February 24, 2017

Rebellious scientists launch campaign to make Pluto a planet again

Incensed by Pluto’s demotion to the status of dwarf planet, a team of rebellious scientists has launched a plan to strike back and make Pluto great again.

The team, which includes researchers from NASA, has put forward a new definition of what makes up a planet, and that new definition would open the door to Pluto becoming a planet once again. However, it appears the new definition would also mean many dozens of other objects could now also be considered planets, including our very own Moon.

Planet or Dwarf Planet?

First identified and categorized as a planet in 1930, Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006 because there seemed to be other objects like Pluto beyond Neptune.

The demotion was a particularly significant blow to scientists at NASA’s New Horizons mission. In 2015, Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission told Business Insider that the change was “bulls***.”

Two years after those comments, Stern and a team of concerns scientists sent a proposal to change the definition of what a plant is to the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

"A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters,” the proposal said.

Simply put, the team is calling for round non-star objects to be called planets, arguing that this is more in line with “scientific classification and peoples’ intuition.”

“In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies,” the proposal said. “In the decade following the supposed 'demotion' of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union, many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration.”

While the new definition would make Pluto a planet again, it would also make many moons, large asteroids and object in the remote Kuiper Belt into planets as well, bringing the grand total number of planets in our Solar System to more than 100.

For all of its faults, the proposal would compel the IAU to make a decision.


Image credit: NASA JPL