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Team of Scientists Launch Campaign to Restore Pluto to Planet Club, aims to broaden the Astronomical Classifications

Six scientists from institutions across the United States argued that Pluto deserves to be a full planet, along with some 110 other bodies

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. CREDIT: NASA/APL/SwRI, VOA

US, March 22, 2017: A team of scientists seeking to restore Pluto to planethood launched a campaign on Tuesday to broaden the astronomical classifications which led to its demotion to a “dwarf planet” a decade ago.

Six scientists from institutions across the United States argued that Pluto deserves to be a full planet, along with some 110 other bodies in the solar system, including Earth’s moon.

In a paper presented at an international planetary science conference at The Woodlands, Texas, the scientists explained that geological properties, such as shape and surface features, should determine what constitutes a planet.

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In 2006, the International Astronomical Union, struggling with how to classify a newly discovered icy body beyond Pluto, adopted a definition for a planet based on characteristics that include clearing other objects from its orbital path.

Pluto and its newfound kin in the solar system’s distant Kuiper Belt region were reclassified as dwarf planets, along with Ceres, the biggest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The decision left the solar system with eight planets.

But this definition sidelines the research interests of most planetary scientists, said the paper’s lead author, Kirby Runyon, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University.

Runyon said he and other planetary scientists are more interested in a planet’s physical characteristics, such as its shape and whether it has mountains, oceans and an atmosphere.

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“If you’re interested in the actual intrinsic properties of a world, then the IAU definition is worthless,” he said by phone.

Runyon and colleagues argue that the IAU does not have the authority to set the definition of a planet.

“There’s a teachable moment here for the public in terms of scientific literacy and in terms of how scientists do science,” Runyon added. “And that is not by saying, ‘Let’s agree on one thing.’ That’s not science at all.”

Runyon’s group advocates for a sub-classification system, similar to biology’s hierarchal method. This approach would categorize Earth’s moon as a type of planet.

That idea irks California Institute of Technology astronomer Mike Brown, who discovered the Kuiper Belt object that cast Pluto out of the planet club.

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“It really takes blinders to not look at the solar system and see the profound differences between the eight planets in their stately circular orbits and then the millions and millions of tiny bodies flitting in and out between the planets and being tossed around by them,” he wrote in an email. (VOA)

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NASA Reveals Plans For Future Missions To Moon

The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will serve NASA and its commercial and international partners as a uniquely valuable staging point

NASA to release two missions focused on moon soon in 2022. Pixabay
NASA's new instrument can measure incoming solar energy. Pixabay
  • NASA can release two mid-size missions soon
  • The missions can come as early as 2022
  • The mission is undertaken to research about moon

The first of two mid-size commercial missions to the Moon for NASA could come as early as 2022, said the US space agency which is focused on increasing science activities near and on the Earth’s natural satellite and ultimately returning humans to its surface.

ISS is a permanent base for astronauts stationed in the outer sky. Wikimedia Commons
NASA will release these missions to know more about the moon. Wikimedia Commons

As part of US President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposals, NASA is planning a new Moon-focused exploration campaign that starts with a series of progressive commercial robotic missions.

“The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system,” Bill Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington said in a statement on Thursday.

Also Read: NASA’s Curiosity Rover Tests New Drill Method On Mars

“Coupled with the capabilities enabled by the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, these missions will usher in a new era of exploration of the Moon and its resources, and provide a training ground for human missions to Mars,” Gerstenmaier added.

NASA said it plans to enlist a series of commercial robotic landers and rockets to meet lunar payload delivery and service needs.

The agency intends to release a draft request for proposals this spring to initiate commercial lunar payload service contracts for surface delivery as early as 2019.

The mission has garnered support from almost everywhere. IANS
The mission has garnered support from almost everywhere. IANS

NASA already has partnerships with three US companies that are advancing technologies to deliver cargo payloads to the lunar surface.

The partners — Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh; Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California; and Moon Express of Cape Canaveral, Florida — began work in 2014 under NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative.

The original three-year agreements were amended to extend the work for another two years.

The Lunar CATALYST partnerships have helped advance commercial capabilities to deliver small payloads to the lunar surface.

But the agency is also interested in understanding and developing requirements for future human landers.

By developing landers with mid-size payload capacity (500 to 1,000 kg — roughly the size of a smart car) first, this will allow evolution toward large-scale human-rated lunar landers (5,000 to 6,000 kg).

Additionally, this class of lander can support larger payloads to the Moon addressing science and exploration objectives such as sample return, resource prospecting, demonstrations of in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU), and others.

The agency said it would seek information from industry later this month for larger lander development, and determine how best to proceed with potential partnerships.

This research can be groundbreaking as moon is considered important for growth of humans.

NASA plans to follow that effort with a solicitation to enable the partnerships between NASA and industry. The agency is also planning to build a lunar outpost in the 2020s.

The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will serve NASA and its commercial and international partners as a uniquely valuable staging point and communications relay for exploration and science missions in deep space, the agency said. IANS