Starlab Contest

The STEM Center is having a contest to see what students think! We have a brand new StarLab which will allow us to provide amazing new presentations to schools in the area. To celebrate we are asking your students to write a short paper on what they think about an important topic in astronomy.

Image from Wiki Commons

Paper Topic

The topic for the paper is Should Pluto be reclassified as a planet?  When it was discovered in 1978, Pluto was celebrated as the ninth planet in the solar system and has been the odd little snowball on the edge of everything ever since. In 2006, however, a discussion by the International Astronomical Union led to a vote where they decided that large objects in the solar system should be grouped into three broad categories: planets, dwarf planets, and asteroids. In order to qualify as a planet, an object need to satisfy three points:

  • The object needs to be spherical (held together by gravity).
  • The object needs to orbit the Sun (so not a moon).
  • The object needs to be the biggest thing in its orbit (so not part of a crowd of objects.

Pluto meets the first two requirements but it is not the biggest thing in its orbit: it has at least three moons that are almost as large as Pluto itself and there are other objects the same size or bigger that cross in and out of Pluto’s orbit. Instead of being considered a planet, Pluto has been designated a “dwarf planet” along with several other objects in its region including Makemake, Haumea, and Eris.

Since that decision, though, many people have started to miss Pluto! The public reaction has been mixed, but there are also some scientists who say we should revisit Pluto’s designation. A recent study argued that most astronomers aren’t using this term strictly according to the plan because it’s not a good system. To some, how crowded an orbit is depends on the star system and not on the planet. In a crowded system, even a big planet like Jupiter could have other things in its orbit.

Contest Details

If your school wants to participate in this contest you can have students write individual essays or write a paper as a group. Up to five entries per school can be submitted and we will choose the best ones.

  • Paper Length: One to two pages.
  • Grades: Any students or classes from grades 3rd through 8th are eligible.
  • Submission Deadline: January 21, 2019
  • Where to Submit: Send to stemcenter@siue.edu.

We will pick one winner from all 3rd – 5th entries and one from all 6th – 8th entries.