Planet Status Up For Debate Once Again
It seems that in today's troubled times, not even the planets
can be counted on for stability... as over 2,500 astronomers are
presently meeting in Prague to come to a universal definition of
what qualifies as a planet. And that could spell trouble for the
smallest "planet" in Earth's solar system, Pluto.
"So far it looks like a stalemate," one of those scientists,
Pavel Suchan, told CNN. "One half wants Pluto to remain a planet,
the other half says Pluto is not worth being called a planet."
At issue is Pluto's small size, relative to the other eight
planets orbiting the Sun. Pluto's planetary status has been debated
for years, almost from the moment it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in
1930 -- but the 12-day meeting of the International
Astronomical Union currently underway hopes to set a universal
standard to determine what can be called a planet, and what is
merely an oversized asteroid.
That won't be as easy as it may sound, however... as there is no
standard criteria in place among astronomers to determine what
qualifies as a planet. Should planets be defined by their location,
for example, or by their size? If it's the latter... what should
that size be? And should that size be bigger, or smaller, than
Which, in turn, creates yet another interesting dilemma. If
scientists decide that size should determine a celestial body's
planetary status -- and if such bodies smaller than Pluto meet the
definition -- then we could see Earth's solar system "expand" to as
many as 53 new planets. Under that standard, even Earth's moon
would then be a "planet," as it is larger than Pluto.
Other classification systems under consideration would group
planets by composition -- similar to how stars and galaxies are
For now, there are at least two planetary bodies that could be
affected by the astronomers' findings: Pluto, and a bright, rocky
object first detected in 2003 that is roughly 70 miles wider in
diameter than Pluto. Like the smallest planet, this body -- called
"Xena" by its discoverer, Michael Brown -- is located in the
distant Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune.
Xena is currently the farthest known object in the solar system,
at more than 9 billion miles from the sun.