Pluto’s ‘Planet’ Status could be Reinstated?


On 2005, NASA’s New Horizons space probe was en-route to Pluto and began its closer approach of Pluto July 2015. But, in August 2006 Astronomers of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared that Pluto is no longer a planet and demoted it to status of dwarf-planet. According to defined criteria a planet should be massive enough to be in hydro-static equilibrium (in layman terms, it says that it should be round), should orbit the sun, and has to have cleared space around the orbit. Although Pluto was too small and had strange trajectory to orbit around the sun, the main reason for it being demoted is that it is surrounded by too many objects (Pluto is surrounded by lot of icy Kuiper Belt objects).

The New Horizons probe has recently sent back images photographing icy mountain ranges, craters, blocks of ice and even snow. However, the most important of the photographs is the possible presence of individual clouds on the dwarf planet. Even though, the New Horizons team is unable to confirm the presence of clouds, the recent photographs do raise new set of questions about atmosphere and surface of what’s seen to be a dwarf-planet. If it means that Pluto has clouds, then there could be an active cycle like the Methane cycle on Titan, Saturn’s moon or Earth’s water cycle. Since Pluto’s atmosphere is very thin when compared to other planets in the solar system, it is uncertain to predict what constitutes for the clouds (clouds and weather patterns strengthens the case that it should be considered a planet).

Alan Stern, the leader of New Horizons team has declared that the revealed clouds were probably made out of methane, nitrogen and all other gases that compose its overall atmosphere. The team is convinced that with the clouds the scientific community will reevaluate the status of the former ninth planet of our solar system. Scientists from Royal Astronomical Society have stated that clouds in Pluto could be forming due to emission of material, gas from the surface, but they are also sure that even if there’s proved to be an active cycle of some sort in Pluto, it may not change the present situation, to make it reinstated as a planet. The formation of clouds in few locations of Pluto may tell how the air is moving around and how it interacts with surface features, but that will not change its ‘dwarf-planet’ status, since planetary satellite like Titan show even more complexity in its atmospheric processes. Many in the scientific community have, however, argued & still arguing over the rules declaring the planets, to be too stringent.


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