Read More: Popular Science
Prepare yourself—the Pluto debate has returned, and people are not going to be able to shut up about it. Pluto might be about to regain its It might feel like scientists are jerking you around. A decade ago they all decided that Pluto wasn’t a planet—it was actually a dwarf planet—and now all of a sudden they want to change it back? Maybe you even think that this just goes to show how meaningless it all was to begin with. Planet, dwarf planet—it’s all a made-up system determined by some esoteric group anyway. But categories do matter, and so do the definitions we use to arrive at those categories. The fact that people (even experts like the scientists at NASA) go back and forth on what definitions we should use doesn’t make them less meaningful. It just means that we’re still learning. That’s what science is all about: we have to be able to adjust our definitions to fit our understanding. And this whole Pluto business is a perfect example. Let’s start with the basics. A group of scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which did a flyby study of Pluto back in 2015, are planning on proposing a new definition of “planet” at the upcoming Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March. They’re led by longtime Pluto advocate Alan Stern. Ever since the supposed ‘demotion,’ Stern and others have argued the Pluto is a planet while scientists in the opposite camp have criticized them for trying to bring back a simplistic view of our solar system. The new definition that Stern and his New Horizons colleagues are proposing would restore Pluto’s planet status, but it would also give many more objects in our solar system the "planet" designation. We would end up with 110 of them in total. And just think, you complained about the confusion of going from nine to eight.