Scientist Proposes New Simpler Definition Of A Planet

Posted: Nov 10 2015, 11:53pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 11 2015, 1:29am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientist Redefines What Makes a Planet
Credit: NASA

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UCLA professor redefines what makes a planet

Thousands of planetary objects have been discovered since 1980s but scientists are still finding it difficult to classify them.

Now, Jean-Luc Margot, a professor from UCLA has proposed a simpler definition of a planet. It will help clearly separate planets from other objects like dwarf or minor planets that are orbiting around stars other than Sun.

The current definition by International Astronomical Union applies to only those planets that are within our solar system, leaving all the newly discovered bodies in a ‘definitional limbo’.

The new method will require only star’s mass, planet’s mass and orbiting period. All these requirements can be easily accessed through space telescopes observations. The new formula can easily classify all eight planets in our solar system and 99 percent of known exoplanets into different categories.

Margot’s definition primarily focuses on a planet’s ability to clearing the neighborhood around its orbit. If a planet is gravitationally dominant and clears its orbital neighborhood in a specific time frame, then it should be classified as a planet.

The method clearly places eight planets in our solar system in a separate category and other dwarf planets like Ceres, Pluto and Eris into other category.

“The disparity between planets and non-planets is striking," said Margot. "The sharp distinction suggests that there is a fundamental difference in how these bodies formed, and the mere act of classifying them reveals something profound about nature."

Margot also suggest that an object that can clear its orbit is typically spherical. “When a body has sufficient mass to clear its orbital neighborhood, it also has a sufficient mass to overcome material strength and pull itself into a nearly round shape.”

This is an important parameter to apply new formula because astronomers do not always observe enough accurately to determine their shape.

Margot’s definition classifies a planet but not an exoplanet, which are around 5,000 in numbers. He believes that the definition will be refined and extended with the discoveries of new exoplanets.

Professor Margot presented his proposal on Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for planetary sciences meeting.

Source: University of California, Los Angeles

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