Scientists Re-Establish Pluto As A Real Planet

Cesar Mills
March 20, 2017

A scientist from Johns Hopkins University has argued that Pluto is still a planet.

Pluto is demoted to non-planet in 2006.

Still, Pluto "as everything going on its surface that you associate with a planet". The highly-debated subject will be discussed at a Lunar and Planetary Science conference in Texas.

If the International Astronomical Union (IAU) were to accept a new geophysical definition such as this to classify objects, then the number of planets in our Solar System would jump from eight to approximately 110! Pluto is a rocky celestial object and was the smallest of the nine planets when it still had the status. Pluto's rebirth as a planet is not just all about Pluto, though.

Their definition of a planet requires only that a celestial body to have never undergone nuclear fusion and that it have enough gravity to be more or less round.

In 2006, members of the IAU met up in Prague to vote in new rules for defining planets and concluded that Pluto, after 76 years sitting proudly alongside the eight other proper planets, didn't make the cut.

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Researchers have argued in the past that the IAU definition also excludes Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune, which share their orbits with asteroids.

Otherwise Pluto does fit the IAU definition - it orbits the sun and it is massive enough that the forces of gravity have made it round. The new geophysical definition does not include stars, asteroids, black holes and meteorites but everything else in solar system is included. The object also has sufficient gravitational mass to keep its round shape although it expands at the equator due to a three-way squeeze of forces generated by its gravity and the impact of the Sun and close-range bigger planet.

That expansion is part of the appeal of the new definition, Runyon says. Earth's moon was considered a planet by ancient astronomers, and has several unusual features that set it apart from other moons in the solar system. As the very word "planet" seems to carry a "psychological weight", he reasons that more planets could encourage that public interest.

"I want the public to fall in love with planetary exploration as I have", Runyon says. A newer, more accurate definition of what is and what is not a planet is needed.

S. Alan Stern and Kelsi Singer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Tod Lauer of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Michael Summers of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia are the other authors of the study.

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