Scientist proposes new definition of a planet

phys.org | 1/23/2018 | Staff
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Pluto hogs the spotlight in the continuing scientific debate over what is and what is not a planet, but a less conspicuous argument rages on about the planetary status of massive objects outside our solar system. The dispute is not just about semantics, as it is closely related to how giant planets like Jupiter form.

Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Kevin Schlaufman aims to settle the dispute.

Paper - Astrophysical - Journal - Schlaufman - Boundary

In a paper just published in the Astrophysical Journal, Schlaufman has set the upper boundary of planet mass between four and 10 times the mass of the planet Jupiter.

Schlaufman, an assistant professor in the university's Department of Physics & Astronomy, says setting a limit is possible now mainly due to improvements in the technology and techniques of astronomical observation. The advancements have made it possible to discover many more planetary systems outside our solar system and therefore possible to see robust patterns that lead to new revelations.

Planets - Picture - Sense - Lot - Detail

"While we think we know how planets form in a big picture sense, there's still a lot of detail we need to fill in," Schlaufman said. "An upper boundary on the masses of planets is one of the most prominent details that was missing."

The conclusions in the new paper are based on observations of 146 solar systems, systems, Schlaufman said, is the fact that almost all the data he used was measured in a uniform way. The data are more consistent from one solar system to the next, and so more reliable.

Planet - Objects - Bit - List - Suspects

Defining a planet, distinguishing it from other celestial objects, is a bit like narrowing down a list of criminal suspects. It's one thing to know you're looking for someone who is taller than 5-foot-8, it's another to know your suspect is between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-10.

In this instance, investigators want to distinguish between two suspects: a giant planet and a...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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