A group of space scientists that included experts at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab led the mission that brought humans great views of Pluto. More than a year after the pictures from the New Horizons satellite were beamed back, the scientists appear to have taken what they saw to heart.
Space scientist Kirby Runyon is leading a new mission here on Earth to return Pluto to its status as a planet.
As you may remember, International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto to the status of “dwarf planet” back in 2006. It appeared to be a slap in the face of the little guy everywhere, and wreaked havoc on our elementary school understanding of the nine planets of the solar system. Scientifically speaking, the decision was made because the IAU decided planets and their moons have to move in their own orbit. Plus, scientists found lots of new bodies in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto (where New Horizons is now heading) that made them question whether Pluto was deserving of such exclusive status.
Runyon thinks those questions were no reason to start kicking celestial bodies out. In a Johns Hopkins statement, Runyon and a group of colleagues who worked on New Horizons dispute this definition say it is what is happening on the planet. Now that they got a closer look through the satellite’s first-ever close-up images, Runyon said that Pluto “has everything going on on its surface that you associate with a planet…There’s nothing non-planet about it.” You can see his point. After all, Pluto has a sinkhole just like we do.
Even if the new definition is accepted, the old nine-planet textbooks wouldn’t suddenly be relevant again. Runyon’s new definition would add a total of about 110 new objects to the list of planets. This would add moons, and other Kuiper Belt objects. Basically, anything that’s not a black hole, meteorite or asteroid would get into the planets club. More planets would mean more for the public to get excited about, Runyon said.
As for their peers, the scientists will be able to gauge the mood among their peers next week. The group is bringing a poster to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston next week to make their case.