Whew! Pluto IS a planet
Wednesday, August 16 2006 @ 07:28 AM CDT
Contributed by: filbert
Opponents of Pluto, which was named a planet in 1930, still might spoil for a fight. Earth's moon is larger; so is 2003 UB313 (Xena), about 70 miles wider.
But the IAU said Pluto meets its proposed new definition of a planet: any round object larger than 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles) in diameter that orbits the sun and has a mass roughly one-12,000th that of Earth. Moons and asteroids will make the grade if they meet those basic tests.
Roundness is key, experts said, because it indicates an object has enough self-gravity to pull itself into a spherical shape. Yet Earth's moon wouldn't qualify because the two bodies' common center of gravity lies below the surface of the Earth.
"People were probably wondering: If they take away Pluto, is Rhode Island next?" Binzel quipped. "There are as many opinions about Pluto as there are astronomers. But Pluto has gravity on its side. By the physics of our proposed definition, Pluto makes it by a long shot."