The Science Has Spoken: Pluto Will Never Be A Planet Again
“What’s perhaps most remarkable is that we can make a simple, mathematical relationship between a world’s mass and its orbital distance that can be scaled and applied to any star. If you’re above these lines, you’re a planet; if you’re below it, you’re not. Note that even the most massive dwarf planets would have to be closer to the Sun than Mercury is to reach planetary status. Note by how fantastically much each of our eight planets meets these criteria… and by how much all others miss it. And note that if you replaced the Earth with the Moon, it would barely make it as a planet.”
It was a harsh lesson in astronomy for all of us in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union released their official definition of a planet. While the innermost eight planets made the cut, Pluto did not. But given the discovery of large numbers of worlds in the Kuiper belt and beyond our Solar System, it became clear that we needed something even more than what the IAU gave us. We needed a way to look at any orbiting worlds around any star and determine whether they met a set of objective criteria for reaching planetary status. Recently, Alan Stern spoke up and introduced a geophysical definition of a planet, which would admit more than 100 members in our Solar System alone. But how does this stand up to what astronomers need to know?
As it turns out, not very well. But the IAU definition needs improving, too, and modern science is more than up to the challenge. See who does and doesn’t make the cut into true planetary status, and whether Planet Nine – if real – will make it, too!