Pluto: The Little Planet That Could

Oct 03, 2014 | written by:


At a radius of about 750 miles and and a distance from the Earth of about 3.6 billion miles, Pluto has stirred up some controversy and picked up a big fanbase since it was debunked as a planet in 2006.


Pluto was rejected and classified by the International Astronomical Union as a “dwarf planet” because they found other rocks very similar to Pluto beyond Neptune, all too small to be considered planets.


So what makes a planet?

  • It is in orbit of the sun.

  • Have enough mass to assume a round, or nearly round, shape.

  • Have “cleared its neighborhood. This means that it is not surrounded by objects of similar size and characteristics.So basically, it has the rbit all to itself.



Scientists decided in 2006 that Pluto did not fulfill the third qualification since it it sometimes overlapped Neptune’s orbit and was surrounded by similar structures.


However, some scientists and the public want Pluto back.


Harvard science historian Dr. Owen Gingerich was one of the scientists in the discussion panel that argued Pluto should not have been redefined. “My feeling is that in retrospect, the IAU should not have attempted to define the word 'planet'," he said.


Another Harvard professor, Dimitar Sasselov gave a valid argument that a planet should be defined as the smallest spherical lump of matter that formed around stars or stellar remnants.


The associated director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, Gareth Williams argued that Pluto had still not cleared its neighborhood. "Jupiter has cleared its neighbourhood. Earth has cleared its neighbourhood. Ceres, which is in the main asteroid belt, hasn't. Pluto hasn't," he said. "In my world, Pluto is not a planet."


The debate took place on Sep. 18, with the audience consisting of scientists, teachers and civilians. Two of the three experts in the debate agreed that Pluto should be a planet, with a popular vote among audience members agreeing.


The votes were not official, so only time will determine the true future of Pluto.


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