Pluto should be reinstated as a planet, scientists argue

Pluto pictured in a handout image made up of four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) taken in July 2015 (Nasa)

A question about whether or not Pluto should be classed as a planet has been bounced around for 16 years.

In 2006 it was reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union.

However, not everyone was happy and continued to refer to it as a planet, including Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine.

But now a team of astronomers, scientists and researchers from various universities, institutes and observatories have added their intellectual weight to the debate.

In a paper set to be published in the scientific journal Icarus, the experts all say the IAU’s definition was based on a ‘folk concept of planet that contradicted the scientific view’.

Their recommendation? Pluto should be reinstated as a fully-fledged member of the planetary club.

The study says the IAU should ‘rescind their non-scientific definition and stop teaching the revisionist history’.

‘This will require corrections to textbooks and curricula from kindergarten through university,’ the study stated.

According to the IAU, there are three criteria to fulfil in order for a body to be classified as a planet:

  1. It is in orbit around the sun.
  2. It has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape).
  3. It has ‘cleared the neighborhood’ around its orbit.

In Pluto’s case, the scientists in 2006 didn’t think it met the final point because it had become gravitationally dominant. That is, there are no other bodies of comparable size other than its own satellites or those otherwise under its gravitational influence, in its vicinity in space.

This means a planet has the largest gravitational force within its orbit and has swept up all other objects in its path.

Since Neptune’s gravity influences Pluto and it also shares an orbit with frozen gases and objects in the Kuiper belt, the tiny world was officially dubbed a ‘dwarf planet’.

Is it time to let Pluto back into the planetary club? (Science Photo Library)

Reclassifying it as a planet would, once again, make it the ninth planet in our solar system.

Meanwhile, Nasa scientist Alan Stern who led the space agency’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto also thinks it should be a full planet.

In fact, he co-authored a paper arguing for it to be reclassified.

So, what do you think should be Pluto’s fate?


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