Why Pluto Is Still A Planet Among Hundreds More Out There

our images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with colour data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The chief scientist on NASA’s New Horizons mission has renewed his criticism of astronomers who voted to remove Pluto’s status as a planet.

Dr Alan Stern holds the view that Pluto is still a planet, and that there must be hundreds more in the Sun’s family of worlds, rather than just eight. But, talking exclusively to Skymania’s Paul Sutherland, he said that such a long list would not worry planetary scientists.

We spoke to Dr Stern, who has co-authored a new book called Chasing New Horizons, for a new podcast called the Sound of Astronomy which revives an audio magazine launched half a century ago.

Pluto, discovered in 1930, was demoted to the new status of dwarf planet by a gathering of the International Astronomical Union in August 2006. At the time, New Horizons was just six months into its nine-year journey to what had previously been regarded as the ninth planet. Dr Stern told us: “It’s a completely illegitimate demotion by non-experts in the field, by astronomers rather than planetary scientists.

“Really, I think that the astronomers should stick to black holes and galaxies. They wouldn’t want us trying to classify those because we’re not experts. And in planetary science we consider — we broadly consider — Pluto and the small planets of the Kuiper Belt to be full-fledged planets, and we just kind of ignore what the astronomers do.


An image from New Horizons of dunes on the shoreline of Sputnik Planum. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

“It’s too bad that so much of the press gobble that down without any real critical thinking.” With other icy worlds comparable to Pluto being discovered in the Kuiper Belt in the far reaches of the Solar System, we asked Dr Stern how many planets he thought there were.

He told us: “Well we now know of about 29 but we estimate that there are probably several hundred. So you know the Solar System was much better at making planets than anyone ever thought.

“And just like the fact that there are countless stars, countless galaxies, and for that matter countless mountains and rivers on the Earth, we’re not afraid of long lists of names. If the astronomers are, then that’s their problem!”

You can hear the full interview on the new edition of the Sound of Astronomy, a magazine-style show produced by leading organisation for beginners to stargazing, the Society for Popular Astronomy. Skymania contributor Osnat Katz is in charge of the revival.   Source: Skymania


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