Poor Pluto, upstaged again. The big news in astronomy this past week was the exciting discovery of a system of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the star known as Trappist-1, a mere 39 light years away. The enticing possibility that the system might host life overshadowed another development worthy of attention – the renewed push to restore planetary status to Pluto.
The icy dwarf was abruptly demoted back in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union changed the definition of “planet” and ruled that Pluto no longer qualified. All of a sudden our solar system officially went from nine to only eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
Now a group of scientists at NASA is proposing a new and much more sensible definition of a planet that would restore the status of Pluto. Stripped of scientific jargon, it comes down to “round objects in space that are smaller than stars.”
Pluto would certainly qualify though, confusingly, under the new definition the number of planets in the solar system would swell to 110.
It would be worth putting up with that to return Pluto to its former glory. A flyby by a NASA space probe in 2015 revealed it as a place of mysterious beauty, not just the faint dot in the sky it was when it was discovered back in 1930.
The IAU should heed the scientists’ appeal. It’s time to make Pluto great again.
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