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Should Pluto be a Planet Again? Informal voting offers support after expert discussions

The debate raged on whether to consider Pluto as a planet since it was characterized as a dwarf planet in 2006. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in 2015 complicated matters. Here, New Horizons displayed the icy mountains 2 miles (3 km) high on Pluto during his flyover of the dwarf planet.

(Picture: © NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI)

The friendly debate on Pluto yesterday (April 29) ended with an informal vote in favor of restoring the status of the dwarf planet.

Early Morning Eastern Time, after livestreamed discussion of the philosophical society in Washington earlier that evening, Alan Stern – chief researcher of the New Horizons mission who flew Pluto – tweeted that his argument won the votethat was open to anyone who could access the PSW website, even those who weren't members. The results showed that 130 people voted in favor of Pluto on the planet and 30 against. During the debate, Stern argued in favor of using geophysical definitions define the planet. In short, this suggests that planets must be bodies that are sufficiently massive to be nearly round in shape, but not so massive that they have nuclear fusion in the interior (like a star).

Related: Pluto Destination: NASA New Horizons Mission in Pictures

However, since 2006, the International Astronomical Union, represented by the former IAU President Ron Ekers, has used a different definition of a planetary system that excludes Pluto. This definition says that the planet must orbit the Sun, it must have a nearly round shape and must have.he cleared the area around his runway"Historically, this is the third point that has caused the biggest dispute among Pluto's advocates, given the number of asteroids orbiting larger planets."

Pluto's planetary status debate has intensified New horizons the mission flew a dwarf planet in 2015. The new horizons revealed a world of surprise: the great mountains, the possible inner ocean, and the subtle "exosphere" or very thin atmosphere. Given Pluto's complex geology, Stern and some other members of the astronomical community have begun to argue that Pluto should be re-labeled a planet.

To name things

The debate took place in details for and against Pluto as a planet. Ekers' presentation focused on the history of the IAU, which was originally founded in 1919 to coordinate hours and report via telegram on findings related to astronomy.

"Coordination of all the hours in the world is not a science in itself, but if we do not, it is difficult to pursue science; it is a practical function that these international unions must do," said Ekers.

He also argued that assigning categories to planets is also not a science, but a way to describe objects so that scientists can communicate. Other examples of this type of decision include consent to the names of constellations and boundaries, or to describe species (such as humans, or homo sapiens) by their gender and specific name.

Pluto was discovered in 1930, amid the search for a planet that was believed to be the cause of irregularities in Neptune's orbit, Ekers said. Pluto was too small to cause these deviations, and later calculations showed that Neptune's first calculations were incorrect. But it was lucky to find. Tiny Pluto was closer to the sun at that point in his orbit than it is now, and it is easier to observe in the telescopes available at that time.

It was not until six decades later that other objects close to Pluto size were discovered in Kuiper Belt, the area of ​​ice objects behind Neptune. Then Mike Brown, an Astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, led to the discovery of an object called 2003 UB313, which was believed to be larger than Pluto. "Cannot assign any name." [by the IAU] "There was no planet definition," Ekers said Eris.)

The IAU has twice asked the planetary systems division to come up with a planet definition; The IAU has set up an appointment committee that includes both international representation and persons working within and outside planetary science (eg historians and educators).

The committee asked that their discussions not be made public, which Ekers admitted was a mistake, but added that the media were invited (and present) to a decision that made Pluto a dwarf planet.

The vote took place at the IAU meeting in Prague in August 2006, which included 424 members (out of 9,000 members). Most of the votes were for Pluto redesigned as a dwarf planet, along with a number of other "trans-Neptunian objects" found in a few years before the vote. A separate resolution that suggests that the dwarf planets should be named planets has failed with a large margin, he added.

"This is not a science voice," said Ekers. "The IAU voting is about agreeing how you name things, and that was an important difference."

Pluto appears in color because New Horizons scientists combined four images of the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with color data from Ralph to create this enhanced global color preview. The spacecraft has taken pictures of 450,000 kilometers.

(Picture: © NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI)

Advocate expertise

Then Stern stepped onto the stage and outlined what he saw as problems with the IAU's vote. The question of the experts in the IAU Planet Definition Committee arose and claimed that it should be made up of planetary scientists: "If God defends, someone has been diagnosed with a neurological problem, I hope you go to a neurologist and not a podiatrist, or some other form doctor because expertise matters. "

He provided a quick historical overview of the three "game changers" that were essential to what he called the "Dwarf Planet Revolution": the discovery that the oceans are common on other bodies in our solar system, the discovery of the Kuiper Belt of Ice Objects that show as early in its history and the discovery of small worlds such as Pluto – most of which were not found until the early 21st century.

Visitors – perhaps aboard the USS Enterprise "Star Trek" – would look at Pluto and say they were orbiting the planet, Stern said. "He has the atmosphere of the same things we breathe," he argued. He cited his mountain range, glaciers, avalanches and "all signs of planetary processes" visible on the surface.

Related: The dramatic journey of the new horizons to Pluto revealed in the new book

He also took Ekers to a task in two points about the IAU. Stern argued that the IAU had deliberately created a planetary definition in such a way that it would be easier to remember the number of planets in the solar system – Ekers replied that if Stern heard it, it was probably a joke that was made at the time of the decision. Stern also said that no planet can completely clear its debris path when circling the Sun, while Ekers claims that the asteroids and comets we see are in the orbits of the planetary orbits.

Stern also argued that farther in the solar system, it is harder to remove away small objects because they move so much slower in their orbits around the sun than do objects that are closer due to the nature of how the orbits work. This means that planets must be increasingly massive in the outer regions of the solar system to remove small objects. Even the Earth would not consider itself a planet if you moved it to 100 Earth-Sun distances from the Sun – "That just causes confusion," Stern said.

Stern and Ekers shook hands after the debate and shared the question and answer with the audience, further clarifying their positions. Although the state of the planet Pluto has not changed after the debate, it is part of a vast set of studies and issues that continue – Even nearly 13 years after Pluto was described as a dwarf planet.

Watch Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @wellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and further Facebook.

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