Thanks, Comet Pluto. Solar System Nomenclature Needs A Major Rethink

Pluto can’t seem to catch a break lately. After being reclassified in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union, it seemed that what had been the 9th planet of the Solar System was now relegated to the status of “dwarf planet” with the likes of Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake. Then came the recent announcements that the title of “Planet 9” may belong to an object ten times the mass of Earth located 700 AU from our Sun.

And now, new research has been produced that indicates that Pluto may need to be reclassified again. Using data provided by the New Horizons mission, researchers have shown that Pluto’s interaction with the Sun’s solar wind is unlike anything observed in the Solar System thus far. As a result, it would seem that the debate over how to classify Pluto, and indeed all astronomical bodies, is not yet over.

In a study that appeared in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a team of researchers from the Southwest Research Institute – with support from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado and other institutions – examined data obtained by the New Horizon mission’s Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument.

The solar wind data collected by New Horizons will help create more accurate models of the space environment in our Solar System. Image: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, the Space Weather Research Center (SWRC) and the Community-Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC), Enlil and Dusan Odstrcil (GMU)
The solar wind data collected by New Horizons will help create more accurate models of the space environment in our Solar System. Image: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/SWRC/CCMC/Enlil and Dusan Odstrcil (GMU)

Basically, solar wind effects every body in the Solar System. Consisting of electrons, hydrogen ions and alpha particles, this stream of plasma flows from our Sun to the edge of the Solar System at speeds of up to 160 million kilometers per hour. When it comes into contact with a comet, there is a discernible region behind the comet where the wind speed slows discernibly.

Meanwhile, where solar wind encounters a planet, the result is an abrupt diversion in its path. The region where this occurs around a planet is known as a “bow shock”, owing to the distinctive shape it forms. The very reason the New Horizons mission was equipped with the SWAP instrument was so that it could gather solar wind data from the edge of the Solar System and allow astronomers to create more accurate models of the environment.

But when the Southwestern Research Institute team examined the SWAP data, which was obtained during the New Horizons’ July 2015 flyby of Pluto, what they found was surprising. Previously, most researchers thought that Pluto was characterized more like a comet, which has a large region of gentle slowing of the solar wind, as opposed to the abrupt diversion solar wind encounters at a planet like Mars or Venus.

What they found instead was that the dwarf planet’s interaction with solar wind was something the fell between that of a comet and a planet. As Dr. David J. McComas – the Assistant Vice President of the Space Science and Engineering Division at the Southwest Research Institute – said during a NASA news release about the study: “This is a type of interaction we’ve never seen before anywhere in our solar system. The results are astonishing.”

Artist's impression of the New Horizons spacecraft in orbit around Pluto (Charon is seen in the background). Credit: NASA/JPL
Artist’s impression of the New Horizons spacecraft in orbit around Pluto (Charon is seen in the background). Credit: NASA/JPL

Examining both the lighter hydrogen ions that are thrown off by the Sun, and the heavier methane ions that are produced by Pluto, they found that the former showed a 20% rate of deceleration behind Pluto. This, and the bow shock Pluto produces, were both consistent with that of a comet. At the same time, they found that Pluto’s gravity was strong enough that it is able to retain the heavier methane ions, which is consistent with a planet.

Between these two readings, it seems that Pluto is something of an anomaly, behaving as something of a hybrid. Yet another surprise from a celestial body that has been full of them lately. And under the circumstances, it may lead to another round of “classification debates”, as astronomers attempt to find a new class for bodies that behave like both comets and planets.

As Alan Stern of the Southwestern Research Institute, and the principal investigator of the New Horizon’s mission, explained, “These results speak to the power of exploration. Once again we’ve gone to a new kind of place and found ourselves discovering entirely new kinds of expressions in nature.”

Further Reading: Journal of Geophysical Research

63 Replies to “Thanks, Comet Pluto. Solar System Nomenclature Needs A Major Rethink”

  1. An object’s interaction with the solar wind is just one of many factors that should go into its classification. Other factors include geological processes, diversity of terrain, atmosphere, geological differentiation, etc. Pluto most certainly is not a comet, so referring to it as “Comet Pluto” is somewhat misleading. Since you end with a quote by Stern, it is important to note that he and most of the New Horizons team do consider Pluto to be a planet, albeit one of a new, third class of planets, the dwarf planets.

    As for the hypothesized but yet undiscovered object in the outer solar system, the appropriate term is “Planet X,” not “Planet 9.” The latter was deliberately chosen by Mike Brown to get in yet another jab at Pluto. If this object exists, it would be more like Planet 15.

    All of these findings indicate the importance of actually visiting these objects and studying them up close. Stern recently pointed out that current technology could be used to power a Pluto orbiter, which many scientists are already thinking about. We should also consider flyby missions to worlds such as Haumea, Makemake, and Eris, which will inform us as to whether these worlds behave like Pluto or are very different from it.

    1. I’m well aware of Stern’s position vis a vis Pluto’s classification, but that’s not the issue here. What is relevant to these latest findings. And since they indicate that Pluto does not behave as other planets do in terms of its interaction with solar wind, the 2006 IAU reclassification seems amply justified. And if Stern and his colleagues consider Pluto to be a new, third class of planets, “the dwarf planets”, then they are in agreement with the IAU’s decision – because that’s precisely what the reclassification specified.

      Also, calling Planet 9 “Planet X” instead seems like a matter of mere semantics. The name referred to the hypothetical planet Lowell predicted would be beyond Neptune. As Pluto is no longer designated as a planet, either title applies. Blaming Brown, yet again, seems like recrimination. The title has been adopted widely, and is only being rejected by those who continue to insist that Pluto is the 9th planet.

      1. 2006 reclassification does not incorporate anything about interaction with the Solar wind… Calling something Planet 9 or Planet X is not just semantics. Papers were published and peer reviewed about intrinsic relation between “new planet definition” and the size of the body that can satisfy said requirement at the certain distance. By the results of that work, even something of the Jupiter size can’t be a planet at 100AU or further from the Sun. Something of “mere” 10xmass of the Earth at 700AU is certainly not a planet by the existing definition. Other way of looking at it is that this “new definition” limits the number of the planets to 8 (ex. by the same research, even something of the size of the Earth would not be a planet, interacting with Solar wind in this or that manner, just beyond the Pluto).
        Hence, this new object is either NOT a planet (not a Planet 9 or a Planet X) or we must revert to the old planetary definition and it becomes at least Planet15 or Planet16…
        Further complicating definition of the planet is pointless. The minimal complexity of the definition is required. Ex. nothing prevents us calling a “star” a whole range of objects that span sizes and behaviors vastly greater than “a planet” set. All objects that primarily orbit a star, that are approximately spherical due to their own gravity (one would welcome an explicit “sphericallity limit” in the definition) and that do not self-sustainably burn in nuclear reactions-should be planets.

      2. It largely is, since Planet X was the intended name for the hypothetical planet that existed beyond Neptune, which in lieu of KBOs being called planets, makes Planet 9 an appropriate name for the time being. And while I agree, there are issues of classification that need to be reconsidered based on the new evidence, I disagree that Planet 9 has to be called X based on the belief that Pluto is still a planet.

      3. Dwarf planet vs planet. It is still a planet. It is the 9th planet in our solar system. So planet 9 is taken. Planet X would be most appropriate since at this point in time, its existence is only hypothetical.

      4. No, if a dwarf planet is still a planet, then Pluto is the 10th planet, because it means Ceres is number 5. Naming Planet 9 as such is fitting since the list of planets once again ends with Neptune and the 9th remains unclaimed.

  2. Pluto is NOT a Comet and it appears that Mr Williams has NOT read some of the latest data from New Horizons, proving that it does NOT act like a Comet?

    1. The article clearly says that the data indicated the NHs mission proved that Pluto behaves as both a comet and a planet. I assure you, I read all about the latest findings, mainly to author this article. Perhaps you misunderstood what it showed, or perhaps what the article stated?

      1. Actually, the IAU definition specifically states that dwarf planets are not planets at all but a different class of objects entirely. This is one of the main problems with that definition. Stern, who initially coined the term “dwarf planet,” consider Pluto to be one of a new, third class of planets. That is not in agreement with the IAU, which considers these objects non-planets.

        The same NASA article that discusses the SWAP findings also contains a quote by a mission scientist stating that Pluto behaves more like a planet than like a comet in its interaction with the solar wind. Before New Horizons, this interaction was thought to be more comet-like than it turns out to be.

        Brown is the person who first used the “Planet 9” title in his January 2016 press release. Based on his history of referring to himself as a “plutokiller,” it is perfectly reasonable to assume he used this title to further that personal agenda, knowing that using it in the headline of the press release would result in that title being adopted widely. It is not an appropriate title because it amounts to a denial that the debate over what a planet is remains ongoing.

        Advocates of the geophysical planet definition actually view Pluto as the solar system’s tenth rather than ninth planet (Ceres, being in hydrostatic equilibrium, is counted as a planet too under this definition). This still makes reference to an unknown planet as “Planet 9” misleading.

      2. Why are you so invested in this silly semantic classification exercise? If words and definitions thereof are so high priority for you, are you also in an uproar that Merriam-Webster just added “emoji,” “meme,” and “WTF” to the dictionary?

      3. Why does it always come down to questioning why someone might be interested in this? I am a writer and amateur astronomer who has actively opposed the IAU definition for nearly a decade for many reasons, largely a preference for a geophysical planet definition.

      4. But to what end? Does it REALLY matter what we call it/them? A rose is still a rose, no? Aren’t there more important things to focus energy on? Like doing astronomy in your case? In the end, what difference does a few letters make anyhow?

      5. Yes, some of us think it does matter–to the end of being part of the adoption of a new, better classification system that takes into account the amazing diversity of planets we’ve been finding in this solar system and others. You should be directing these questions to the IAU and Mike Brown since they are the ones who started the latest round of this debate and opened this can of worms. Doing astronomy and advocating for a better, more inclusive planet definition are not mutually exclusive. It’s not just a matter of a few letters; it’s a matter of a poor and misleading definition that is being imposed on the world. Why does it bother you so much that some people, including educated ones, DO care about this?

      6. “…being part of the adoption of a new, better classification system that takes into account the amazing diversity of planets we’ve been finding in this solar system and others”.
        Which is exactly what Dr. Brown the IAU are doing.

        “Doing astronomy and advocating for a better, more inclusive planet definition are not mutually exclusive.”
        Pointless advocation wastes time. And bringing up mutual exclusivity sounds like you’re advocating for a person or group of people that are emotionally affected by someone reclassifying them under a different name. These are objects. They don’t feel.

        “You should be directing these questions to the IAU and Mike Brown since they are the ones who started the latest round of this debate.”
        They’re in charge, thus the “namers”, and you are not. And there are far more of them than your ilk, with many, many, many more degrees.

        “It’s not just a matter of a few letters; it’s a matter of a poor and misleading definition that is being imposed on the world.”
        “Poor” in your mind’s eye. “Misleading” in your mind’s eye. Again, this sounds like there is an actual impact on these objects emotionally and you’re trying to right a wrong that no one but yourself and the few in your camp not only feel, but care about at all. If they change the classification back to, “Planet” or hell, “Comet” or even “Really really big Space Ball”, I nor indeed anyone else wouldn’t care at all.

        Why does it bother me? You pollute these topic threads with nonsense.

      7. ” And bringing up mutual exclusivity”… Mistake I can’t edit now. I meant instead, “more inclusive Planet definition”.

      8. “They’re in charge?” Sorry, but no. That’s your opinion. You seem to want to shut out anyone who does not agree with you, and that is not going to happen. I can be as much a “namer” as they are, which is why I’ve gone back to school to study astronomy. And no, there are not many more of them if you mean professionals advocating for a dynamical definition. There are plenty of people with degrees in this field who share my preference for a geophysical planet definition, starting with Dr. Stern and continuing with the majority of a mission team who flew a spacecraft to Pluto, and going on to hundreds of professional planetary scientists! Some of them have been very supportive of the way I and fellow amateur astronomers have publicly taken on the IAU and Brown for their poor planet definition. They are way more than just “a few” people.

        All of your statements about “emotion” amount to nothing but a straw man. No one is arguing that these objects “feel” something. What we are saying is that science is not determined by “authority,” that a better definition is needed, and that we intend to be part of the community that is creating that definition.

        You seem to feel threatened by the idea of amateur astronomers being part of decision making in the field. Yet the American Astronomical Society has opened its membership to participation by amateurs, and the late Patrick Moore advocated the IAU do the same.

      9. The reason for an inclusive planet definition is directly related to the new discoveries in both this solar system and others. Everything we know about planets is in flux, and that is a good thing, an exciting thing. It turns out there are many more planets and types of planets than we initially thought, making this an exciting time in history. It is why we need a broad definition to encompass the wide range of planets, much like the Herzsprung-Russell Diagram does for stars.

        You do not get to determine what I do with my time. I am choosing to get the degrees and make myself a “namer,” whether you like it or not. And yes, amateurs can be “namers” too. If you have a problem with “nonsense,” you should be concerned about Brown “polluting” the debate by his unprofessional obsession with having “killed” Pluto, his beheading of toy Disney dogs before his talks, and his denial of the fact that this debate is ongoing. And Brown is not even an IAU member.

        It is genuinely scary seeing someone try so hard to keep anyone other than the people they deem worthy from having a voice in this debate. The Dark Ages are over. Science is now the province of everyone, not just some imagined “elite.”

      10. All hail Darth IAU. The dark side is strong in that bunch. Would it hurt your feelings to know that there are several planetary scientists who disagree with the IAU and the purported logic behind their decisions?

      11. I have to say Jeffery, you generally make good sense with your comments, right up until you let your “feelings” interfere with science. If someone wants to change classification models and they have a reason to do so, they have the right to speak up. If you do not agree with that, ok, but to let it become personal detracts from your objections to the change being discussed.

      12. I’m not sure if this is the case on UT, but on a surprisingly large number of publications, the author doesn’t choose the title. Either the editor or the marketing department chooses the title. You can *really* see it in some publications, where the title will have almost nothing to do with the article, and even when it does, it may well directly contradict the content of the article.

      13. @Emmet Ford: It may be “click-baity,” but it seems clear from this data that if Pluto were on a highly parabolic/hyperbolic orbit instead of its current mostly-circular one we’d see a coma, an ion tail and a dust tail come from the object as it neared dear Sol… just as we do from every other comet.

      14. By that reasoning we should refer to Europa as a comet? How about all the rest of the icy moons in the solar system? There are many of them. Are they all just trapped comets? Should we reclassify them as a special class of comets? Should we classify each piece of ice in Saturn’s rings as trapped comets? Where shall we stop?

      15. @J. Richard Jacobs: I assume you’re replying to me. I simply responded to an earlier commenter who was complaining about “click-baity” titles; in this case the title, while sensational, wasn’t actually misleading.

        I do NOT think we should refer to “all the rest of the icy moons” as comets, but doing so in Pluto’s case for the express purpose of this article’s title does accurately describe the implications of the data being discussed. Pluto is not on a hyperbolic/highly parabolic orbit, and neither is, e.g., Europa. Both are of planetary mass and in hydrostatic equilibrium (among other shared, non-comet-like attributes), so for these reasons and others besides, no, neither body should be re-labeled a comet.

        The point of the data — and the article — is that Pluto DOES have comet-like qualities which were more prominent than expected or previously realized, and as I mentioned elsewhere in the thread, this tends to indicate that planetary bodies (minor or otherwise) in our Solar system and elsewhere occur across a continuum of characteristics, rather than in discrete easily-distinguished categories (planet, comet, asteroid, etc.).

      16. Thanks for the clarification, Smokey. I am one of those wild eyed scientist types who thinks simplifying things is better than complicating them. I know, a rare and heretical position.

        If it orbits a star, it’s a planet if it has the following characteristics: a) Its mass is great enough to produce a body within a few percentage points of being spherical and b) its orbital eccentricity is less than 0.25. Other than that, it doesn’t matter to me if there are 500 planets in a system.

        One of humanities great failings is in refining down a general classification to the point where whatever we were talking about has disappeared into the minutia. So, in general, is as I outlined above. That’s for the layman’s understanding. For the purpose of scientific study, we can all the subcategories we want because that is outside the required information needed to identify an object for the average person.

  3. Pluto is a wonderful conundrum. And just when the scientific community thought it conclusively labeled its planetary type, the Universe weighed-in with a very different perspective.

    A side-note: the speed noted for the solar wind is too high…fastest recorded solar wind generated by a CME is around 11 million kph (avg usually around 3 million kph) rather than 160 million kph cited above.

  4. I don’t mind if the Pluto fanboys cling to 134340’s outmoded classification. My beef with Alan Stern that he still calls Pluto the 9th planet (which he repeated ad nauseam during the New Horizon flyby), even though he also says Ceres is a planet. That should make Pluto the 10th. But it seems childhood romanticism trumps consistency, even for planetary scientists.

    1. “134340” is illegitimate and will end up on the dust bin of history. Pluto is NOT a minor planet, as that term is synonymous with asteroids, comets, and centaurs, objects not large enough to be in hydrostatic equlibrium. Pluto is the solar system’s 10th planet in order from the Sun even though it’s colloquially referred to as the 9th because Ceres was not known to be spherical until Hubble observed it in the 1990s. This has nothing to do with “childhood romanticism” and everything to do with preference for a geophysical planet definition.

      1. I think that is the most succinct answer to the question. Humans love to categorize things and I think we’ve fallen into a trap. It is fundamentally easier to exclude smaller planetary bodies like Pluto and it’s ilk, to suggest that the solar system has 8 planets which a kindergartner can memorize that it is to accept the unfortunate truth. Turns out that a solar system has a lot more planets than we would like to think. Terrestrial, Super-Terrestrial, Gas Giant, Ice Giant, and Ice Dwarf. Unfortunately for people with the labels, the Ice Dwarves are small and numerous, the Solar system has probably 30-35 ‘planets’, large geologically rounded worlds, of those 20-25 are Ice Dwarves ,the smallest of which may only be 400 – 500 miles across. If anything Earth and it’s classical planet kin are the odd balls. Is it easier to say that there are 8 planets, rather than 35? Sure, do the Ice Dwarves tend to be bullied out of their circular orbits by their larger brethren? Yes, should that affect what they fundamentally are? No.

      2. There is no “unfortunate truth.” If the solar system has, as you acknowledge, 35 planets, then discounting the majority of them for convenience hardly makes sense. Why not instead go with Alan Boyle’s description of the solar system as having four terrestrials, four jovians, and many dwarf planets? In terms of its geology, atmosphere, and processes, Pluto turns out to be the solar system’s most Earth-like planet, so any categorization scheme that puts Earth and Jupiter in the same category but excludes Pluto hardly makes sense.

        There is no need to limit the number of planets to something a kindergartner can memorize. Memorization is not important to learning. We don’t ask kids to memorize the names of all the rivers and mountains on Earth, just to know what a river and mountain are. The only reason memorization was ever used to teach the planets is because before the space age, little was known about them other than their names. This is no longer the case.

        Excluding the smaller planets with the reasoning, “they are bullied out of their circular orbits by their larger brethren” once again takes us back to putting too much emphasis on location and gravitational dominance. Planets’ orbits are elliptical, not circular, according to Kepler’s Laws. Many giant exoplanets have extremely elliptical orbits. Just because a planet’s orbit is elliptical doesn’t mean it was “bullied” out of its original orbit by a larger planet. Mercury and Mars have elliptical orbits too.

      3. Children memorize the alphabet and learn to count. The alphabet consists of 52 distinct symbols, so they not only learn to say the letters, they learn to recognize them. It is difficult for me to accept the idea that children could not “memorize” 35 or more planets. When I was a child the alphabet also came in two different flavors. The printed form and the cursive. We managed to survive memorizing and utilizing 104 distinct characters and even learned how to arrange them in proper fashion to spell real words. I wonder how we did that?

      4. But Ceres was designated as a Planet when it was first discovered, and was even designated as such for some time. When Stern accepted it as a planet, he is basically reviving its old classification.

        Please, “geophysical planet definition” is just your way of hiding your childhood romanticism. Using fancy nomenclature does not obscure it. We’re scientists after all (or at least some of us are).

      5. Sorry, but no, my preference for the geophysical planet definition is NOT a way to hide “childhood romanticism.” Amateur astronomers are scientists too. There actually are people who genuinely prefer the geophysical planet definition, viewing it as scientifically superior to the dynamical one for many reasons. Your statement is essentially an ad hominem attack against someone who disagrees with you on an issue that is a matter of legitimate ongoing debate. I don’t have an attachment to Pluto being the ninth planet and have no problem recognizing it as the tenth. Ceres should never have been downgraded; the only reason that was done is that telescopes of the 19th century could not resolve it into a disk. Now that we know it is spherical, there is no question that it meets the geophysical definition of planet.

  5. Would it not be better to just call Pluto an unidentified celestial object and wait until more information is known about it and others beyond it before trying to classify it with the terms we use for those closer to us?

  6. The gases couldn’t possible decelerate because there is no such word as decelerate. You can have negative acceleration, but physics does not allow for a deceleration. You can have something that is still accelerating but not as fast as before. For example, after 1 second, you are accelerating at 10 km/hr/sec. After 2 seconds, you are only accelerating at 5 km/hr/sec. Not as fast as previously but still accelerating. That is negative acceleration. If you want to stop accelerating all-together, you can have negative acceleration until it reaches zero. After that, if you want something to slow down, then you are slowing down.

    1. @James T Kirk
      Decelerate means “slow down”, and yes, it is a word.

      1. I was going to reply to his comment but all I could do was shake my head!! 😕 :shutmouth:

  7. There is no dwarf planet, just as we can’t say legally that an island is a dwarf island. An island can be very small, but we don’t say it is a dwarf. Dwarf applies to height, and we speak of islands as spreading sideways formations. Continents can cross, we don’t have to anull anything like done by classic Washington rhetoric in the case.

    1. Islands can be very small actually, or as big as UK. They downplay the Washington rhetoric, academic domination which is also found in the notion that poetry is not taught in American schools. Academic domination is a background man and insider few but big ordeal that dreds, kills and hates simple world logic on magic, poetry, wonder, beauty. Poetry is beauty, then banned academically in a dred fucky that says, but doesn’t know sad. Doesn’t know one feeling just the undercounted position (which women think is small).

      1. Count the dred fucky. Three rules, each with the word must in it brings not classic Washington rhetoric, but goes back to R O M A N 3rd century BC Cunctator whose pre-Roman Empire logic always counted three in things to help justify symmetry that a lunatic repeats while looking in a man’s one eye. Scorn.

      2. Wow…. way to not only reply to yourself several times, but to hijack your own sub thread. Veering off topic like that is a good indicator that you’ve got a lot of baggage to air other than some simple nomenclature issue. “The man’s behind it” is just silly. The funny thing about this and similar topics is, the few people like you and laurele that get so damned riled up about it are the only people who really care much at all. Suggesting that the people behind the political curtain are pulling these strings is basically you projecting your far more than average “give-a-shits” about this onto everyone else. The map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal and the name is not the object. Please, move on………

      3. Sorry, no moving on here. If no one cares about this, then why is the debate still going on nearly a decade after the IAU vote?

  8. i have already said to the pandits ((being from india)), there are nine planets altogether which make up mon tues wed thurs fri sat sun Rahu Ketu, some idiot demoted Pluto , even then i continued praying to all 9 dieties, that is what the legacy has kept all nine intact.
    How can a foreigner re-write history which is already part of nine wonderful sensations: the ninth one being as explained in the article: it sustains the methane and acts like a comet, means it is acting as a male and a female: Lord Vishnu one of the avatar is Mohini,, (known as ayaappa) which means a shemale or a travastite, are shemales not born after Pluto was demoted, they are and still many are born.
    Pluto was never dwmoted by India in prayers and those bunch of idiots are going to write Pluto as the ninth planet by reinstating it.
    Dont shemales make love? I think more agressively than normal males and females. they know their intellegence therefore the same as described acts as a comet works as a planet, becos Pluto is part of history of nine, No one can make it eight.

    Reinstate it,, the above is the transformation which that is a fact which i have written being in India for three years eight months. How did shemales come to the planet, the mischief of the god;s
    now here is the legend: SIMPLE LOGIC
    A male god Vishnu transfomed himself into a beatuiful woman,
    (mohini) — Lord Shiva was attracted to mohini made love to a so called female, the sperm created Mohini, PLUTO STAYS

    1. “all 9 dieties”

      If you think that Pluto is a planet, a “deity” and the last of nine, what does that make Eris (more mass than Pluto), Haumea, Makemake, and the others beyond them?

    2. OK, bringing god froo-froo into this is just silly. How can the reclassification of something impact the fact that you worship it at all? How does it matter in the slightest what people on the other side of the globe from your homeland classify these OBJECTS as? WHO CARES?! Why do you care at all what “foreigners” call them? Things change. If you’re not aware of that yet (especially being of your faith), you’re never going to get it. Changes aren’t permanent, but change is. (To quote “The Professor”) And calling scientists idiots is ridiculous. They are some of the most intelligent people on Earth…..they’re why we have things like the internet and craft that can get all the way to these objects. Your definition of idiot is apparently, “People that don’t believe in magical super beings that live in the sky like I do”. Ask anyone with a modicum of sense and YOU’RE the idiot for buying into such Bronze Age drivel.

  9. The biggest take-away in this data for me is that solar system objects — in our own system, or across the universe — clearly do occur across an entire continuum, rather than in the discrete classes & sub-classes we previously might have expected, not to say “desired.” Any distinction between objects will always be somewhat arbitrary as a result.

    In fairness to laurele and other “PLUTO = PLANET” sympathizers, the current distinction between “planets” & “dwarf planets” still seems needlessly fluid & haphazard (not to say “slip-shod”) to me. Currently, according to the IAU, if you swapped Pluto & Mercury? Pluto would be the planet, and Mercury would NOT. Swap Earth & Sedna in their orbits? To paraphrase Will Smith: “Welcome to Dwarf Planet Earth.”

  10. Well the title worked and it’s all very interesting too. If the next Kuiper belt object that NH encounters has the same characteristics then maybe Pluto can be classified as a KBO but then again it may not, there’s always the possibility that Pluto is in a class of its own.

  11. I quit my office job too, what a coincidence! Try this link to improve your life today! =====>

    *loud raspberries*

    Looks like it’s back to the non-functional comments sections for us….

    1. Tell me about it. Rubbish like this gets approved, but if I call out a troll spamming his fake perpetual motion machine, that gets moderated to oblivion. >:(

      This place has gone downhill for sure. The quality of the articles isn’t what it used to be, the layout is now ugly as hell, and there’s obtrusive ads everywhere.

      I won’t come here anymore.

  12. Uh, Dwarf Planet. Something between a Planet and a comet.
    What they found instead was that the dwarf planet’s interaction with solar wind was something the fell between that of a comet and a planet.
    Did we just not prove the title of Dwarf Planet is correct?
    — scratching my head…—

    1. That was certainly my takeaway, hence my confusion at the objections from the “Pluto is a planet crowd”. Well observed! 🙂

      1. Correctly identifying what we are looking at will increase how fast we learn more about our solar system. If we are constantly claiming there is no such thing as a dwarf planet for no other reason than sentimental tradition, then real learning cannot commence.

  13. I find this study very informative. To say that it acts like both a planet AND a comet is in the least intriguing. It shows that our current understanding of objects in our own solar system is akin to a “babe in the woods”. I am also wondering if this same study was done with Ceres and the like in the “asteroid belt” between Venus and Jupiter. I also wonder if size and distance from our sun also affects the facts in the study givin this is the smallest large object that far away from our sun. Such factors need to be taken into account before we judge Pluto, and thereby change its status.

  14. Matt, I have rarely seen science journalism that so mischaracterizes a paper or a pres release as your article above. McComas’s paper found, to our surprise, that Pluto’s solar wind interaction and escape rate are MUCH more like Mars than comet-like (or like Mercury’s, which I note is quite comet-like). If anything, this result gives yet another reason Pluto and DPs like it are planets in their own right. How did you so misread the paper as to miss the entire gist?

    1. That is what I said in the article – that despite previously held notions that Pluto’s interaction with solar wind would resemble that of a comet, the results surprisingly showed it also behaves like a planet. I also said that this once again sheds lights on the whole classification debate since it showed that Pluto defied expectations (which could theoretically result in Pluto being reclassified again). At NO point did I say it confirmed Pluto’s classification as a “dwarf planet”.

      If this is about the title (which seems to be a common theme) might I once again say that this was just artistic license, and not one which I chose. If, however, this is about your stance on the reclassification issue, then I don’t see how that’s relevant to what I wrote. Other than that, I don’t see how I “misread” anything. However, I invite you to show me where and how I got it wrong so I can make the necessary corrections.

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