If someone asked you right now, how many planets are there in the universe, what would your answer be? Forget universe, if we were to ask you how many planets are there in our solar system, will you be able to come up with an answer that you can be sure of?
The universe is vast, and several mysteries need to be unraveled about the vast body. But before we head out to understanding the universe, we need to know what exactly our solar system holds, let alone our galaxy.
The sun is at the center of our solar system and Earth is its only planet suitable for humans are some basic things that everyone knows unless they have been living under a rock. The topic we would like to discuss today is the number of planets in our solar system and if Pluto is a planet or not.
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If the question were raised a decade ago, the only answer would be nine and no one would argue. Mercury, which is the closest planet to our sun, is followed by Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter. Saturn, a gas giant, characterized by its magnificent rings comes next before Uranus and Neptune. While eight is where the list ends today, there was a time when Pluto was another name featured here.
Discovered in 1930 by a revered American astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto is a round body located 3.7 billion miles away from the sun. Since it is so far, it’s too cold with temperature ranging between 375 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
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Pluto is something that some scientists are quite possessive about, and other ignore entirely. The debate, whether the small icy world at the edge of our solar system is a “planet,” in every sense of the word, or too tiny to be called one, has been going on for ages.
For almost seven decades, it was conceived as the ninth planet that revolved around our sun but a conference held in Prague in 2006, where 424 astronomers from all over the world voted if Pluto qualifies for planethood or not, concluded otherwise.
The International Astronomical Union meeting declared Pluto to be a “dwarf” planet, and they said that the only bodies that qualify as planets are Mercury through Neptune. Though Pluto isn’t a satellite and has five moons of its own, it is yet to clear the neighborhood around its orbit, which keeps it from being a planet.
(Image Courtesy: International Astronomical Union)
Another reason that was given for eliminating Pluto from the list of planets in our solar system is that it is too small. You can estimate its size from the fact that it is only half as wide as the United States of America and even smaller than Earth’s moon. The planet which comes next to it in terms of size is Mercury having more than twice the diameter than it. Thus, being termed as 'Dwarf' planet.
(Image Courtesy: Solar System Exploration - NASA)
But, what is a dwarf planet? It is a term which the scientist community uses for every round object that circles our sun like other planets but fails to qualify as one technically. You might be surprised to know that Pluto is not the only dwarf planet in our solar system. Discovered in 1801, Ceres, which is 580 miles wide and revolves around the sun between Mars and Jupiter, is another such body. Eris, Haumea, and Makemake are other dwarf planets you should know about.
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It is another important point for you to note that the only terrestrial planets, characterized by their rocky composition and have land to step on, are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Jupiter and Saturn that are huge balls of gas are referred to as Jovian planets. While Uranus and Neptune may also be classified in the same category owing to their vast expanse by many astronomers, the two are often referred to as “ice giants” by others.
Should Pluto be declared a planet? Share your opinions with us through your comments below.
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