Pluto and its discoverer will always be important at Kansas University, even if the solar system's smallest planet is kicked out of the heavenly club that includes Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
"We'll continue to lobby for the importance of Clyde Tombaugh's heritage no matter what," said Barbara Anthony-Twarog, KU professor of physics and astronomy.
Astronomers from across the globe convened in the Czech Republic on Monday to discuss the definition of a planet - a move that could change the status of Pluto.
But regardless of what the scientists conclude, KU's scholarships, celebrations and bragging rights tied to celebrated alumnus Tombaugh won't cease if Pluto is demoted to mere orb, KU faculty said.
Tombaugh, a western Kansas native, discovered Pluto in 1930 while working at Arizona's Lowell Observatory. He later earned bachelor's and master's degrees from KU.
But the planet, smaller than Earth's moon, has been on shaky ground for years with some pointing to its relatively wee size and erratic orbit as reasons it should be toppled from its planetary pedestal.
KU's small astronomy department is on Tombaugh's side.
Bruce Twarog, KU professor of physics and astronomy, said he supports the definition of planets as spherical objects that orbit the sun. It's one way to have a physical determinant of what constitutes a planet, he said.
That definition would preserve Pluto's status and likely open the door for others, including the recently-discovered object known as Xena. But it also might reduce Pluto's stature by putting it in a more crowded field.
Anthony-Twarog, who also supports that definition, admitted she is a bit biased as a faculty member at Tombaugh's alma mater. But, she said, the international hubbub is largely more of a semantics issue than a scientific one.
"I've felt that it's important for us to feel engaged in this issue and to feel proud in our status with the history of this planet," she said.
KU recently celebrated Tombaugh's posthumous 100th birthday. The school offers the Tombaugh Scholarship and Tombaugh Summer Internship programs.
"It would be nice to maintain the status of Pluto," Bruce Twarog said. "It's good for the program. It's good for the university."
Regardless of the planet's status, Tombaugh's contributions to astronomy can't be reversed, said Steve Shawl, KU professor of physics and astronomy.
"The significance was, I think, a historical one," Shawl said. "At the time when he discovered it, he extended our knowledge of the solar system significantly."
Tombaugh's daughter, Annette Tombaugh-Sitze, agreed.
She said her father was passionate about Pluto's designation and saw it as a personal attack when one top figure in the field chose the 50th anniversary of the discovery to question the planet's status.
"My father was very upset about it," Tombaugh-Sitze said in a phone call from her home in Las Cruces, N.M. "It hurt him very badly the way it was done."
Tombaugh-Sitze said her father later came to accept the academic discussion surrounding his discovery.
Tombaugh-Sitze said her father's work and methodology was important, regardless of the planet's status.
"What he accomplished - whether you call it a planet or a planetoid or an icy planet or whatever you call it - is still monumental," she said.