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Is Pluto a planet or plutoid? The debate continues...

Pluto is now officially classified as a plutoid, but astronomers are still unsure whether or not it should be considered a plutoid or planet.  One of the most popular debates among astronomers was yet again renewed during a conference at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory at the end of last week.

The director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, supports the official demotion of Pluto, while Mark Skyes, Planetary Science Institute director, believes Pluto should still be considered a planet.

After Pluto's discovery in 1930, the debate over its possible planetary status started immediately among astronomers and members of the media.  The 24-year old researcher who discovered the planet, Clyde Tombaugh, considered it the official ninth planet, while many others hailed Pluto's discovery, but said it wasn't a planet.

Since then, Pluto's status remains unclear, with astronomers continuing to flip flop over the plutoid.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006, only to classify it as something else just two years later.  The plutoid classification was created specifically for dwarf planets similar in size to Pluto.  Specifically, dwarf planets orbiting further than Neptune can be given the new classification, and must circle the sun and have their own gravitational field.

The IAU's specifications for a regular planet include the ability to orbit a sun, enough gravity to make it almost round, and have the power to send out objects that enter their orbit.  Some critics of Pluto's demotion believe any nonstellar object that is round and able to orbit a star should be considered an official planet.

Only Pluto and the dwarf planet of Eris currently carry the plutoid classification, although astronomers expect to add other planets in the future.  Skyes and company believe Earth's solar system should have 13 planets, when it only has eight.  Ceres, which is an object in an asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, would end up being the smallest planet in the solar system, if the system were put into place now.

Tyson would rather not count planets, but instead group bodies together when they have similar properties, even if this may further complicate things.

There are some astronomers who say Pluto should be considered a planet but everything else discovered moving forward should be considered a plutoid.  Even after the debate at JHU, Pluto remains in limbo, and will likely still be classified as a plutoid until astronomers are able to unanimously agree how it should be classified.





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