News Article | February 21, 2017
Can Pluto be brought back to an official planetary status once again? In 2006, Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, which excluded it from the solar system's official neighborhood. Caltech researcher Mike Brown, the same scientist who detected another Earth-like exoplanet beyond Neptune, facilitated this demotion. Now, NASA has released a new manifesto that proposes an entirely different way of defining planets. If this proposal holds true, more than 100 new planets will be added to the solar system, possibly adding the moon and Pluto. What does it take to consider a cosmic body a planet? By definition, which is taken from the International Astronomical Union, a planet is celestial body that orbits around the sun, has a nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. All of that may soon change. A team of NASA researchers led by Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons' Pluto mission, plans to redefine what a planet is in very simple terms. For them, planets are "round objects in space that are smaller than stars." If this definition gets accepted by the IAU, it means that even the moon can potentially be classified a planet. The key point that Stern and his colleagues hope to get approved is that cosmic objects in the solar system no longer need to be orbiting around the sun to be classified a planet. The researchers say scientists should be considering the object's intrinsic physical properties, not its interaction with stars, which they believe holds more merit. They also argue that the current definition of planets is "inherently flawed." For instance, the definition only classifies cosmic objects that orbit around the sun as planets, excluding those orbiting other stars or those orbiting freely as "rogue planets." Second, the current definition requires zone-clearing, a criterion that no planet in the solar system satisfies. Stern and his colleagues explained that small cosmic objects constantly fly through planetary orbits. Lastly, the researchers argue that the zone-clearing means calculations used to confirm if a cosmic object is a planet must be dependent on distance because a neighborhood around its orbit must be cleared out. "Even an Earth-sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone," the authors said. In 2015, Stern spoke to Business Insider and said astronomers should not be the ones deciding what can be classified as planets. He said planetary scientists should have the authority over this jurisdiction, because they know more about the subject. That same year, Stern and his team received incredible data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby. "When we look at an object like Pluto, we don't know what else to call it," he added. The team's full proposal can be read online. It has been submitted to the IAU for consideration. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | March 2, 2017
Last week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sought the help of the internet to name the seven newly discovered planets of the Trappist-1 solar system. The agency tweeted the request online on its official Twitter account last Feb. 25. As expected, the Twitterverse obliged with gusto. Currently, the seven Earth-sized planets, recently spotted by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, are known as Trappist-1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 1f, 1g, and 1h. The stream of tweets under the hashtag “#7NamesFor7NewPlanets?” has been a pretty interesting read. While some netizens drew inspiration from their favorite pop culture references — for example, the seven Harry Potter novels, Apple’s iPhone series, popular characters from Game of Thrones, or Friends — most of the suggestions were hilarious. People pitched in Snow White’s seven dwarves: Itchy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Sleepy, and Bashful. Others recommended the planets’ names be about current events and call them known as Far from Trump1 to Far from Trump7. But standout comical suggestions were fired by Twitter user @idiotcracy. Some of his funniest entries were Planet McPlanetface, Moonie McMoonface, Rocky McRockface, Icy McIceface, Dusty McDustface, Gasy McGasface, and Wanda. Entertaining as they may be, there's little chance that these comical suggestions will actually be approved and used by the International Astronomical Union, or IAU, the deciding body for names of all things astronomical, for the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. Unless it's willing to go through Britain's Boaty McBoatface situation back in 2016. In 2015, the IAU conducted the NameExoWorlds contest, which invited the public to submit names for 32 extrasolar planets revolving around 15 stars. Although the agency selected a handful lovely names — including Veritate, Hypatia, and Orbitar to Dagon, Poltergeist, and Dulcinea — some critics did not appreciate the approval of some entries and questioned the IAU's credibility. Interestingly, some of the unpopular choices were from esteemed universities and observatories in the world. These include Royaldutchastro by the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy, Miguelhernández by the Student Society at Complutense University of Madrid, and Thunder Bay by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Other absurd entries that popped up but thankfully did not make the cut, were Rock 'n' Roll Star and Starry Bunnies. The Trappist-1 revelation sets a new record for the biggest number of habitable-zone planets around a single star beyond our solar system. "This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life. Answering the question 'are we alone' is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, stated. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 23, 2017
This high-resolution image was captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto flyby in 2015, combining blue, red, and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright region in the west is part of Pluto's 'heart', and is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute In 2015, in partnership with NASA's New Horizons mission and the SETI Institute, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) endorsed the Our Pluto naming campaign, which allowed the public to participate in the exploration of Pluto by proposing names for surface features on Pluto and its satellites that were still awaiting discovery. Each of the system's six worlds was designated a set of naming themes set out by the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN - https://www.iau.org/science/scientific_bodies/working_groups/98/ ). The public responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, suggesting and voting on thousands of names within these categories, as well as proposing names not fitting the approved set of themes. Working with the New Horizons team, the IAU has agreed to revised naming themes (listed below) for Pluto, and its largest moon, Charon. For its four smaller moons—Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra—the themes remain unchanged. Some of these themes build on the connection between the Roman god Pluto and the mythology of the underworld. Other themes celebrate the human spirit of exploration. Using the revised themes, the New Horizons team will now propose names for the surface features to the IAU, as the body responsible for the official naming of celestial bodies and their surface features. The IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will then decide on the formal names. "I'm very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "We look forward to the next step—submitting actual feature names for approval." Rita Schulz, Chair of IAU's WGPSN said "I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites. We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it." Explore further: Public asked to help name features on Pluto
News Article | February 23, 2017
In 2015, in partnership with NASA's New Horizons mission and the SETI Institute, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) endorsed the Our Pluto naming campaign, which allowed the public to participate in the exploration of Pluto by proposing names for surface features on Pluto and its satellites that were still awaiting discovery. Each of the system's six worlds was designated a set of naming themes set out by the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN - https:/ ). The public responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, suggesting and voting on thousands of names within these categories, as well as proposing names not fitting the approved set of themes. Working with the New Horizons team, the IAU has agreed to revised naming themes (listed below) for Pluto, and its largest moon, Charon. For its four smaller moons -- Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra -- the themes remain unchanged. Some of these themes build on the connection between the Roman god Pluto and the mythology of the underworld. Other themes celebrate the human spirit of exploration. Using the revised themes, the New Horizons team will now propose names for the surface features to the IAU, as the body responsible for the official naming of celestial bodies and their surface features. The IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will then decide on the formal names. "I'm very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "We look forward to the next step--submitting actual feature names for approval." Rita Schulz, Chair of IAU's WGPSN said "I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites. We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it." The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 10 000 professional astronomers from almost 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.
News Article | February 25, 2017
It’s taken a year and a half, but the International Astronomical Union and the science team behind NASA’s New Horizons mission have finally struck a deal for naming the features on Pluto and its moons. The agreement, announced today, will open the way for the already well-known “informal” names for places on Pluto, such as Tombaugh Regio and Sputnik Planum, to become formal. It also allows for features on Charon, Pluto’s biggest moon, to be officially associated with fictional characters and locales – including Mordor from “Lord of the Rings,” Mr. Spock from “Star Trek” and Princess Leia from “Star Wars.” The scheme is mostly based on names that were suggested even before New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, as part of the SETI Institute’s “Our Pluto” campaign. The IAU and the New Horizons team agreed on a few tweaks to the categories for Pluto and Charon. For example, the revised scheme allows for naming places on Pluto after pioneering space missions and spacecraft, and naming features on Charon after authors and artists associated with space exploration. Back in 2015, the IAU wasn’t willing to go along with those themes, because they were similar to themes used for Mercury, Venus and Mars. The revised scheme means that Sputnik Planum – the informal name for the bright left half of Pluto’s “heart” – and Kubrick Mons on Charon are more likely to be OK’d. Now the New Horizons team will go ahead and submit its dozens of informal names for the IAU’s approval, in accordance with the international body’s longstanding procedures. Some of the scientists on the New Horizons mission, including principal investigator Alan Stern, haven’t always gotten along with the IAU, which engineered the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006. But today, both sides had good things to say about each other. “I’m very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons,” Stern said in today’s announcement. The IAU’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will work with Stern and his colleagues to sign off on the formal names. “I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites,” said Rita Schulz, who’s in charge of the working group. “We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it.” Here are the naming themes that have been approved for Pluto and its moons: The agreement means that some of the thousands of names that were suggested and voted on during the “Our Pluto” campaign could soon start appearing on official planetary maps. “Imagine the thrill of seeing your name suggestion on a future map of Pluto and its moons,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Months after the Pluto flyby, the New Horizons mission continues to engage and inspire.” New Horizons is now on its way to an encounter in 2019 with yet another icy object in the Kuiper Belt, currently known as 2014 MU69. Someday, that mini-world and its features will have to be given official names as well. Any suggestions?
News Article | February 28, 2017
The International Astronomical Union, tasked to oversee the naming of celestial objects and their surface features, has just approved a set of naming themes for features on Pluto along with its five moons. The themes had been proposed by the New Horizons mission of NASA, and emerged from the mission’s Our Pluto naming campaign organized back in 2015 along with the SETI Institute. The campaign sought public participation in naming the features the spacecraft was anticipated to reveal in its historic July 2015 flyby of Pluto. The revised naming themes were agreed for Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, while the four smaller moons — namely Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra — will have their name themes unchanged. Some of these continue focusing on the mythology of the underworld, which was ruled by the Roman god Pluto, while others will honor human exploration throughout history. Themes for Pluto include gods and goddesses, as well as other beings linked to mythology, folklore, and literature. There would also be names for underworld sites from different cultures worldwide, as well as heroes of the underworld, Pluto and the Kuiper Belt scientists and engineers, pioneering space missions, and pioneers in the exploration of Earth, sky, and sea. For Charon, the themes are focused on fictional space missions and narratives, fictional and mythological ships and space vessels, fictional and mythological explorers and travelers, and artists and authors linked to space exploration, particularly Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Themes for the smaller moons’ features include river gods for Styx; deities of the night for Nix; literary, historical, and mythological dogs for Kerberos; and legendary serpents and dragons for Hydra. New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern applauded the partnership and process between IAU and the mission scientists that resulted in “wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes” for Pluto and its lunar features. "We look forward to the next step — submitting actual feature names for approval,” the scientist said in a statement. A new scientific paper also recently suggested that the criteria for defining a planet deserve an overhaul, arguing that the moon and even Pluto should be reclassified as planets. The paper, titled “A Geophysical Planet Definition,” was penned by a team that included Alan Stern, principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission or the one that made a memorable flyby of Pluto back in July 2015. The main argument: a celestial body’s geophysics, not just whether it orbits the sun, should determine if it deserves planetary status. The Conversation noted it didn’t sit well with Stern that in 2006, the IAU adjudged Pluto as a non-planet. By the time New Horizons reached the destination, Pluto was already relegated to “plutoid” or “trans-Uranian dwarf planet” status. According to the manifesto drawn up by NASA scientists, the moon — along with Europa and Ganymede that orbit Jupiter as well as Titan and Enceladus that orbit Saturn — have planetary features and should be upgraded as part of the entire solar system’s modernization. The same move would see Pluto recovering its earlier designation as a planet. The July 2015 flyby unmasked Pluto as an unusually active geological body marked by flowing glaciers, ice mountains, cliffs, canyons, and huge nitrogen glaciers. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 17, 2017
A minor planet in the Solar System will officially be known as Bernardbowen from today after Australian citizen science project theSkyNet won a competition to name the celestial body. The minor planet was named by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) in honour of their founding chairman Dr Bernard Bowen. Bernardbowen sits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and takes 3.26 Earth years to orbit the Sun. The minor planet was discovered on October 28, 1991, and until now has been known as (6196) 1991 UO4. Based at ICRAR, theSkyNet has been running since 2011 and sees citizen scientists donating their spare computing power to help Australian astronomers uncover the mysteries of the Universe. Its 50,000-odd volunteers entered an International Astronomical Union (IAU) contest to name planets beyond our Solar System. Project founders ICRAR also won the right to name a minor planet within our Solar System. Bernardbowen was one of 17 minor planets to be christened today. Other newly named minor planets include Kagura, after a traditional Shinto theatrical dance, and Mehdia, which is equivalent to the Arabic word for gift. Dr Bowen is renowned as one of the country's finest science administrators and has presided over scientific advances ranging from the oceans to the skies. He was instrumental in the establishment of ICRAR in 2009, and helped bring part of the Square Kilometre Array telescope to Western Australia. A full list of the citation of the minor planets can be found at the IAU Minor Planet Circular. http://bit. Bernardbowen on the Minor Planet Centre site, including an interactive showing its position in the Solar System. http://bit. Images of the orbit of minor planet Bernardbowenare available at http://www. A minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun that is neither a planet nor exclusively classified as a comet. Minor planets can be dwarf planets, asteroids, trojans, centaurs, Kuiper belt objects, and other trans-Neptunian objects. The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia with support and funding from the State Government of Western Australia. http://www. By connecting 100s and 1000s of computers together through the Internet, it's possible to simulate a single machine capable of doing some pretty amazing stuff. That's what theSkyNet is all about - using your spare computing power to process radio astronomy data. http://www. The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 10 000 professional astronomers from almost 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers. http://www.
News Article | February 27, 2017
The paper, published in Planetary and Lunar Science, was written by a team including Alan Stern. Stern is famous for NASA's New Horizons mission, which made its spectacular flyby of Pluto in July 2015. The paper is a bit technical, but it basically argues that the geophysics of a body should determine whether it is a planet – not just whether it orbits the sun. Of course, Stern has an axe to grind. He remains furious that, in 2006, the International Astronomical Union [IAU] deemed that Pluto was not a planet. By the time his probe reached its destination, Pluto was a mere "plutoid", a "trans-Uranian dwarf planet". In the article he strikes back. He is fed up with people asking "why did you send New Horizons to Pluto if it's not a planet anymore?" We are so used to thinking of the Earth's satellite as a moon that the idea that it could be a planet is truly shocking. But ancient Greek and medieval astronomers all assumed that the moon was indeed a planet. Ancient observers knew that the stars maintain their relative positions night after night: they saw constellations such as Leo or Gemini just as we do. But they also saw seven heavenly bodies slowly change their positions, wandering from west to east through the sky. The most important was the sun. The 12 signs of the Zodiac it passed through marked out the circle astronomers call the ecliptic (see figure below). The sun (we would say the Earth, of course) orbited in one year, while Saturn wandered through this plane every 30 years, Jupiter every 12 years and Mars every two years. Planet Moon did so in 1/12 year – one month. In fact, the word for planet comes from the Greek πλανήτης (Latin planeta) meaning "wanderer". The moon was of special interest. Its proximity made it the only "planet" with visible features – "the man in the moon". Aristotle (384-322 BCE) asked several questions about the physics of the moon – including why we always see the same face, and never the far side? It's a good question, and astronomers now explain it as the result of gravitational forces between planets and large moons, and they call it "tidal locking". Aristotle drew a different conclusion. He thought it proved that the moon had no innate ability to rotate or move. He assumed the same was true of all planets. They only move, he said, because they are carried in a circle. This was the origin of elaborate Medieval cosmology in which the planets and stars are rotated by a nest of celestial spheres. Had our moon not been tidally locked, astronomy might have taken a different path. Did our predecessors have good reason to include the moon with the other planets? I think so, but mainly because of a strange astronomical coincidence. Almost all large moons orbit in, or very close to, the equatorial plane of their parent planet, but our moon does not – it inclines by as much as 28 degrees. However, Earth's equatorial plane is tilted with respect to the ecliptic by angle of 23.5. The combination of these two unusual circumstances means that the moon does appear to move in the plane of the ecliptic – and never more than 5 degrees above or below it. Without it, ancient astronomers might not have treated the moon as a typical planet. With Copernicus's heliocentric astronomy, published in 1543, the moon ceased to be a typical planet. Uniquely, as Copernicus's critics pointed out, its orbit was centred on the Earth, not the sun. It was now Earth's "satelles", meaning servant, from which our word satellite derives. And there was more loss of status in store. When Galileo trained his telescope on Jupiter in 1610, he discovered four satellites. Lovely news for Copernicans, but not for Luna. It was no longer THE moon, but one of five, a number which rose rapidly towards the 182 moons we know today. Seemingly, there is nothing new under the sun. In Galileo's time the moon was the subject of an argument between the new cosmologists, who saw it as Earth-like with seas and lands, and the old astronomers who insisted that it was a proper, perfect heavenly body. With his new definition of a planet, Alan Stern has renewed that battle. According to his paper, astronomers "may find the IAU definition perfectly useful" but "our geophysical definition is more useful for planetary geoscience practitioners, educators and students." Or, as Stern put it bluntly in 2015: "Why would you listen to astronomers about a planet [instead of] planetary scientists that know something about this subject". And they know, or think they know, that the moon should become a planet again. Whether that will actually happen is completely down to the International Astronomical Union, which would have to make the decision. Explore further: Supermoon? Meh. It may be closer, but it won't be super duper
News Article | February 22, 2017
Needless to say, the definition they adopted resulted in fair degree of controversy from the astronomical community. For this reason, a team of planetary scientists – which includes famed "Pluto defender" Alan Stern – have come together to propose a new meaning for the term "planet". Based on their geophysical definition, the term would apply to over 100 bodies in the solar system, including the moon itself. The current IAU definition (known as Resolution 5A) states that a planet is defined based on the following criteria: "(1) A "planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit. (2) A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape , (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite. (3) All other objects , except satellites, orbiting the sun shall be referred to collectively as "small solar-system bodies" Because of these qualifiers, Pluto was no longer considered a planet, and became known alternately as a "dwarf planet", Plutiod, Plutino, Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO), or Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). In addition, bodies like Ceres, and newly discovered TNOs like Eris, Haumea, Makemake and the like, were also designated as "dwarf planets". Naturally, this definition did not sit right with some, not the least of which are planetary geologists. Led by Kirby Runyon – a final year PhD student from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University – this team includes scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado; the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona; the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at George Mason University. Their study – titled "A Geophysical Planet Definition", which was recently made available on the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) website – addresses what the team sees as a need for a new definition that takes into account a planet's geophysical properties. In other words, they believe a planet should be so-designated based on its intrinsic properties, rather than its orbital or extrinsic properties. From this more basic set of parameters, Runyon and his colleagues have suggested the following definition: "A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters." As Runyon told Universe Today in a phone interview, this definition is an attempt to establish something that is useful for all those involved in the study of planetary science, which has always included geologists: "The IAU definition is useful to planetary astronomers concerned with the orbital properties of bodies in the solar system, and may capture the essence of what a 'planet' is to them. The definition is not useful to planetary geologists. I study landscapes and how landscapes evolve. It also kind of irked me that the IAU took upon itself to define something that geologists use too. "The way our brain has evolved, we make sense of the universe by classifying things. Nature exists in a continuum, not in discrete boxes. Nevertheless, we as humans need to classify things in order to bring order out of chaos. Having a definition of the word planet that expresses what we think a planet ought to be, is concordant with this desire to bring order out of chaos and understand the universe." The new definition also attempts to tackle many of the more sticky aspects of the definition adopted by the IAU. For example, it addresses the issue of whether or not a body orbits the sun – which does apply to those found orbiting other stars (i.e. exoplanets). In addition, in accordance with this definition, rogue planets that have been ejected from their solar systems are technically not planets as well. And then there's the troublesome issue of "neighborhood clearance". As has been emphasized by many who reject the IAU's definition, planets like Earth do not satisfy this qualification since new small bodies are constantly injected into planet-crossing orbits – i..e near-Earth objects (NEOs). On top of that, this proposed definition seeks to resolve what is arguably one of the most regrettable aspects of the IAU's 2006 resolution. "The largest motivation for me personally is: every time I talk about this to the general public, the very next thing people talk about is 'Pluto is not a planet anymore'," said Runyon. "People's interest in a body seems tied to whether or not it has the name 'planet' labelled on it. I want to set straight in the mind of the public what a planet is. The IAU definition doesn't jive with my intuition and I find it doesn't jive with other people's intuition." The study was prepared for the upcoming 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. This annual conference – which will be taking place this year from March 20th-24th at the Universities Space Research Association in Houston, Texas – will involve specialists from all over the worlds coming together to share the latest research findings in planetary science. Here, Runyon and his colleagues hope to present it as part of the Education and Public Engagement Event. It is his hope that through an oversized poster, which is a common education tool at Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, they can show how this new definition will facilitate the study of the solar system's many bodies in a way that is more intuitive and inclusive. "We have chosen to post this in a section of the conference dedicated to education," he said. "Specifically, I want to influence elementary school teachers, grades K-6, on the definitions that they can teach their students. This is not the first time someone has proposed a definition other than the one proposed by the IAU. But few people have talked about education. They talk among their peers and little progress is made. I wanted to post this in a section to reach teachers." Naturally, there are those who would raise concerns about how this definition could lead to too many planets. If intrinsic property of hydrostatic equilibrium is the only real qualifier, then large bodies like Ganymede, Europa, and the moon would also be considered planets. Given that this definition would result in a solar system with 110 "planets", one has to wonder if perhaps it is too inclusive. However, Runyon is not concerned by these numbers. "Fifty states is a lot to memorize, 88 constellations is a lot to memorize," he said. "How many stars are in the sky? Why do we need a memorable number? How does that play into the definition? If you understand the periodic table to be organized based on the number of protons, you don't need to memorize all the atomic elements. There's no logic to the IAU definition when they throw around the argument that there are too many planets in the solar system." Since its publication, Runyon has also been asked many times if he intends to submit this proposal to the IAU for official sanction. To this, Runyon has replied simply: "No. Because the assumption there is that the IAU has a corner on the market on what a definition is. We in the planetary science field don't need the IAU definition. The definition of words is based partly on how they are used. If [the geophysical definition] is the definition that people use and what teachers teach, it will become the de facto definition, regardless of how the IAU votes in Prague." Regardless of where people fall on the IAU's definition of planet (or the one proposed by Runyon and his colleagues) it is clear that the debate is far from over. Prior to 2006, there was no working definition of the term planet; and new astronomical bodies are being discovered all the time that put our notions of what constitutes a planet to the test. In the end, it is the process of discovery which drives classification schemes, and not the other way around. Explore further: UCLA professor proposes simpler way to define what makes a planet
News Article | February 26, 2017
A team of NASA scientists led by Alan Stern is redefining the makings of a planet, potentially ending Pluto's 11-year exile. Before Pluto makes its big comeback into planethood, check out five of the most interesting facts about this controversial dwarf planet. Pluto was first discovered on Feb. 18, 1930 by Clyde William Tombaugh, an American astronomer who was then working as a 24-year-old research assistant at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. Using the observatory's telescope (which produced two photographs of the sky on different days) and a blink compactor (a device that flipped back and forth between the two photographs to detect movement), Tombaugh began his effort to look for the elusive Planet X. He spent at least a week examining each pair of photographs, which had anywhere from a 150,000 stars to a million. The Lowell Observatory officially announced the discovery of a ninth planet on March 13, 1930 and sent out a worldwide invitation to suggest a fitting name for the new planet. Venetia Burney, and 11-year-old schoolgirl from Oxford, England thought of the name Pluto, after a deity in the classical Greek mythology. Burney's grandfather told a friend, who interestingly is an astronomy professor at the esteemed Oxford University. Pluto was also highly favored over other entries because its first two letters could stand for Percival Lowell's initials. Lowell devoted his life's work to Planet X, completing a three-stage search of the hypothetical ninth planet, which paved the way to Clyde Tombaugh's sighting of Pluto. Back in August 2006, the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto's status from a planet to a dwarf planet. According to the IAU, there are three criteria for a full-sized planet: it has to be in orbit around the sun, it should have sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium or a circular shape, and it has "cleared the neighborhood" around its orbit. This means that planet is gravitationally dominant, without anything of comparable size near it other than its own satellites. This is where Pluto falls short, and why experts have concluded that it is merely the brightest member of the Kuiper Belt, a mass of objects that orbit the sun beyond Neptune. But as mentioned above, the tides have changed. In 2006, NASA launched New Horizons to fly by Pluto and its moons. Costing approximately $700 million and weighing in at 1,000 pounds, the camera-fitted rocket is reportedly only as big as a grand piano. Clyde Tombaugh's ashes also joined the probe aboard the NASA spacecraft. In the summer of 2015, New Horizons did a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons, producing a series of the most stunning and by far the closest photos of the faraway planet. On the far western edge of Pluto's iconic heart-shaped surface, dubbed the Tombaugh Basin after its discoverer, are massive mountains of solid ice that go as high as 3.1 miles above the ground. With a bedrock of nitrogen and carbon monoxide ice, which are denser than water, the ice mountains float atop ice water. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft observed that two of Pluto's prominent peaks - the 13,000-foot-high Wright Mons and the roughly 18,000-foot-high Piccard Mons — appear to be ice volcanoes or cryovolcanoes. Instead of erupting and spewing molten rocks and lava from its crater, Pluto's ice volcanoes explode with water ice and frozen nitrogen, ammonia, or methane. "Cryovolcanism could provide an important clue in understanding Pluto's geologic and atmospheric evolution," Amy Shira Teitel, shared. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.