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Long Live Planet Pluto!

It's official: Pluto is still a planet, and mere mortals won't change that anytime soon.

The ruling by the world's leading astronomical organization came amid a brewing cosmic storm among scientists and stargazers, afraid that the smallest planet in the solar system was being demoted.

News reports had said Pluto was to be demoted to a Minor Planet, or worse, a Trans-Neptunian Object.

That simply isn't so, the International Astronomical Union said Thursday.

"No proposal to change the status of Pluto as the ninth planet in the solar system has been made by any division, commission or working group of the IAU responsible for solar system science," said the 80-year-old organization, the final authority on astronomical matters.

Pluto, with an elliptical orbit, polar ice caps and a diameter of 1,491 miles, is by far the smallest of the nine planets.

The IAU attributed the false reports of Pluto's demise to "incomplete or misleading information" about how the IAU works.

In fact, discussions have been under way on creating a potential numbering system for Trans-Neptunian Objects, and giving Pluto a number, too.

These objects, which are beyond Neptune in the outer solar system, have some similarities to Pluto such as the type of orbit, the IAU said. Including Pluto in a cataloging system would facilitate the study of such objects.

Scientists and stargazers were aghast at the notion of toying with Pluto's celestial prestige.

But, the IAU statement insisted, "This process was explicitly designed to not change Pluto's status as a planet."

In fact, "the discussion was equivalent to giving Pluto a social security number," IAU Secretary-General Johannes Andersen said in a telephone interview Thursday. "But other people saw it as a sort of attack on Pluto as a planet."

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