Cara O’Connor is a 6-year-old girl from Cork, Ireland, who wants to be a NASA astronaut when she grows up. And since she also wants to visit all of our solar system’s planets, there’s one thing she wishes the space agency would do, more than a decade after it reduced the number of planets in our solar system from nine to eight; she wants NASA to “make Pluto a planet again.” This also happens to be a timely request, even if it’s close to a year old – news of the girl’s letter to the U.S. space agency first broke in the run-up to the 88th anniversary of Pluto’s discovery by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, which takes place today.
As detailed by the Washington Post, Cara wrote a letter to NASA with some assistance from her teacher, focusing on how Pluto got reclassified in 2006, with its new status as a dwarf planet effectively removing it from the solar system. She also made references to the Kuiper Belt, correctly describing it as an area beyond Neptune where a good number of dwarf planets are located.
“I listened to a song and at the end of it the song said ‘Bring Pluto Back’ — and I would really like that to happen,” she wrote.
“I really think Pluto should be a main planet again like Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune, because in one video I watched called ‘Let’s go meet the planets,’ Pluto was at the very end.”
In addition to asking NASA to make Pluto a planet again, like it was for over seven decades prior to 2006, Cara O’Connor commented that Pluto was “put in the trash can and was scared by planet Earth,” adding that it was “really mean” of our planet to do such a thing.
“This was really mean, because no one or no planet or dwarf planets should be put in the trash can.”
Though she is only 6-years-old, Cara O’Connor has stood out in school as a precocious and inquisitive young girl, as the Washington Post noted. She often asks her teacher, Sarah O’Donovan, questions about the existence of black holes and the legitimacy of the moon landing. O’Donovan, who handled Cara’s class last year at Glasheen Girls’ School in Cork, said that she had “the most interesting mind,” as she tended to ask questions that had left her teacher stumped for an answer.
“She’s always interested in things that are far, far above her level,” O’Donovan added.
When Cara O’Connor and Sarah O’Donovan wrote the letter in April, they sent copies to the world’s top two space agencies: NASA and the European Space Agency. While NASA didn’t reply at first, the agency’s Planetary Science Division director, James Green, wrote back to Cara, acknowledging her request that NASA makes Pluto a planet again, but explaining that it deserves to be researched on constantly, regardless whether it’s an actual planet or a mere dwarf planet.
“I hope that you will discover a new planet, and I trust that if you continue to do well in school we will see you at NASA one of these days,” wrote Green.
Prior to Irish media picking up the story of Cara O’Connor’s letter to NASA, and her request that Pluto be made a planet again, Green had replied to another young child’s letter in August, explaining the real meaning of NASA’s job opening for Planetary Protection Officer. As shown on the NASA website, Green told the then-9-year-old Jack Davis that the job entails more than just being a “Guardian of the Galaxy,” as such officers are tasked to keeping Earth safe from microbes when missions bring back samples from other parts of the solar system.