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Space & Astronomy

Could Pluto be classed as a planet again ?

By T.K. Randall
March 8, 2016 · Comment icon 40 comments

Should Pluto be classed as a planet or as a dwarf planet ? Image Credit: NASA
The discovery of what look like clouds on Pluto has reignited the debate over its dwarf planet status.
Once considered to be the ninth planet in our solar system, the distant world of Pluto was demoted by the International Astronomical Union to the status of dwarf planet ten years ago to put it more in line with the plethora of other small, icy bodies that had been discovered around that time.

After data from NASA's groundbreaking New Horizons mission started to trickle back to Earth last year however some scientists started to call in to question the IAU's definition of the term 'planet' and whether Pluto should have ever been stripped of its planetary status in the first place.

The case for its reinstatement would go on to strengthen even further after New Scientist published internal conversations between planetary scientists discussing whether or not some of the New Horizons photographs actually showed evidence of clouds floating in Pluto's atmosphere.
New Horizons principle investigator Alan Stern, who is a keen advocate of seeing Pluto reacquire its planetary status, maintains that it passes what he calls the "Star Trek test".

"When Captain Kirk turns on the viewfinder, the audience knows immediately if it's a planet or a star or simply an asteroid or small comet or something," he said.

"They don't have to do any math. You just look at it. This is what I call the Star Trek test. People know a planet when they see one, and I think that's a pretty darn good test, in fact, for planethood."

Source: Sydney Morning Herald | Comments (40)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #31 Posted by Physics Phreak 8 years ago
Of course, the celestial objects designated as "planets" have changed over time. As most forum members will know, the word "planet" means "wanderer", and was used because some heavenly bodies "wander" along the ecliptic against the backdrop of the fixed stars. As such, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - together with the Sun and the Moon - were referred to as "planets" in ancient times. The Earth certainly was not thought of as a planet. Then along came Copernicus, and everything changed. Incidentally, we now know the fixed stars are most certainly not fixed, but we still call them suc... [More]
Comment icon #32 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
No it's awful news (although I doubt it will happen). It would be a victory for petty emotions over scientific rationality. Quite frankly feelings should have no place in this process, logic SHOULD. To return Pluto to planetary status would open up the solar system to having potentially hundreds of planets in a completely unworkable system. Pluto was removed from planetary status for a very good reason (exactly the same reason that Ceres was removed from planetary status in the early 19th century) those reasons have not changed. ceres has been returned to planatary status. currently we have 4 ... [More]
Comment icon #33 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
It's not a "desire" to demote it (it's those that want it returned to planetary status simply because the decision made them angry that are showing an irrational, emotional side). It WAS demoted based on a factual decision, made by astronomers. If the fact that Pluto was known to be just one of countless thousands of objects orbiting in the Kuiper belt had been known in 1930 it would never have been designated a major planet in the first place. The decision made about Pluto is exactly the decision made about Ceres a century and a half earlier. If designation doesn't matter then why did the dec... [More]
Comment icon #34 Posted by Derek Willis 8 years ago
Incidentally, we now know the fixed stars are most certainly not fixed, but we still call them such. And, we know planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets - a misnomer brought about by Herschel, who saw the objects resemble planets, but knew they weren't planets because they do not wander! Such is the fickleness of language and the process of science. William Herschel seems to have caused a lot of trouble. He suggested the small bodies orbiting between Mars and Jupiter - of which Ceres is one - should be called "asteroids". That word means "star-like"!!
Comment icon #35 Posted by Derek Willis 8 years ago
ceres has been returned to planatary status. When was that done?
Comment icon #36 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
When was that done? when it became a dwarf planet.
Comment icon #37 Posted by Derek Willis 8 years ago
when it became a dwarf planet. Oh, I see. You are not saying Ceres was returned to planetary status - meaning it is a fully-fledged planet - you are saying it was upgraded from an asteroid into a dwarf planet.
Comment icon #38 Posted by danielost 8 years ago
Oh, I see. You are not saying Ceres was returned to planetary status - meaning it is a fully-fledged planet - you are saying it was upgraded from an asteroid into a dwarf planet. except thar i see dwarf p[lanets as full-flegded planets. the only reason it became an issue is the aiu didn't want to force school kids to remember 100+- dwarf planet names. if they weren't real planets they would have kept the small body designation like astroids and comets. that by the way is a number
Comment icon #39 Posted by Derek Willis 8 years ago
except thar i see dwarf p[lanets as full-flegded planets. the only reason it became an issue is the aiu didn't want to force school kids to remember 100+- dwarf planet names. if they weren't real planets they would have kept the small body designation like astroids and comets. that by the way is a number I suppose what irks people is that out of the (in 2006) 11,000 or so members of the International Astronomical Union only about 400 got to vote, and out of them less than 250 decided Pluto should be re-designated. That is not to say the decision was wrong, but only 2.5% in favor is hardly demo... [More]
Comment icon #40 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 8 years ago
if they weren't real planets they would have kept the small body designation like astroids and comets. that by the way is a number I've got news for you Daniel, except for Pluto which never had one, the rest of the dwarf planets (including Ceres) HAVE kept their minor planet designations.


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