New Evidence Could Help Restore Pluto's Planet Status

New evidence could help spark a renewed debate about restoring Pluto's planethood. Images from NASA’s New Horizons mission reveals the “dwarf planet” may have clouds, which would indicate a weather system.

New evidence could help restore Pluto's planethood. Images from NASA’s New Horizons mission reveal the “dwarf planet” may have clouds, which would indicate a weather system.

In order to be considered a planet, outer-space bodies have to meet a set of criteria. It must circle the sun without being some other object’s satellite; be rounded by its own gravity; not be so big to undergo nuclear fusion like a star; and clear its neighborhood of most orbiting bodies. Pluto failed on this last count, as it shares most of its space with other objects from the Kuiper Belt. So, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) striped it of its planet status back in 2006. However, not everyone agrees with the IAU's standards for what defines a planet. 

Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission, believes this criteria to define a planet is flawed. He believes it passes what he refers to as the “Star Trek test”--you know a planet when you see it.

“When you’re watching a science fiction show like “Star Trek” and they show up at some object in space and turn on the viewfinder, the audience and the people in the show know immediately whether it’s a planet, or a star, or a comet or an asteroid,” Stern told Space.

These images may help rekindle the debate among astronomers and restore Pluto to its rightful place as the ninth planet in our solar system.

Will Grundy of Lowell Observatory told New Scientist, researchers have noticed “low-altitude features” and “bright cloud-like things” hovering above Pluto's icy surface. The team of researchers plans on releasing a paper in Science titled, “The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons.” According to New Scientist, the discussion of Pluto's clouds will only be a passing mention.

There are still gigabytes of data waiting to be received by Earth scientists from the New Horizons probe. It takes time to transmit these findings from so far away. But the complexity of Pluto's atmosphere may have scientists over at IAU reconsidering their criteria for what makes a planet.


Photo Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less