Why This NASA Chief Says Pluto Is A Planet

Pluto may have lost its status as a planet more than 13 years ago, but don’t tell that to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Speaking at the University of Colorado recently, Bridenstine made it clear that he believes Pluto is a planet, despite it being controversially demoted Aug. 24, 2006 by the International Astronomical Union.

“Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,” the former Oklahoma congressman said. “You can write that the NASA administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.”

This image made available by NASA in March 2017 shows Pluto illuminated from behind by the sun as the New Horizons spacecraft travels away from it at a distance of about 120,000 miles (200,000 kilometers). The probe will ring in 2019 by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)

This image made available by NASA in March 2017 shows Pluto illuminated from behind by the sun as the New Horizons spacecraft travels away from it at a distance of about 120,000 miles (200,000 kilometers). The probe will ring in 2019 by exploring an even more distant and mysterious world. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)

Even though the IAU’s decision to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet is final, Bridenstine joins a growing list of academics and experts who believe Pluto should be promoted back to being a planet.

Last year, Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida, argued in a paper published in the journal Icarus that the reason Pluto lost its planet status is not valid.

The IAU said that many of Pluto’s properties were more suited to that of a dwarf planet, including the space around it and a clear orbit. Pluto’s orbit is shared with frozen gases and objects in the Kuiper belt, researchers note.

Pluto, which has a multilayered atmosphere, moons and other features commonly associated with planets, is also influenced by Neptune’s gravity.

Pluto, as seen by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during its epic flyby of the dwarf planet in July 2015.

Pluto, as seen by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its epic flyby of the dwarf planet in July 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

The IAU defines a planet as a celestial body that “has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit,” which means that it must be the largest gravitational force in its orbit.

At the time of Metzger’s argument, the IAU told Fox News it had not yet received a formal proposal to change its definition of a planet.

“There is a very clear, and known, way to table motions in the IAU, which is to propose an IAU Resolution through the relevant Working Group(s) and Division. So far, no such Resolutions have been proposed,” a spokesman said via email. “It is nevertheless good and healthy to debate these topics.”

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7 comments

  1. Pluto is a planet. Sure it is small, but it is a planet. Redefinition and reclassification is unnecessary. Science should not be as history has become–revisionist history.

  2. PLUTO is VERY MUCH a Planet!!!!!

  3. Pluto is being called a “ Dwarf” Planet. Take off the word “Dwarf” and what do you have? Yep, a Planet!!! I think these “Smart” people aren’t so smart.

  4. There appears to have been an agenda of some sort on the part of the IAU by changing the rules to suit a conclusion. Science isn’t supposed to work that way. It’s physics, not politics.

  5. Astrologically Pluto IS a planet – and – will always be.

  6. First make a better definition for planets, THEN decide about Pluto’s status. There is not even a word about the masses to be cleared (pebbles will never be cleared out), nor the extent of the clearing (a few Hill radii or a portion of its orbital radius?) not the time the bona fide planet has to clear its surrounding.

    Not to mention that – in case we use the definition for all star systems – Proxima Centauri would be a planet. Even the most massive rogue (= unbound) planet wouldn’t be called a planet (not around the star), and if such an object would be captured into orbit by the sun, it would not be able to clear its surrounding. So it would be a dwarf planet by definition despite the size of maybe 10 Jupiter masses.

    Well, that is … IAUUUUUUUUU!

  7. Pluto is an integral part of a planetary system whereby “counter-weight” balances are set in place to control the gravitational pulling and repelling effects of spin and orbit. Regardless, what scientist call Pluto, that’s it function as is the other planetary bodies our solar system is composed of. Therefore: Logically speaking: If all other such bodies are planets – so is Pluto.

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