Science News
Published: Oct 3, 2014
Pluto planet status restored? [VIDEO]
by Tashi Singh

Pluto planet status restored? [VIDEO], Eight years after being reduced to a "dwarf planet" by the International Astronomical Union in 2006, many inside and outside the scientific community were preturbed. Planetary models had to be torn from the ceilings of classrooms, and middle school science students across the country didn't know what they could believe in anymore.

The California State Assembly actually half-seriously passed a resolution denouncing the IAU for "scientific heresy."

But now our far distant cousin has finally gotten real push to be upgraded back to the ninth "planet" in our solar system.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, one of the largest astrophysical institutions in the world, recently held a public debate with three major space authorities.

Science historian Dr. Owen Gingerich, who originally chaired the IAU planet definition committee, argued the term planet is a culturally defined term not a strictly scientific one, and that history had spoken -- Pluto is a planet. Dr. Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center, defended the IAU definition. Dr. Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, also argued that Pluto is a planet, presenting the so-called exoplanet scientist's viewpoint. He defined -- as the Smithsonian reported -- a planet as "the smallest spherical lump of matter that formed around stars or stellar remnants."

Once the debate ended, a public vote was recorded and Sasselov turned out to be the most convincing. Audience members decided that Pluto is indeed a planet.

The current, official definition of a planet, made by the IAU is a celestial body that:

1. is in orbit around the Sun,
2. has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a round shape)
3. has "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit.

It's not yet clear whether the IAU will take the unofficial opinions of everyday science fans into consideration.

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