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Artist’s concept of a planet. What is a planet, anyway? Image via iflscience.
It used to be easy to know what was and wasn’t a planet. Planets were big, bigger than any smaller moons that happened to be orbiting them. They were round. They orbited our sun. Then, in 2006, the erstwhile planet Pluto lost its major planet status, becoming a dwarf planet. Around that time, astronomers were discovering a plethora of small bodies in our own solar system, so that there are now half a million known asteroids and over a thousand Kuiper Belt Objects, including five recognized dwarf planets counting Pluto. Astronomers also now know several thousand exoplanets orbiting other stars. The dramatic expansion in the number of known objects orbiting our sun and other suns has caused some astronomers to try to override or re-define the 2006 planet definition from the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which caused Pluto to lose full planet status. The most recent new planet definition comes from a Johns Hopkins astronomer, Kevin Schlaufman. Read three earlier planet definitions below.
Schlaufman - Definition - Mass - Paper - January
Schlaufman’s definition is based on mass. In a paper published January 22, 2018 in the peer-reviewed Astrophysical Journal, Schlaufman has set the upper boundary of planet mass between four and 10 times the mass of the planet Jupiter.
Astrophysicist Kevin Schlaufman proposed the new definition of a planet. Image via Johns Hopkins.
Schlaufman - Statement - Limit
Schlaufman said in a statement that 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.
His statement explained:
The conclusions in the new paper are based on observations of 146 solar systems … Defining a planet, distinguishing it from other celestial...
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