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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Pluto is not a “former planet”

This is in response to your June 24 article titled: “EarthSky Tonight-June 24: Earth passes between sun and Pluto tomorrow.” I wish you had a comments section because I would have posted this in that section.

Pluto is not a “former planet.” It is a planet. Please do not blindly accept the controversial demotion of Pluto, which was done by only four percent of the International Astronomical Union, most of whom are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet. Using this broader definition gives our solar system 13 planets and counting: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. At the very least, you should note that there is an ongoing debate rather than portraying one side as fact when it is only one interpretation of fact.

Laurel Kornfeld Graduate Student in Astronomy, Swinburne University Highland Park, NJ

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