Interestingly, a recent study has found that of the four gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, & Neptune), the first three have a consistent ratio of the total mass of their moons to the mass of the respective planet.  Specifically, the total mass of Jupiter’s moons is 1/10,000 of the mass of Jupiter itself, and this is the same ratio for Saturn and Uranus.[4]  However, Neptune does not follow this pattern.  Instead, Neptune has one very large dominating moon, Triton, that even some secular scientists believe was somehow captured by Neptune and disrupted its previous moon system.[5]

Maybe Pluto and the other Kuiper Belt objects are the remnants of Neptune’s destroyed moon system.  This past event could have been the cause of Neptune’s move away from its original position.  It could even be that Triton is a lost moon or fragment of the planet that blew up in the past.  Additionally, the fact that Triton rotates in a retrograde motion around Neptune may be an additional indicator that it is a captured satellite of Neptune after its creation.  Lastly, if all of the gas giants, including Neptune, where originally created with a moon to planet mass ratio of 1/10,000th, this would be consistent with the God of order and purpose described in the Bible and another indicator of the original design.

I must caution that this proposed past relationship between Neptune and Pluto should not be taught dogmatically – along with many aspects of historical science.  Instead, it only points to the great need for more people to be actively studying God’s creation from a Biblical perspective to help clarify the picture of our solar system in light of God’s revelation.  For too long, we have let science be highjacked away from its Biblical roots and into the abyss of philosophical humanism that denies the historical record of the Bible.

In conclusion, this creationist’s viewpoint is that God did originally make nine planets in a once perfectly created solar system.  Unfortunately, one of the original nine planets appears to have exploded in the past, and Pluto is likely a result of catastrophe rather than one of the originally created planets.  So for those Pluto sympathizers wanting planetary status for Pluto – they have little support from this creationist – as if anyone in the scientific community is listening to this creationist anyway!



[2] The Inside Story of Pluto’s Demotion, Owen Gingerich, Sky & Telescope, Nov. 2006, pg. 36.

[3] The Inside Story of Pluto’s Demotion, Owen Gingerich, Sky & Telescope, Nov. 2006, pg. 35.

[4] How Moon Mass Is Maintained, R.N., Sky & Telescope, Sept. 2006, pg. 19.

[5] Ibid.

Jesus Created Ministries (JCM) - Page last updated January 29, 2007