Sciency Words: I.A.U. (An A to Z Challenge Post)

Today’s post is a special A to Z Challenge edition of Sciency Words, an ongoing series here on Planet Pailly where we take a look at some interesting science or science related term so we can all expand our scientific vocabularies together. In today’s post, I is for:


Yesterday I mentioned the International Commission on Stratigraphy (I.C.S.), the organization that assigns names to the geological strata of our planet. When you really get into this sciency words stuff, it seems like just about every single field of scientific research has its own international commission or union or organization like the I.C.S.

Which brings us to the International Astronomy Union or I.A.U. I’m willing to bet you already know about this organization, even if you didn’t know its name. They did something that made them very famous. Or perhaps I should call them infamous. And what did the I.A.U. do to become so infamous?

Yup. They’re the people who decided Pluto isn’t a planet.

Also, if you’ve ever wanted to name a star after your girlfriend or boyfriend or most beloved pet, the I.A.U. would like you to know that you’re not allowed to do that. Sorry. (They’re not actually sorry.)

Okay, it’s easy (and fun) to get mad at the I.A.U. over Pluto, and I know it’s disappointing to find out your thoughtful star name gift isn’t valid. I’ve known people to get pretty upset about that star name thing.

But according to the I.A.U.’s website, their goal is to establish “unambiguous astronomical nomenclature” for use in scientific literature. That means assigning official names to astronomical objects and writing official definitions for terms astronomers use, so as to avoid confusion or miscommunications in scientific discourse.

While I’m not exactly a big fan of the I.A.U., I do get where they’re coming from. Having dozens of stars named Jessica or Mary or Bobby would create a lot of confusion. And as for that matter with Pluto… we’ll come back to that later this month.

Next time on Sciency Words: A to Z, we’ll say hello to NASA’s Juno mission.

24 thoughts on “Sciency Words: I.A.U. (An A to Z Challenge Post)

  1. I’ve got organic eyesight so because I’m a human telescopes are essential and relate actual data. Wheres the proof? The problem is Pluto is 7.5 billion kilometers away from our happy blue ball of beings. (Earth) Geeks decide Pluto isn’t a Planet because they’re only mad they can’t build a spaceship and land there and even if they could its too far away, so busted – lets see some nerd beat that logic, hehe.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There’s a new push simmering to change the definition again so that there’d be many, many more planets. It’d be good to have Pluto be a planet again, “…but, yeah, you also have to remember these other 93 names! Take that, Quaoar!” Imagine the textbooks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I heard about the new proposal. It doest sound like the I.A.U. is biting. The real trick seems to be finding a definition that includes Pluto and excludes everything (or most of everything) else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, I think the current definition, while it could use some cleaning up, has some nice elegance hiding just below the surface, maybe with some help from the new proposal. Pluto, Eris, Ceres, et al are minor planets, Jupiter, Mars, Uranus, et al are major planets, and away we go. Seems like it’s very easy to overthink things.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe it’s easy to underthink things. 🙂 I guess I need a little more coffee.

        I think really what I mean is using the term “planet” to be more inclusive, include all objects that fit some criteria for minor/dwarf and major planet. It is similar, you’re right, but it’s a nice little thought experiment.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It might be an improvement over dwarf planet, if nothing else. Calling Pluto a dwarf planet does seem to be just a little bit extra insulting somehow.


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