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Pluto Loses Planet Status

Pluto Loses Planet Status


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On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted to reclassify Pluto as a "dwarf planet," shrinking the solar system from nine planets to eight and setting off a controversy within the scientific community. In a broadcast following the announcement, James Zimbelman from the Smithsonian Institution shares his opinion about the "oddball" of outer space.


Never a Planet: A 14-Year-Old Considers Pluto's Dwarf Planet Status

E. Dawn Redd is a 14-year-old student and the daughter of Space.com contributor Nola Redd. Like many kids and teenagers, she has grown up in a world in which Pluto has been considered a dwarf planet for most of her life.

Throughout history, children have grown up under the shadow of conflict. Some lived through the Civil War, others the War of the Roses. I'm 14, and I grew up watching a different kind of battle, although this one had only one casualty: Pluto.

In my home, Pluto's status as a planet is an ongoing battle. My mom writes for astronomical websites and magazines my dad, once he has read the facts and made up his mind, is extremely set in his opinions. Both of them are exceptionally stubborn people. Their vigorous discussions form some of my earliest memories.

For years, I didn't care about the fight. I never really knew Pluto as a planet I was born only a few years before its controversial demotion, and science wasn't really my thing. If my parents wanted to argue the point, why should I step in? I didn't even really listen when they talked about it. I would just go on with whatever I was doing. [Photos of Pluto and Its Moons]

But that changed last fall, when I discovered how much I love astronomy. I remember the exact moment of my epiphany. I was in the car talking with my mom when she mentioned that she was going to a major astronomical meeting. She said she would meet some really cool scientists. I asked her a couple questions, and suddenly I was thinking, "Maybe science isn't so boring after all."

My mom brought me to the meeting that winter. I attended as an intern and absolutely loved it. After that, I started listening a little bit more to my parents when they argued their sides on Pluto. I researched the debate, learning that this discussion extends beyond our home. I ultimately formed an opinion of my own: There are good points for both sides.

My dad gives several reasons to argue that Pluto is a planet. First, it orbits the sun. You might say, "But a lot of things orbit the sun! Are you saying we should classify them all as planets?" He said maybe we should. Second, Pluto has significant mass. It isn't huge, but it is pretty large it even has its own moons. My dad said there should be a rule for planet classification that requires a body to orbit a star and have a certain mass.

"It was already a planet," he said, "so why be mean and try to tell it it's no longer a planet?"

On the other hand, my mom said that Pluto is definitely a dwarf planet. Yes, it is a significant member of the solar system, but it's still pretty tiny. Pluto isn't even big enough to clear its orbit of other, smaller objects. It's pretty far out in space, right on the edge of the Kuiper Belt, the band of icy rocks beyond the orbit of Neptune. She said she doesn't think that Pluto qualifies as a proper planet. It certainly fits in better with the dwarf planets. Ceres is closer to the sun than Pluto and was considered a planet when it was first discovered in 1801 but lost its "planet" title around 1850, and no one has been in an uproar about its demotion.

The real question, though, isn't whether Pluto is or isn't a planet. I think the real question is, does it really matter?

Pluto's status doesn't change anything scientifically, and it most likely won't affect how missions are planned. Maybe it matters, and maybe it doesn't. I think the most important thing is that scientists keep looking and learning about Pluto, and all the other bodies in the solar system. People just continue to broaden their horizons.


How did this change things?

Confirmation of the first KBO invigorated the existing debate. And in 2000, the Hayden Planetarium in New York became a focus for controversy when it unveiled an exhibit featuring only eight planets. The planetarium's director Neil deGrasse Tyson would later become a vocal figure in public discussions of Pluto's status.

But it was discoveries of Kuiper Belt Objects with masses roughly comparable to Pluto, such as Quaoar (announced in 2002), Sedna (2003) and Eris (2005), that pushed the issue to a tipping point.

Eris, in particular, appeared to be larger than Pluto - giving rise to its informal designation as the Solar System's "tenth planet".

Prof Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), who led the team that found Eris, would later style himself as the "man who killed Pluto", while deGrasse Tyson would later jokingly quip that he had "driven the getaway car".

The finds spurred the International Astronomical Union to set up a committee tasked with defining just what constituted a planet, with the aim of putting a final draft proposal before members at the IAU's 2006 General Assembly in Prague.

Under a radical early plan, the number of planets would have increased from nine to 12, seeing Pluto and its moon Charon recognised as a twin planet, and Ceres and Eris granted entry to the exclusive club. But the idea met with opposition.


Why Pluto is Not a Planet Anymore?

All these doubts and presumptions on why Pluto is not a planet anymore will be explained in this article in a simple and lucid manner.

So, why Pluto is not a planet anymore?

Short answer: Pluto is not a planet anymore because it doesn’t fit into the new definition of Planets.

There are many objects in space which move around in our Solar system. These objects are precisely called as celestial objects. These celestial objects may or may not orbit our Sun. These objects may be big or small. They may have different composition and structure.

Based on their size, structure (shape), orbit (the path they travel), composition (what they are made up of), they are classified either as a Planet, Star, Dwarf Planet, Satellite, Comet or an Asteroid.

The designation of celestial object as a planet, comet or satellite is given by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The International Astronomical Union consists of professional astronomers at International level who are responsible for classifying whether a celestial object is a planet or satellite or any other object.

IAU 2006 General Assembly | Credit: IAU/Robert Hurt (SSC)

Every three years, IAU takes up new resolutions at their General Assembly. The resolutions are passed by the majority of votes during the General Assembly.

Result of the IAU Resolution Votes | Credits: The International Astronomical Union/Lars Holm Nielsen

At Such General Assembly conducted in 2006, Pluto lost its Planetary Status when IAU redefined the definition of a Planet.

What is the need for new definitions?

Since the discovery of Pluto in 1930, Pluto has always been in debate. The reasons for this debate are

Pluto is the smallest planet in our solar system. Infact it is smaller than the Earth’s Moon.

By Earth: NASAMoon: Gregory H. ReveraPluto: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI – File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17

Composition

All the inner planets namely Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars which are not beyond the Asteroid belt are called Terrestrial Planets. They are called so due to their composition. All terrestrial planets have dense and rocky surface. While the outer planets which are beyond the Asteroid Belt are called Jovian Planets or Gaseous Planets because most of their surface is composed of gases such as hydrogen, helium and traces of methane. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are called as Jovian Planets.

In this Scenario, the next planet which comes after Neptune must be gaseous planet just like the other Jovian planets which are beyond the Asteroid belt. But Pluto in contrary is a terrestrial planet whose surface is dense and rocky.

Other Factors

Erratic Orbit of Pluto, Binary System of Pluto and Charon (its largest moon), and resemblance to Neptune are some factors which are debatable. Some scientists even think Pluto was once a moon of Neptune.

Mysteries of Pluto – Discovery, Classification, Debate & Facts

Near End to this Debate

This debate on planetary status of Pluto nearly came to an end on July 29, 2005 when group of Astronomers at The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) discovered a new trans-Neptunian object Eris which was found to be more massive than Pluto. This hinted the introduction of Eris as the Tenth planet into our Solar System. Astronomical community had to start a fresh debate on the status of these minor planets. Finally, there was a need for New Definition of Planet.

Eris (center) and Dysnomia (left of center), taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. By NASA, ESA, and M. Brown

Final End

The long running debate finally came to an end on Aug 24 th , 2006 when 2500 Astronomers at the 26th General Assembly for the International Astronomical Union passed two important resolutions by voting. They are

Resolution 5A: “Definition of ‘planet’ ”

Resolution 6A: “Definition of Pluto-class objects”

According to this new resolution 5A, there are three conditions for a celestial object in the Solar System to be considered a planet:

1. The celestial object must orbit the sun.

2. The celestial object must be (nearly round) shape. (It must assume hydrostatic equilibrium)

3. The celestial object must have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

The first two conditions were fulfilled by Pluto since it orbits the Sun every 248years and it is massive enough to be near round.

But it failed to meet the requirement of third condition.

Astronomical observations of Pluto suggest that Pluto has not cleared its neighbourhood, which means there are still many objects which are not influenced by the gravity of Pluto and hence they do not fall into Pluto. For a celestial object to be a planet, it must have strong gravity to clear their neighbourhood.

If Pluto is not a planet anymore, then what is Pluto?

Now here comes the Resolution 6A which defines Pluto and objects similar to Pluto. According to this Resolution 6A, Pluto is called as a Dwarf Planet.

Therefore Pluto is not a planet anymore but Pluto is a Dwarf Planet.

Definition of Dwarf Planet

Resolution 5B defines the requirements of Dwarf Planets.

1. The celestial object must orbit the sun.

2. The celestial object must be (nearly round) shape. (It must assume hydrostatic equilibrium)

3. The celestial object must have cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

4. The celestial object must not be a Satellite.

Since Pluto falls under this category, Pluto is a Dwarf Planet.

All Resolutions are listed in the official website of The International Astronomical Union.

Watch the Video in Telugu

Our Solar System – Planets, Dwarf Planets, Asteroid Belt & Kuiper Belt

Topic Quiz

Take the Complete Topic Quiz and test your Knowledge

1. Which international authority is responsible for the designating celestial bodies?

(a) International Council for Science (ICSU)

(b) Working Group on Star Names (WGSN)

(c) The International Astronomical Union (IAU)

(d) The Royal Astronomical Society

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Pluto should be reclassified as a planet, experts say

The reason Pluto lost its planet status is not valid, according to new research from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union, a global group of astronomy experts, established a definition of a planet that required it to "clear" its orbit, or in other words, be the largest gravitational force in its orbit.

Since Neptune's gravity influences its neighboring planet Pluto, and Pluto shares its orbit with frozen gases and objects in the Kuiper belt, that meant Pluto was out of planet status. However, in a new study published online Wednesday in the journal Icarus, UCF planetary scientist Philip Metzger, who is with the university's Florida Space Institute, reported that this standard for classifying planets is not supported in the research literature.

Metzger, who is lead author on the study, reviewed scientific literature from the past 200 years and found only one publication -- from 1802 -- that used the clearing-orbit requirement to classify planets, and it was based on since-disproven reasoning.

He said moons such as Saturn's Titan and Jupiter's Europa have been routinely called planets by planetary scientists since the time of Galileo.

"The IAU definition would say that the fundamental object of planetary science, the planet, is supposed to be a defined on the basis of a concept that nobody uses in their research," Metzger said. "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, but they are doing it because it's functionally useful," he said. "It's a sloppy definition," Metzger said of the IAU's definition. "They didn't say what they meant by clearing their orbit. If you take that literally, then there are no planets, because no planet clears its orbit."

The planetary scientist said that the literature review showed that the real division between planets and other celestial bodies, such as asteroids, occurred in the early 1950s when Gerard Kuiper published a paper that made the distinction based on how they were formed.

However, even this reason is no longer considered a factor that determines if a celestial body is a planet, Metzger said.

Study co-author Kirby Runyon, with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said the IAU's definition was erroneous since the literature review showed that clearing orbit is not a standard that is used for distinguishing asteroids from planets, as the IAU claimed when crafting the 2006 definition of planets.

"We showed that this is a false historical claim," Runyon said. "It is therefore fallacious to apply the same reasoning to Pluto," he said. Metzger said that the definition of a planet should be based on its intrinsic properties, rather than ones that can change, such as the dynamics of a planet's orbit. "Dynamics are not constant, they are constantly changing," Metzger said. "So, they are not the fundamental description of a body, they are just the occupation of a body at a current era."

Instead, Metzger recommends classifying a planet based on if it is large enough that its gravity allows it to become spherical in shape.

"And that's not just an arbitrary definition, Metzger said. "It turns out this is an important milestone in the evolution of a planetary body, because apparently when it happens, it initiates active geology in the body."

Pluto, for instance, has an underground ocean, a multilayer atmosphere, organic compounds, evidence of ancient lakes and multiple moons, he said.

"It's more dynamic and alive than Mars," Metzger said. "The only planet that has more complex geology is the Earth."


Pluto Loses Planet Status - HISTORY

About 2,500 scientists meeting in Prague have adopted historic new guidelines that see the small, distant world demoted to a secondary category.

The researchers said Pluto failed to dominate its orbit around the Sun in the same way as the other planets.

The International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision means textbooks will now have to describe a Solar System with just eight major planetary bodies.

There is a recognition that the demotion is likely to upset the public, who have become accustomed to a particular view of the Solar System.

"I have a slight tear in my eye today, yes but at the end of the day we have to describe the Solar System as it really is, not as we would like it to be," said Professor Iwan Williams, chair of the IAU panel that has been working over recent months to define the term "planet".

Without a new nomenclature, these discoveries raised the prospect that textbooks could soon be talking about 50 or more planets in the Solar System.

Amid dramatic scenes in the Czech capital which saw astronomers waving yellow ballot papers in the air, the IAU voted to block this possibility - and in the process took the historic decision to relegate Pluto.

  • it must be in orbit around the Sun
  • it must be large enough that it takes on a nearly round shape
  • it has cleared its orbit of other objects

Pluto was automatically disqualified because its highly elliptical orbit overlaps with that of Neptune. It will now join a new category of dwarf planets.

Pluto's status has been contested for many years. It is further away and considerably smaller than the eight other "traditional" planets in our Solar System. At just 2,360km (1,467 miles) across, Pluto is smaller even than some moons in the Solar System.

In addition, since the early 1990s, astronomers have found several objects of comparable size to Pluto in an outer region of the Solar System called the Kuiper Belt.

Some astronomers have long argued that Pluto would be better categorised alongside this population of small, icy worlds.

The critical blow for Pluto came with the discovery three years ago of an object currently designated 2003 UB313. After being measured with the Hubble Space Telescope, it was shown to be some 3,000km (1,864 miles) in diameter: it is bigger than Pluto.

2003 UB313 will now join Pluto in the dwarf category, along with the biggest asteroid in the Solar System, Ceres.

Named after the god of the underworld in Roman mythology, Pluto orbits the Sun at an average distance of 5.9 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles) taking 247.9 Earth years to complete a single circuit of the Sun.

An unmanned US spacecraft, New Horizons, is due to fly by Pluto and the Kuiper Belt in 2015.


Pluto stripped of its planet status

Pluto has lost its seven-decade status as the ninth and outermost planet of the solar system, the world’s top astrononomical body has decided.

The decision was made at an assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

“The eight planets are Mercury, Earth, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune,” said the IAU resolution, passed in a raised-hands vote after what, by the discreet standards of the astronomical community, was a stormy debate.

Pluto’s status had been contested for many years by astronomers who said that its tiny size and highly eccentric orbit precluded it from joining the other acknowledged planets.

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The call for an official definition of the word “planet” gained ground after the discovery of a distant object beyond Pluto’s orbit called 2003 UB313, nicknamed Xena. It is slightly bigger than Pluto and thus could lay claim to being a planet.

Pluto was discovered on 18 February 1930 by US astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who was then 24 years old.

Named after the god of the underworld in classical mythology, it orbits the Sun at an average distance of 5,906,380,000 kilometres (3,670,050,000 miles), taking 247.9 Earth years to complete a single orbit.


A brief history of Pluto

1906 Wealthy polymath Percival Lowell speculates on the possibility of “Planet X”, a ninth planet affecting the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. In 1915, his observatory unwittingly photographs Pluto, but the planet remains undiscovered and Lowell dies the following year.

1929 Self-taught junior astronomer Clyde Tombaugh is hired by the Lowell Observatory. He locates Pluto the following year, in roughly the position where Lowell thought “Planet X” should be, by painstakingly comparing numerous photographs of the night sky.

1930 Eleven-year-old Oxford schoolgirl Venetia Burney suggests the new planet be named after Pluto, the elusive Roman god of the underworld. Her father conveys the suggestion to the astronomy community and the name is adopted.

1978 Charon, one of Pluto’s five known moons, is discovered by James Christy of the United States Naval Observatory. The finding allows astronomers to more accurately gauge Pluto’s mass, proving that it is too small to have affected the orbits of other planets. Lowell’s hypothetical “Planet X” is eventually declared non-existent its proximity to the real Pluto a mere coincidence.


Researchers Say the Reason Pluto Lost Its Planet Status is Not Valid

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) established a definition of a planet that required it to clear its orbit, or in other words, be the largest gravitational force in its orbit. Since Neptune’s gravity influences Pluto, and Pluto shares its orbit with frozen gases and objects in the Kuiper Belt, that meant Pluto was out of planet status. However, in a new paper published August 29 in the journal Icarus, Florida Space Institute researcher Philip Metzger and co-authors reported that this standard for classifying planets is not supported in the scientific literature.

This Pluto mosaic was made from New Horizons LORRI images taken on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 49,700 miles (80,000 km). This view is projected from a point 1,118 miles (1,800 km) above Pluto’s equator, looking northeast over the dark, cratered Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth expanse of icy plains called Sputnik Planum. Pluto’s North Pole is off the image to the left. This mosaic was produced with panchromatic images from the New Horizons LORRI camera, with color overlaid from the Ralph color mapper onboard New Horizons. Image credit: S.A. Stern et al.

Dr. Metzger and his colleagues from the Planetary Science Institute, the Southwest Research Institute and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory reviewed the scientific literature from 1801 to the present.

They found that William Herschel’s 1802 paper is the only case in the literature that used the clearing-orbit requirement to classify planets, and it was based on since-disproven reasoning.

“Moons such as Titan and Europa have been routinely called planets by planetary scientists since the time of Galileo,” Dr. Metzger said.

“The IAU definition would say that the fundamental object of planetary science, the planet, is supposed to be a defined on the basis of a concept that nobody uses in their research. 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, but they are doing it because it’s functionally useful.”

The researchers found that the real division between planets and other celestial bodies, such as asteroids, occurred in the early 1950s when Gerard Kuiper published a paper that made the distinction based on how they were formed.

However, this reason is no longer considered a factor that determines if a celestial body is a planet.

“The IAU’s definition was erroneous since the literature review showed that clearing orbit is not a standard that is used for distinguishing asteroids from planets, as the IAU claimed when crafting the 2006 definition of planets,” said Dr. Kirby Runyon, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

“We showed that this is a false historical claim. It is therefore fallacious to apply the same reasoning to Pluto.”

According to the team, the definition of a planet should be based on its intrinsic properties, rather than ones that can change, such as the dynamics of a planet’s orbit.

“Dynamics are not constant, they are constantly changing. So, they are not the fundamental description of a body, they are just the occupation of a body at a current era,” Dr. Metzger said.

“We recommend classifying a planet based on if it is large enough that its gravity allows it to become spherical in shape.”

“And that’s not just an arbitrary definition. It turns out this is an important milestone in the evolution of a planetary body, because apparently when it happens, it initiates active geology in the body.”

“Pluto, for instance, has an underground ocean, a multilayer atmosphere, organic compounds, evidence of ancient lakes and multiple moons,” he added.

“It’s more dynamic and alive than Mars. The only planet that has more complex geology is the Earth.”


Pluto Loses Planet Status - HISTORY

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