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Pluto sends students into a tizzy

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PLUTO OUT: A 2001 NASA montage of planetary images taken by a spacecraft managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Included are (from top to bottom) images of Mercury, Venus, Earth (and Moon), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is not shown in the picture.- AFP
PLUTO OUT: A 2001 NASA montage of planetary images taken by a spacecraft managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Included are (from top to bottom) images of Mercury, Venus, Earth (and Moon), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is not shown in the picture.- AFP

Sangeeth Kurian

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The demotion of Pluto from its status of a planet by the International Astronomical Union has triggered an "overwhelming interest" in planetary objects and the solar system among school children, while leaving many a teacher grappling for an answer due to the lack of any formal communication from either the Central or State-level educational authorities.

Athira A., a class VI student of Nirmala Bhavan Higher Secondary school, Kowdiar, is now pondering how to answer a question on the number of planets, if it appears for the Onam examination? Arun Kumar, a class X student of St. Thomas Higher Secondary School, Mukkolakkal, wants to know whether the mythical stories associated with each planet would also be rewritten?

Shreshma Anitha, another class X student of the school, is curious to know how Copernicus and Galileo would react to the finding had they been alive? Then there are Pluto fans like Ananthasubramanian, who are "quite disappointed" by the sudden expulsion of the `cold' planet. "It is like throwing your younger brother out of the family," he said.

"The debate has opened up the minds of students to questions about planets and space. They now ask us what defines a planet and an asteroid?," said Subha Nair who teaches Geography at St. Thomas HSS.

Many schoolteachers are now confronted with the task of re-educating the students. "In June, we taught them that there are nine planets in the Universe. Now after Onam vacation, we have to tell them that there are only eight," says Sushama Kumari, a social science teacher at Nirmala Bhavan HSS

Some popular mnemonics used by teachers for years to help children remember the names of the planets too would need tweaking. For instance, "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pancakes" could become "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles."

The demotion also means erasing Pluto's planetary designation from a galaxy of science textbooks, encyclopaedias, educational software and models and pictures of the solar system in schools. The city's Planetarium that receives nearly 2,000 schoolchildren a day during peak season, from September to February, too has decided to incorporate the necessary changes in its future audio-visual shows relating to the solar system. "We have already intimated the Kolkata-based company that prepares the content for our shows to take note of the developments," said S.L.P. Mahmood, director, Science and Technology Museum and Priyadarshini Planetarium.

"The dynamic change in the solar system has made it obligatory on teachers to explain the phenomenon to the students," said Mary Mathew, Principal, St. Thomas HSS. But, for now the school authorities have no choice but to rely on newspaper reports, as they are yet to receive any official communication from the educational authorities regarding the change in the status of Pluto.

Meanwhile, E. Valsala Kumar, director, State Council of Educational Research and Training, said a circular in this regard would be issued to the schools shortly. "We will hold discussion with Education Minister M.A. Baby and a circular will be issued to the schools before Onam vacation," he said. It is also learnt that a similar circular will soon be issued to schools belonging to other educational streams as well.

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