Proposed bill seeks to name Pluto as Arizona’s official state 'planet'

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Arizona lawmaker Rep. Justin Wilmeth has proposed the dwarf planet known as Pluto to be named the “official state planet” of Arizona.

The Republican lawmaker has been bringing awareness to his proposition on X, formally Twitter, engaging in a playful but also serious discourse with Arizonans. Wilmeth jokingly replied to an X post that he’s taking a stance against “Big Planet” and laid out some more serious points in another tweet.

“It’s not a joke. And I think it's worthy for the following reasons: 1. It recognizes Arizona’s rich history in astronomy 2. It gets people talking about space and astronomy 3. A major universal discovery was made in Flagstaff 84 years ago.” Wilmeth posted onto X.

The argument is that the far-away celestial body that was once considered our solar system's ninth planet holds a proper place in Arizona history, as it was discovered at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory in 1930.

Rep. Justin Wilmeth (R) and Rep. Neal Carter speak during a session at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on March 21, 2023.
Rep. Justin Wilmeth (R) and Rep. Neal Carter speak during a session at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on March 21, 2023.

Discovering Pluto

The announcement of Pluto's discovery brought national attention to the state at a time when the country was suffering from the Great Depression. To this day, Lowell Observatory holds considerable pride for its place in astronomy history; visitors can look through the same telescope that assistant Clyde W. Tombaugh used to make the discovery.

Tombaugh arrived in Arizona by way of Kansas and was assigned the tedious job of scanning the skies using a rudimentary (at least by today’s standards) telescope, searching for any indication of a ninth planet nobody had ever actually seen. Percival Lowell, the astronomer who is the namesake of the Flagstaff observatory, had long theorized the existence of a ninth planet but someone had yet to catch it on their telescope.

The astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto here shown with his homemade 9-inch telescope.
The astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto here shown with his homemade 9-inch telescope.

Tombaugh inevitably made the discovery, and on March 13, 1930, the world became aware of what was then referred to as “Planet X”

The headlines announced the discovery being made by a “Lowell man,” cementing Arizona’s place in Astronomy history. In an interview with the Arizona Republic 60 years later, Tombaugh would remark that the realization of the discovery “hit me like a ton of bricks.”

With the history to back it up, Wilmeth seeks to acknowledge Pluto’s historical ties to the state, planet or not, by making it the official planet of Arizona.

Naming official state items is not a new or strange phenomenon. As recently as 2015, copper became the state's official metal. No surprise there, as Arizona is the Copper State after all.

Bill HB 2477 has been proposed, but it’s still unclear just how much support it’s going to be able to muster up. One thing is for certain: Wilmeth is busy on X dealing with an abundance of attention from the news, controversy, praise, and jokes alike.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona lawmaker aims to make Pluto 'official state 'planet'