Pluto a planet, and so are over 100 celestial bodies

23 March, 2017, 01:47 | Author: Jacqueline Ellis
  • Pluto a planet, and so are over 100 celestial bodies

All the authors are science team members on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, operated for NASA by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The change was a subject of much scientific debate and made no sense said Kirby Runyon, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Eleven years ago, the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto, who had done nothing wrong and just kept on orbiting as always, to the status of "non-planet". So are the Earth's moon and more than 100 other celestial bodies in our solar system denied this status under the prevailing definition of "planet".

Runyon said he and other planetary scientists are more interested in a planet's physical characteristics, such as its shape and whether it has mountains, oceans and an atmosphere. Much as Runyon and his group would want to reinstate Pluto as a planet, DeGrasse Tyson, however, has this to say about the celestial body's demotion, "Pluto had it coming".

Runyon says Pluto "has everything going on on its surface that you associate with a planet ... there's nothing non-planet about it". It takes into account the fact that numerous solar system's worlds are physically complex and geologically active, from Ceres' ice volcano to Pluto's slushy heart.

Pluto and its newfound kin in the solar system's distant Kuiper Belt region were reclassified as dwarf planets, along with Ceres, the biggest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Pluto's recognition as a planet has been up for debate since it was discovered in 1930, and now, the entire definition of "planet" is in question.

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Most of us grew up learning that there are nine planets in our solar system.

In 2006, Pluto was declared not a real planet but a dwarf planet. In 2015, New Horizon mission launched a spacecraft which was first one to fly nearby and around to Pluto, passing within 8000 miles and had send the first close up pictures of the surface of Pluto.

The team of researchers suggested a new definition of a planet in a February proposal, that is more in line with "scientific classification and peoples' intuition'" should be adopted.

In 2006, the IAU officially defined a planet as "a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit".

Astronomers "may find the IAU definition perfectly useful", but "our geophysical definition is more useful for planetary geoscience practitioners, educators and students". Their aim is to present a new definition of planethood. Other bodies such as satellite of Jupiter, Europa would also come under the ambit of this definition.


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