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article imageNASA scientists want Pluto to become a planet again

By Arthur Weinreb     Feb 21, 2017 in Science
A group of NASA scientists want Pluto’s status as a planet restored. Eleven years ago, the ninth planet in the solar system was downgraded to that of a dwarf planet. To scientists who are working on journeys to Pluto, that is simply not good enough.
Alan Stern is not a happy man. Stern, the lead scientist on NASA’S New Horizons mission, is tired of being asked why NASA is sending spacecraft to Pluto if it isn’t even a planet. So he and five of his colleagues have written to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Not only are the scientists asking for Pluto to be made a planet once again but they want what a planet actually is to be redefined.
The New Horizons mission was launched in 2006 and the goal of the mission was to explore Pluto and its moon, Charon. After conducting a fly-by past Jupiter, the spacecraft arrived at Pluto, some three billion miles from Earth. in July 2015. Since then the probe has relayed pictures of the dwarf planet as well as a lot of information back to Earth.
SEE ALSO: Pluto: Flyby makes history and wows world
Pluto’s downgrade from planet to dwarf
Months after the New Horizons mission was launched in January 2006, the IAU downgraded Pluto’s status to that of a dwarf planet. Prior to this change, Pluto had been classified as a planet since it became the ninth and final planet discovered in the solar system in 1930.
As the BBC reported, scientists began to wonder if Pluto was not actually a planet but simply one of many small icy bodies found outside the orbit of Neptune. The first of these small icy bodies was discovered in what is known as the Kuiper Belt in 1992. Since that date other bodies, similar in size to Pluto, were discovered in the same area. In 2000, the Hayden Planetarium in New York put on an exhibit showing the solar system as having only eight planets. A discussion then began that culminated in the IAU downgrading Pluto to a dwarf planet.
Scientists propose new definition of planet
So what does Stern think of Pluto now being a dwarf? His succinct answer is, “It’s bull****. Planets are currently defined as celestial bodies that orbit around the sun, have a sufficient mass they assume a round or almost round shape and have a sufficient mass to clear its neighbourhood or zone of other objects.
Stern and others feel this definition is seriously flawed. For one, a planet must revolve around “our sun” so what we would consider to be planets orbiting other stars cannot be classified as planets. The scientists also feel the need for a planet to be able to “zone clear,” results in very few bodies being able to correctly be defined as planets.
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Under the proposal submitted to the IAU, a planet will be defined as “ a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spherical shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters.”
Under this new definition, Pluto would go back to having the status of a planet. But any round objects in the universe except for stars, black holes, white dwarfs and neutron stars would also qualify as planets. Earth’s moon as well as those satellites orbiting Jupiter and Saturn would be classified as planets.
It is estimated our solar system contains about 100 planets under the new definition. If the IAU accepts the proposal of Stern and his fellow scientists, the days of being able to easily rhyme off the names of all the planets in the solar system will be over.
More about Pluto, new horizons mission, Planets, pluto as a planet, Solar system
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