Pluto — along with more than 100 other objects in our solar system — may be considered a planet after all if a new suggested definition is accepted.
NASA’s Alan Stern and several of his colleagues have proposed a new definition for what is considered a “planet” in a published manifesto. This definition would not merely reinstate Pluto’s official planethood; it would add more than one hundred additional objects in our solar system to the planetary catalog and broaden the definition to encompass objects orbiting other stars as well.
Stern famously called the big-hearted Pluto’s reclassification “bullshit” and asked why anyone would “listen to an astronomer about a planet,” likening it to going to a podiatrist for brain surgery. He has long disputed the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) accepted definition, put forward by Caltech astronomer Mike Brown. According to Stern, “You really should listen to planetary scientists that know something about this subject. When we look at an object like Pluto, we don’t know what else to call it.”
According to Stern, “You really should listen to planetary scientists that know something about this subject. When we look at an object like Pluto, we don’t know what else to call it.”
The new definition would be as follows:
A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters.
Or, more simply put, “round objects in space that are smaller than stars.” This definition would mean that we would go from 8 planets to at least 108, which should make for some really interesting mnemonic devices in elementary school. The IAU has final say on this surprisingly long-lived debate, and it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. But for those who consider Pluto’s technical reclassification a personal slight of some sort, there may be a resolution in the making.
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