Arizona Names 'State Planet' That Is Not a Planet

18 years after Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet, its status is still debated
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2024 7:52 AM CDT
Arizona's 'Official State Planet' Is Not a Planet
This image made available by NASA on Friday, July 24, 2015 shows a combination of images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft with enhanced colors to show differences in the composition and texture of Pluto's surface.   (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

You surely know by now that Pluto is not a planet in the usual sense. Arizona isn't so sure. The state has recognized Pluto, one of five dwarf planets in our solar system, as its "official state planet." What does that mean? Essentially that Pluto still has fans in the Copper State. The bill introduced by State Rep. Justin Wilmeth and signed into law Friday by Gov. Katie Hobbs recognizes Pluto's history as linked to Arizona, per CBS News. Pluto was discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh at Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory, founded decades earlier by the astronomer Percival Lowell, who was on a quest to find a ninth planet dubbed "Planet X."

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto did not meet the criteria of a planet. Though it orbits its host star and has sufficient mass to form a nearly round shape, it lacks "an important influence on the orbital stability" of other objects around it, according to the IAU. That makes it a dwarf planet, not a planet. But "we in Arizona haven't forgotten about you, Pluto," Wilmeth wrote on X in February while teasing his bill. "While many believe it is now a dwarf planet, others in the astronomical community still view it as a planet," he added, per AZ Family. Either way, its discovery was "a major astronomical achievement" that every Arizona resident could be proud of.

Illinois, where Tombaugh was born, and New Mexico, where he lived and taught for decades, also harbor love for Pluto. In 2007, New Mexico passed a law declaring the celestial body to be "a planet," regardless of what astronomers say, Nerdist reports. Two years later, the Illinois Senate passed similar legislation, stating Pluto "be reestablished with full planetary status" as only 4% of IAU scientists participated in the vote to downgrade Pluto's status, per KTVI. It's unclear if other states have official planets. Arizona also has a state dinosaur (Sonorasaurus) and gemstone (turquoise), per Capitol Media Services. (More Arizona stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.