New Studies On Pluto

By: Stacy Berman
By: Stacy Berman

January 24, 2006

Scientists are taking a second look at Pluto's place in our solar system.

Pluto has been recognized as a part of the solar system since 1930, but only recently have scientists questioned its status as a planet.

"In the last ten or 15 years, we've discovered a number of other objects in the same general region of the solar system that Pluto is," said Charles Tolbert, a University Of Virginia Astronomy Professor.

The problem with this issue is, what constitutes a planet?

"We don't have a really good definition of what a planet is. Generally speaking, they're objects that orbit the sun," said Tolbert.

Other problems that have risen are with the discovery of the Kupier Belt.

"[The] Kuiper belt is this group of objects out past Neptune. They are chunks of ice basically. Most of them fairly small," continued Tolbert.

So the question becomes, is Pluto really a planet or just one of those chunks of ice?

"We would like to see the surface of Pluto, and decide then, perhaps, whether it is all ice, or partly ground, [or] rock," said Tolbert.

The International Astronomical Union, an organization of the world astronomers has a committee that decides whether or not an object is a planet and they will have the final say on Pluto's status.

"It's all nomenclature, its just nomenclature--what you decide to call things," said Tolbert.

With such controversy over Pluto, it is questionable how many people care in the first place.

"It's not relevant to me whether Pluto is a planet or not," said one community member.

"It's still a planetary body. How can we just not call it a planet anymore?" asked another. "Science has to accomodate for new changes and findings."

"I guess it just depends on the new scientific evidence that's coming out," concluded a community member.

This issue won't really be resolved until NASA's space probe lands on the surface of Pluto, and that won't be for another 10 years.

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