Pluto as a Planet on the Chopping Block
August 14, 2006 6:21 PM
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Around 2,500 scientists and astronomers are meeting in Prague to discuss Pluto
Pluto has been surrounded by controversy since it was spotted in 1930 by US astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. The main debate around the small planet is whether or not it truly qualifies to be a planet. To help settle the debate, or further complicate the situation, the International Astronomical Union
is going to meet to decide Pluto's fate
during a 12-day meeting. The 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries are meeting to speak about planets. As many as 14 "planet-like" bodies may need to be considered if the panel of scientists and astronomers decides that Pluto will remain a planet. One alternative that is being considered is for the union to demote Pluto into its own category -- which would leave Earth's solar system with only eight planets.
Large planet-like bodies located in the Kuiper belt has caused some confusion for astronomers. The largest body in the Kuiper belt, 2003 UB313, has a diameter of almost 1,490 kilometers, which is around 110 kilometers larger than Pluto's diameter. Along with 2003 UB313, there are several other bodies that could technically be classified as planets. The size, location, formation method and orbital characteristics may now be included in the new definition of a planet. The 10th major body in our solar system, for example, is
larger than Pluto
but has not been classified a planet either.
A new and easier way to define what a planet is will be released on Wednesday. The meeting in Prague opens today and is scheduled to last 12 days. Earlier this year scientists using the Hubble telescope discovered that Pluto has
two additional large orbiting bodies around it
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New planetary classification?
8/15/2006 6:43:50 AM
Right now we have rocky planets and gas giants, what's wrong with adding 'icy bodies' and thus adding some 10-20 more planets to the solar system, even if they're minor insignificant planets.
Keeping one of those planets a planet for historical reasons is retarded, however Pluto is the only planet discovered by an American, so there may be some political pressure to keep it a planet even if they demote the other Kuiper Belt objects. There's no reason to keep it at 9 planets because we're afraid of change.
There's plenty of discussion over what makes a planet a planet. Good scientific reasons are fine by me, emotional or political aren't.
One reasonable difference between a planet and a generic body in space is that the planet has enough gravity to form itself into a general spherical shape. This would, however, also mean that Ceres (the largest asteroid) would be classified as a planet. You could add limitations, such as the body must not be in a belt of bodies - that would solve the Kuiper Belt issue as well, but it seems quite arbitrary. Another limitation could be that the body must have formed when the Sun formed. Pluto is arguably a captured body, it's orbit is highly eccentric, so there's strong reasons for it to not be classified as a planet. However orbital eccentricity is a variable - how eccentric is too eccentric?
It will be interesting to see what they decide, as long as they explain their reasoning instead of simply saying "this and that are planets, these aren't" without reasons.
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