A group of members of the New Horizons mission to Pluto are making the case to redefine what constitutes as a planet to be more inclusive. A new definition that elevates so many solar system bodies to planets, according to Runyon, would not only carry the "psychological weight" that might spark the public's interest in them, but also provide a more useful tool for planetary scientists, who often focus on geology and geophysics when describing astronomical bodies, rather than orbital dynamics.
Kirby Runyon, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University in the USA, says Pluto, along with more than 100 celestial bodies in the solar system, including the moons of Jupiter and Earth, should be awarded the (coveted) planet status.
But now, in a bid to regain Pluto's lost status and adding new planets to our solar system, the researcher team from Johns Hopkins University has come up with the clarification of the definition of the planet, approved by IAU in 2006. Should the definition be adopted, Pluto, Earth's moon and more than 100 other celestial bodies would suddenly be eligible for planetary status.
Pluto "has everything going on on its surface that you associate with a planet".
Since Pluto's demotion, debate over whether Pluto deserves to be classified as a planet or not has raged in the scientific community. Planets such as Pluto and Eris, which have not "cleared their neighborhoods", are considered dwarf planets.
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The scientists suggest planets should constitute as "round objects in space that are smaller than stars", thus excluding white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes from the planetary status. Pluto's diameter is under three-quarters that of the moon and almost a fifth of Earth.
The subject of what can be defined as a planet and the subsequent decision to demote Pluto as a non-planet by the IAU (International Astronomical Union) was a topic of debate and much deliberation in the scientific community.
This geophysical definition goes against the grain of the three-element astronomical system the IAU now employs in that it makes no reference to the body's surroundings, so deciding if a planet is officially a planet should become much easier and immediately apparent under Runyon's system. This is a point co-author of the definition S. Alan Stern, and the principal investigator for the New Horizons mission, has argued in the past. Other bodies such as satellite of Jupiter, Europa would also come under the ambit of this definition. They settled on the definition of a planet as being "a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion" and has enough gravitational pull to maintain a more-or-less round shape.
Additional authors of the paper are from the Southwest Research Institute, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, the Lowell Observatory, and George Mason University.