NASA embarrassment: Agency chief calls for major U-turn on Pluto as planet debate rages


NASA chief Jim Bridenstine has claimed again that he thinks Pluto should be a planet, reigniting the debate that has raged on since its demotion to a ‘dwarf’ planet.

When asked why, Mr Bridenstine claimed the ocean under its surface, organic compounds on its surface and its own moons all indicates that the science community was wrong to change its classification. According to the Daily Mail, it’s the second time in just a few months that Bidenstine made statements advocating for a reversal of the decision and a return to our original understanding of Pluto. Making a speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington DC Friday he said: “I am here to tell you, as the NASA Administrator, I believe Pluto should be a planet.

“Some people have argued that in order to be a planet, you need to clear your orbit around the sun.

“Well, what we now know is that if that’s the definition that we’re gonna use, you could really undercut all the planets.

“They’re all dwarf planets because there isn’t a planet that clears its entire orbit around the sun.”

Mr Bridenstine is the latest in a long line of scientists who have disputed the change in Pluto’s status back in 2006.

The change was made initially as Pluto failed to meet all the International Astronomical Union, a global group of astronomy experts, properties for planet classification.

Their established definition of a planet requires it to ‘clear’ its orbit, or in other words, be the largest gravitational force in its orbit.

Since Pluto’s gravity is affected by Neptune and the fact Pluto and shares its orbit with frozen gases and objects in the Kuiper belt, that meant Pluto was out of planet status.

Mr Bridenstine is one of the many scientists that have never accepted the ruling and he spoke in August during a tour of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Speaking at the event he was dismissive of the planet’s current status “Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,

“You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learnt it, and I’m committed to it.”

The news comes as NASA channels funding into a research project determining the feasibility of another orbiter Mission to the dwarf planet.

In a statement, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonia, Texas, said it was working on the study.

Researchers will build the spacecraft required for the mission and carry out cost and risk assessments for the new technologies.

The institute said data retrieved on the previous trip “made a compelling case for a follow-up mission”.

The July 2015 fly-by mission was carried out by New Horizons, NASA’s interplanetary space probe which is managed by SwRI.

Now famous images of Pluto were sent back to Earth, providing the clearest photos too date of the distant dwarf.

The pictures included a snap of an area close to the dwarf planet’s equator which showed a mountain range believed to be as high as 1,000 feet.

Vast plains of frozen nitrogen and large clouds were also revealed by the probe.

The statement read: “The study is one of 10 different mission studies that NASA is sponsoring to prepare for the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

“The results of these studies will be delivered to the National Academy Planetary Decadal Study that will begin in 2020.”


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