Tech UPTechnologyDoes Pluto deserve to be called a planet again?

Does Pluto deserve to be called a planet again?

On August 24, 2006, the venerable and distant Pluto, the last planet name that children memorized when studying the Solar System, was demoted by the experts of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to the category of dwarf planet, a species second division of its taxonomy. Because, unlike the other eight large celestial bodies that revolve around the Sun, it does not have a “clean” orbit, that is, it is not the dominant gravitational force in its environment . Both Neptune’s gravitational influence and the presence of sizable objects and icy gases in that orbit contributed to the verdict of erasing it from textbooks.

But the re-cataloging of Pluto twelve years ago did not have the unanimous endorsement of the scientific community. Now, new research conducted at the University of Central Florida and published in the journal Icarus fuels the controversy: According to planetologist Philip Metzger, director of the study, the criterion of orbital cleanliness is too eccentric to support such a transcendent decision . Metzger points out that it only appears once in all the scientific literature published in the last 200 years, specifically in an obscure publication of 1802. And that, furthermore, if strictly applied, there would be no planets in the Solar System: moons ” they pollute ”their orbits.

In practice, argues the American planetologist, experts do not use the narrow IAU definition in their research, since even Titan (Saturn’s moon) and Europa (Jupiter’s moon) have traditionally been considered planets, since the time of Galileo .

The dethronement of Pluto, Metzger laments, is a “botch” that leaves out “the second most complex and interesting planet in the Solar System.” The first would be, from the geological point of view, the Earth.

Kirby Runyon, co-author of the study, indicates for his part that the criterion of orbital cleanliness was not taken into account when making the distinction between asteroids and planets, as argued by the IAU in 2006. “We show that it is a false historical argument”, Runyon sentence.

So, in what way should a planet be defined, what would be the “cut-off mark” to consider it as such ? Metzger has it clear: only the intrinsic properties of the candidate should be taken into account, not the changing dynamics of its orbit. And he proposes that we label as planets those celestial bodies large enough for their gravity to allow them to acquire a spherical shape .

“It is not an arbitrary fact, it is a crucial moment in the evolution of a planetary body, since when this happens, apparently, geological activity begins,” explains the planetologist, who also recalls other merits of Pluto to return to the first division Solar System: It has a subterranean ocean, a multi-layered atmosphere, organic compounds, traces of ancient lakes, and multiple moons. “It is more dynamic and complex than Mars,” he concludes. Of course, the data collected by the New Horizons mission, which is now heading to explore objects in the Kuiper belt, has surprised the astronomical community.

Will these allegations make a dent in the UIA? Will Pluto return to take its place on the list of planets after Neptune? The debate is more open than ever.

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