Published: Thu, March 23, 2017
Research | By Elizabeth Houston

Along with 110 Other Solar System Bodies, Says Study

Along with 110 Other Solar System Bodies, Says Study

New Horizons mission to Pluto was initiated in association with NASA and a team of authors of science team members.

At the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, TX, Kirby Runyon of Johns Hopkins University presented a new understanding of what it takes to qualify as a planet and it's incredibly more inclusive. 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.

"Second, it requires zone clearing, which no planet in our Solar System can satisfy since new small bodies are constantly injected into planet-crossing orbits, like NEOs near Earth".

Runyon himself is of the opinion that the very word "planet" carries a "psychological weight" and that a debate might engage public interest.

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In particular, Runyon argues in a press release associated with the work that Pluto "has everything going on on its surface that you associate with a planet". "In the decade following the supposed "demotion" of Pluto by the [IAU], many members of the public, in our experience, assume that alleged "non-planets" cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration, though the IAU did not intend this outcome", wrote Stern.

The visual simulation, posted to Reddit by user Nobillitie, shows the orbits of all eight planets in our Solar System - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - as well as thousands of dwarf planets beyond. 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. This approach would categorize Earth's moon as a type of planet.

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. It stated that planets are round objects that orbit our sun and are big enough to clear the neighborhood around its orbit.

According to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a planet is a celestial body (a natural body outside the Earth's atmosphere) that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass that its gravity pulls it into an nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit. The IAU definition that excluded Pluto "stinks, for technical reasons", said Stern in 2006. Most are closely affiliated with geology and other geosciences, thus making the new geophysical definition more useful than the IAU's astronomical definition.

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