Yasss! My favorite planet-cum-dwarf planet got the thumbs up from the University of Central Florida to be reinstated as a full-fledged member of our Solar System.
New research from UCF suggests Pluto’s declassification as a planet was not valid. (Damn straight!)
The International Astronomical Union in 2006 formally defined a planet as having “cleared the neighborhood” around its orbit (i.e. be the largest gravitational force in its path).
Because Neptune’s gravity influences its smaller neighbor, which shares its space with objects in the Kuiper belt, Pluto sadly lost its title as the ninth planet from the Sun.
Enter Philip Metzger—UCF planetary scientist with the Florida Space Institute, and my new hero.
In a study published online in the journal Icarus, Metzger reported that this standard for classifying planets is not supported by 200 years scientific literature.
Only one publication from 1802 used the clearing-orbit requirement, based on reasoning which has since been disproven.
“The IAU definition would say that the fundamental object of planetary science, the planet, is supposed to be defined on the basis of a concept that nobody uses in their research,” lead author Metzger said in a statement. “And it would leave out the second-most complex, interesting planet in our Solar System.”
“We now have a list of well over 100 recent examples of planetary scientists using the word planet in a way that violates the IAU definition,” he continued, “but they are doing it because it’s functionally useful.”
The practice dates back even further, according to Metzger, who revealed that analysts since the time of Galileo have routinely called Saturn’s Titan and Jupiter’s Europa moons “planets.”
“It’s a sloppy definition,” he said of IAU’s interpretation. “They didn’t saw what they meant by ‘clearing their orbit.’ If you take that literally, then there are no planets, because no planet clears its orbit.”
The whole point is moot, study co-author Kirby Runyon of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory explained; the literature review established that clearing orbit is not a standard used for distinguishing asteroids from planets, as the IAU claimed in 2006.
“We showed that this is a false historical claim,” he said. “It is therefore fallacious to apply the same reasoning to Pluto.”
The meaning of planet, Metzger pointed out, should be based on inherent properties, such as if an orb is large enough that its gravity allows is to become spherical in shape. Not features like dynamics of orbit which can change over time.
Long live Pluto!
Despite attempts to reestablish Pluto as a planet, the far-off globe remains diminished by science. Check out these 11 awesome facts about Pluto that you probably don’t know, and learn more about the (best) deep-space object here.
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