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The science is settled: Pluto should be given back its “planet” status

The science is settled: Pluto should be given back its “planet” status

“The IAU definition is not useful for science.”

Perhaps after “climate change,” the biggest scientific controversy in recent times centered on the status of Pluto within our solar system.

The astronomical body was demoted 12 years ago after a group of elite scientists decided to apply new rules to define “planets”.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union [IAU], 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.

The scientists supporting this reclassification included astrophysicist and author Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Many scientists, myself included, thought the decision was hasty and ill-conceived. Now, a group of scientists argue in a new paper that the definition of a planet that the IAU used to downgrade Pluto’s status has been inconsistently applied . . . and not just in recent decades but over the past 200 years.

“What we’re doing is fact-checking,” said Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida and the lead author of the paper, which was published online Sept. 5 in the journal Icarus. “There are 120 examples I found of scientists in the recent published literature violating the IAU definition, calling something a planet even though the IAU definition says it’s not a planet. The reason planetary scientists do this is because the IAU definition is not useful for science.”

. . . .  Metzger and his co-authors argue that the IAU definition is invalid because the particular details of an object’s orbit around its host star — in this case the sun — have more to do with the star itself than with the object. For instance, a planet orbiting a massive star will most likely not be able to clear its orbit, whereas that identical planet in orbit around a much smaller star will.

In other words, it doesn’t make sense to base the planet-dwarf planet decision in part on something that is determined by an object’s host star.

“That’s like saying a tiger is not a mammal unless it’s able to clear away all the other predators on the island where it lives,” Metzger said. “That depends not just on what the tiger is, but what else happens to be on the island.”

The New Horizons spacecraft that flew by Pluto in 2015 showed dunes made of solid methane ice, mountain peaks covered in methane snow and, possibly, an icy, underwater ocean. Perhaps the only planetary body in the solar system with more complex morphology and chemistry is Earth.

New Horizons is now just 80 million miles from Ultima Thule, a chunk of ice and rock about 4 billion miles from Earth and generated during the earliest days of the the solar system’s formation.

The spacecraft has already begun photographing Ultima Thule for navigation purposes and remains on track to cruise within a mere 2,200 miles (3,540 km) of Ultima in the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2019. The data New Horizons gathers during that encounter hshould shed considerable light on the solar system’s early days, said mission principal investigator Alan Stern.

“Ultima Thule was formed at the origin of our solar system, and it’s been in this deep freeze ever since,” Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said during a webcast event Wednesday.

“Going to it is like making an archaeological dig into the history of our solar system,” he added. “We’ve never been to anything like this.”

How quickly can Pluto’s misclassification be corrected? Since we are dealing with bureaucrats and egos, not quickly.

[T]here’s a clear way to bring up a motion with the group — “which is to propose an IAU Resolution through the relevant Working Group(s) and Division.”
So far, however, no such resolutions have been proposed, said Lars Lindberg Christensen with the group.

“It is nevertheless good and healthy to debate these topics,” Christensen said.

However, until then, we can go back to teaching that there are nine planets: The science is settled.


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It’s a shame that the only planet named after a toon character is not even a planet. This was a wrong that needed to be righted.

Leslie, I disagree about the science, so now I will compare you to a Holocaust denier! LOL. Teasing of course. Just wanted to illustrate how far off the deep end the Global Warming crowd has fallen.

But Pluto/Hades isn’t really a planet or planetoid.

I think we need to have a select committee of Democrat Senators do an on-site investigation and report back. To make it bipartisan, designate Flake.

In all seriousness, our deep space probes have been a great success. The longevity of the crafts and the resourceful work arounds by the teams has been great. Watching the landing of Curiousity was exciting. There are places we can never go to that these probes can give us so much data about.

That’s like saying a tiger is not a mammal unless it’s able to clear away all the other predators on the island where it lives,” Metzger said. “That depends not just on what the tiger is, but what else happens to be on the island.”

Phillip, I’ve got several used metaphors for sale down at Fen’s Emporium. We would be delighted to get you out of that rust bucket and into something more appropriate for a man of your stature.

Take that NDT you smug bastid.

Been saying these for years…it’s a dwarf planet but still a planet.

Speaking of DeGrasse: what a narcissistic poser. This guy is to physicists what Odumbo is to presidents.

Good article. Wattsupwiththat had one on this a few weeks back. I saw an interview with one of the other scientists that spearheaded the redo, and he was giddy… and basically admitted, this action was deliberate and they knew it was controversial, but they had a group meeting and decided to push it because they could.

They pushed through their vote… and then laughed. They did it. Ha ha. Then, they set about slandering anyone who rightly called them on their scientific stunt. They had their view, and decided to take down Pluto. Unfortunately for them, then we get to see just how complex Pluto really is a couple years later, and it makes their decision to degrade Pluto look like the grandstanding that it was. Never should have happened. Wouldn’t have happened except for the way they engineered the vote at that conference.

    tom_swift in reply to RobM. | October 1, 2018 at 1:40 am

    Yes, the entire episode was embarrassing, even at the time. Those twits seemed giddy as school girls about the whole thing.

    But such childishness is an ongoing problem infesting many formerly scientific fields. There’s some gay blade in paleontology who thinks getting jokes into the scientific literature is his life’s work; he named a fossil dog Arfia (haha! What a wit!) and comitted a few other taxonomic crimes I’ve managed to purge from my memory. And the American Psychiatric Association is notorious for reclassifying entries in the Manual of Mental Disorders according to transient political whim. All it takes is enough activists at a meeting all working to foment the same perversion, and the deed is done. What it all does to science or medicine has been rendered irrelevant.

Super! Now we can get back to knocking down the genders to two.

Of course, the real question is, how many more $$ were allocated to astronomy to sort out this non-problem?

12 years ago, Pluto raped me. I don’t remember what month it was, or where exactly in its orbit, but the experience was seared into my memory.

Gus would be pleased.

Does this mean that Pluto regains its eligibility for housing subsidies?

Then why is Ceres no longer considered a planet? If Pluto gets its status back then so should Ceres.

Now that I know that ignoramus with a degree, Tyson, was part of that I understand more of who made up that “union”.

Tyson is a disgrace who’s only claim to so called scientific fame is that he is/was a narrator for a popular TV show.

Otherwise in general by observation of his tweets and other writings I find him to be ignorant, arrogant and misleading.

He’s a disgrace and besides he’s not really a scientist anymore he’s a celebrity. Trotted out like Bill Nye whenever a particular bit of nonsense needs some propping up to get the hive mind buzzing about false information.

I conducted a seance with Pluto, and Pluto doesn’t give a ****. Pluto was here before we were, and Pluto will be here after we’re gone. Pluto is just happy we puny earthlings didn’t decide to call it the easily mispronounced Uranus.

Tyson is not a scientist.

He was a theater manager and then became a TV personality.

His real claim to fame, which is what attracted his fervent following, is his hatred of Christians.

He’s a bigot.

Having someone that pretends to be a scientist spout off the most vicious anti-Christian bigotry lends an air of credibility to others that hate. Those that share his views love citing him because he’s the “expert” whose stamp of approval validates they hatred of Christians.

Pluto is a planet.

Maxine Obama is a planet.

Hollywood is on another planet.

“” an icy, underwater ocean””

I studied chemistry, physics and geology, but somebody’s going to have to explain this one to me.

I studied medieval French lit, cinema, frisbee, and 20th century soft-porn and all I got was this gig at Seattle’s Best Coffee.


Sez Pajama guy.

Bah, kid stuff.

The Great Planetary Terminology Disaster was, obviously, Johann Bode’s proposal to rename Wm. Herschel’s Georgium Sidus to a more classically-inspired Uranus. Now Bode, being German (of course so was Herschel, but he had the good sense to emigrate), might be forgiven for dropping such an obvious clanger (that’s c-l-a-n-g-e-r—what the hell kind of typeface is this, anyway?), but he must have known that the other planets sported the Roman names of assorted deities, and the Titan Uranus has a perfectly good Roman near-equivalent, Cælus. But Bode proposed the Greek name, thus violating a perfectly good pattern—a bit ironic, considering that he was the Bode of Bode’s Law, a mathematical formula expressing a pattern for the semi-major axes of the planetary orbits.

It’s been close to 250 years since then, and the situation seems to be permanent. Unlike the current Plutonian Problem, no easy fix seem likely.

buckeyeminuteman | October 1, 2018 at 8:40 am

It orbits a star and is massive enough for its own gravity to keep it spherical in shape. And it’s got multiple of its own moons that orbit it. Sounds like a planet to me.
I’ve been to two different museums that had displays of all the planets on the wall. After Neptune, there was a big blank spot with nail holes in the wall. Pretty shortsighted to not even showcase or acknowledge that Pluto still exists and is a pretty cool celestial object, planet or not.

YESSSS!! I was always on the “I’m with Pluto“ team.

Char Char Binks | October 1, 2018 at 5:26 pm

Welcome back to the fold, Pluto!