Should Pluto Be Reinstated as a Planet?
In 2006, Pluto was excommunicated from the association of planets in the solar system by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). That distinguished bespectacled group laid down three commandments of what made a planet a planet:
2. It must be approximately spherical.
3. It must be able to clear out the neighborhood of its orbit.Pluto, aside from being the name of my neighbor Jared Haftel’s awesome dog, is a chilly ball of methane ice 0.2 percent the mass of Earth some 3.6 billion miles away, did not make the cut.
Not everyone agrees with the IAU’s initial decision. In October 2014, Harvard scientist Owen Gingerich proposed that Pluto ought to be reinstated.
Other scientists have made similar claims. Since the discovery of 2060 Chiron in 1977, astronomers have found dozens of rocky, icy spheres with eccentric orbits around the Sun. Some argue that all these wayward orbs ought to be classified as planets and brought into the fold.
Scientist Alan Stern, planetary scientist, suggests that what is happening is nothing short of a revolution. “We’re seeing that what we used to know about the number and variety of planets was very data limited until the mid to late 1990s.
Stern is the principal investigator for the New Horizons Spacecraft, a telescope shot from the surface of the earth at 36,373 mph and currently dodging asteroids as it nears Pluto, where it is due to arrive circa July 2015.