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Pluto should regain its planet status, say experts

20 March 2017, 10:57 | Kevin Scott

Pluto should regain its planet status, say experts

Kirby Runyon is a Johns Hopkins University scientist behind a renewed effort to restore Pluto’s lost title

Is Pluto a planet or not?

Runyon proposes that the new draft definition be used for classification of celestial bodies. Controversy surrounding the downgrading of Pluto's status to that of a dwarf planet has never really subsided since its demotion in 2006 and now one scientist is determined to change how we think about Pluto and other small bodies such as Europa by redefining what it means to be a planet.

Kirby Runyon from the Johns Hopkins University would see justice returned to icy, tiny Pluto, and the debate about what a planet actually is finally settled.

Still, says Runyon, Pluto "has everything going on on its surface that you associate with a planet".

This definition can be paraphrased for school children as a "round objects in space that are smaller than stars".

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The International Astronomical Union declassified Pluto as non-planet because Pluto had not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. Runyon is the lead author of a paper making a case for re-instating Pluto as a planet which will be presented next week at a scientific conference in Texas. That ignores numerous "rogue planets".

Stern, who was the principal investigator for the successful New Horizons mission which buzzed by Pluto at a distance of several thousand miles back in 2015, has argued that the IAU definition itself eliminates some of the accepted eight planets - including the Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, and even the Earth itself.

Most of us grew up learning that there are nine planets in our solar system. It is very large relative to the body it orbits and isn't in the equatorial plane of its parent planet. That portion - which required that a planet and its satellites move alone through their orbit - excluded Pluto. Otherwise, Pluto 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.

By adding all the spherical objects in the solar system, the total number of planets would increase from eight to 110.

The team's definition doesn't require approval from a central governing body for scientists to start using it - in fact, it's already been adopted by Planet Science Research Discoveries, an educational website founded by scientists at the University of Hawaii. "It drives home the point of continued exploration". Majority are closely affiliated with geology and other geosciences, thus making the new geophysical definition more useful than the IAU's astronomical definition, they said.



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