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October 31, 2015

NASA releases complete image of Pluto\’s crescent

NASA releases complete image of Pluto’s crescent

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

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On Thursday, NASA released the first complete picture of Pluto’s crescent from the New Horizons probe. The probe captured the image with its Multi-spectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, fifteen minutes after closest approach to the planet.

After nine years’ journey, New Horizons made closest approach to Pluto on July 14 and released the first coloured photo of the dwarf planet‘s atmospheric haze on October 8. An incomplete crescent photo of Pluto was released in September.

The photo shows different layers of the haze of Pluto’s faint atmosphere with Sputnik Planum, an icy plain, visible on the right side and uneven plateaus on the dark left side.

Charon’s Craters[]

Scientists also announced their discovery that 5km wide Organa crater on Charon, the largest satellite of Pluto, absorbed large amount of radiation of wavelength 2.2µm in an infrared scan, evidence of frozen ammonia. A nearby crater, named Skywalker, of comparable size showed the presence of water ice.

Will Grundy from the New Horizons composition team said “Why are these two similar-looking and similar-sized craters, so near to each other, so compositionally distinct?” He also proposed various ideas about the abundance of ammonia. The impact creating the crater could be more recent, or may have hit a subsurface ammonia pocket, or brought ammonia with it.

Studies in 2000 revealed that Charon has ammonia, but its concentration in the Organa crater was extraordinarily high.

Bill McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging deputy lead, called it “a fantastic discovery”. He further said “Concentrated ammonia is a powerful antifreeze on icy worlds, and if the ammonia really is from Charon’s interior, it could help explain the formation of Charon’s surface by cryovolcanism, via the eruption of cold, ammonia-water magmas.”


Crescent Pluto.
Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Organa crater.
Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.




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October 9, 2015

After Mars, NASA announces water ice on Pluto

After Mars, NASA announces water ice on Pluto

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Space
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The blue haze of Pluto.
Image: NASA.

NASA released yesterday the first coloured pictures of Pluto‘s blue atmosphere and water ice on the surface taken by the space probe New Horizons.

NASA said the haze particles may be grey or red in colour, but the scattering of light producing blue colour indicates the size of the particles. Smaller particles results in the scattering of the blue light. Scientists calls those soot like grey-red particles tholins.

The scientists suggest nitrogen and methane in the upper atmosphere, exposed to the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, break and combine to form more complex macromolecules similar to a process first observed on Titan, Saturn‘s satellite. Some of them grow to tholins. Eventually they are coated with volatile gas frost and fall to the surface, contributing to its red color.

Water ice on Pluto.
Image: NASA.

The data collected from the probe’s Ralph spectral composition mapper shows several small zones of water ice on Pluto. Alex Parker from Southwest Research institute (SwRI) tweeted, “We expected water-ice to be there, but we’ve searched for water-ice in Pluto’s spectrum for decades and not seen it before now”.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of SwRI remarked; “It’s gorgeous.” “This world is alive […] It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology.”

The space probe has traveled over 100 million km (over 60 million miles) further since gathering the data on its Pluto flyby of July 14.


Related news[]

  • NASA announces water on Mars” — Wikinews, October 1, 2015
  • “NASA’s New Horizons space probe performs first close planetary flyby of Pluto” — Wikinews, July 17, 2015

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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Atmosphere of Pluto

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October 8, 2015

After Mars, NASA announces water on Pluto

After Mars, NASA announces water on Pluto

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Space
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The blue haze of Pluto.
Image: NASA.

NASA released yesterday the first coloured pictures of Pluto‘s blue atmosphere and water ice on the surface taken by the space probe New Horizons.

NASA said the haze particles may be grey or red in colour, but the scattering of light producing blue colour indicates the size of the particles. Smaller particles results in the scattering of the blue light. Scientists calls those soot like grey-red particles tholins.

The scientists suggest nitrogen and methane in the upper atmosphere, exposed to the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, break and combine to form more complex macromolecules similar to a process first observed on Titan, Saturn‘s satellite. Some of them grow to tholins. Eventually they are coated with volatile gas frost and fall to the surface, contributing to its red color.

Water ice on Pluto.
Image: NASA.

The data collected from the probe’s Ralph spectral composition mapper shows several small zones of water ice on Pluto. Alex Parker from Southwest Research institute (SwRI) tweeted, “We expected water-ice to be there, but we’ve searched for water-ice in Pluto’s spectrum for decades and not seen it before now”.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt?”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of SwRI remarked; “It’s gorgeous.” “This world is alive […] It has weather, it has hazes in the atmosphere, active geology.”

The space probe has traveled 100 million km further since July 14.


Related news[]

  • NASA announces water on Mars” — Wikinews, October 1, 2015
  • “NASA’s New Horizons space probe performs first close planetary flyby of Pluto” — Wikinews, July 17, 2015

Sister links[]

  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Atmosphere of Pluto

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July 17, 2015

NASA\’s New Horizons space probe performs first close planetary flyby of Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons space probe performs first close planetary flyby of Pluto

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Friday, July 17, 2015

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On Tuesday, NASA’s space probe New Horizons reached near Pluto. It was launched about nine-and-a-half years ago on January 19, 2006 to collect data about the dwarf planet, amongst other targets. With its flyby on Tuesday it became the first spacecraft to explore Pluto closely.

NASA collected data regarding the geology of the planet. The space probe had seven scientific instruments and massed about 450 kilograms (about 1000 lb). The probe has Pluto and the Kuiper Belt as its highest priorities. Scientists released images from the flyby on Wednesday. Mission scientist John Spencer said, “We have not found a single impact crater on this image. This means it must be a very young surface”. He put the age of the current surface at no more than 100 million years.

The images also did not show craters on its natural satellite, Charon. NASA said mountains on the planet may be made of water-ice.

In February 2007 the space probe flew by Jupiter. The future mission is to explore the Kuiper Belt.

The Atlas V 551 rocket, used to launch New Horizons, being processed a month before launch.
Image: NASA.

View of Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41, with the Atlas V carrying New Horizons on the pad.
Image: NASA.

NASA TV footage of New Horizons launch from Cape Canaveral. (4:00)
Video: NASA.

A composite image of Jupiter and Io, taken by New Horizons on February 28 and March 1, 2007 respectively. Jupiter is shown in infrared, whereas Io is shown in near true-color.
Image: NASA.

A composite false-color image of Oval BA, otherwise known as the “Little Red Spot”, using New Horizons LORRI and the Hubble Space Telescope‘s WFPC2.
Image: NASA.

2015: Pluto image (color) by New Horizons from 18 million km away, late last month.
Image: NASA.

Pluto as viewed by New Horizons, July 13, 2015.
Image: NASA.

Icy landscape on Pluto.
Image: NASA.



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July 16, 2015

NASA\’s New Horizons space probe performs the first planetary flyby of Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons space probe performs the first planetary flyby of Pluto

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Space
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On Tuesday, NASA‘s space probe New Horizons reached near Pluto. It was launched about nine-and-a-half years ago on January 19, 2006 to collect data about the dwarf planet, amongst other targets. With its flyby on Tuesday it became the first spacecraft to explore Pluto closely.

NASA collected data regarding the geology of the planet. The space probe had seven scientific instruments and massed about 450 kilograms (about 1000 lb). The probe has Pluto and the Kuiper Belt as its highest priorities. Scientists released images from the flyby on Wednesday. Mission scientist John Spencer said, “We have not found a single impact crater on this image. This means it must be a very young surface”. He put the age of the current surface at no more than 100 million years.

The images also did not show craters on its natural satellite, Charon. NASA said mountains on the planet may be made of water-ice.

In February 2007 the space probe flew by Jupiter. The future mission is to explore the Kuiper Belt.

The Atlas V 551 rocket, used to launch New Horizons, being processed a month before launch.
Image: NASA.

View of Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41, with the Atlas V carrying New Horizons on the pad.
Image: NASA.

NASA TV footage of New Horizons launch from Cape Canaveral. (4:00)
Video: NASA.

A composite image of Jupiter and Io, taken by New Horizons on February 28 and March 1, 2007 respectively. Jupiter is shown in infrared, whereas Io is shown in near true-color.
Image: NASA.

A composite false-color image of Oval BA, otherwise known as the “Little Red Spot”, using New Horizons LORRI and the Hubble Space Telescope‘s WFPC2.
Image: NASA.

2015: Pluto image (color) by New Horizons from 18 million km away, late last month.
Image: NASA.

Pluto as viewed by New Horizons, July 13, 2015.
Image: NASA.

Icy landscape on Pluto.
Image: NASA.



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August 24, 2006

Pluto loses planet status

Pluto loses planet status – Wikinews, the free news source

Pluto loses planet status

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

File:Pluto Earth size comparison.jpg

Pluto’s diameter is about 18% that of Earth.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Today, astronomers have endorsed a proposal about the definition of the word “planet”. As a consequence, our solar system now counts only 8 planets. They are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Pluto no longer meets the criteria and loses its planet status, but becomes the prototype of a distinct class of dwarf planets.

Ceres and 2003 UB313 also have been recognised as dwarf planets. Charon, which was previously in the run for promotion, did not meet the final criteria for a dwarf planet.

Some 2500 astronomers from over 75 countries gathered this week in Prague at the Congress of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to decide on several issues like a formal definition of a planet. Previously, there was no definition and with the discovery of new objects beyond Pluto there was much need for a clear criterion. The scientists also discussed new research findings in their field.

Louis Friedman, the executive director of the Planetary Society in California said: “The classification doesn’t matter. Pluto — and all Solar System objects — are mysterious and exciting new worlds that need to be explored and better understood.”

The final draft states: “A planet is a celestial body that

  1. is in orbit around the Sun
  2. has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape
  3. has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.
A dwarf planet is a celestial body that
  1. is in orbit around the Sun,
  2. has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape,
  3. has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit,
  4. is not a satellite.
All other objects except satellites orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as Small Solar-System Bodies.”

Pluto did not meet one of the criteria for planet: its orbit is highly eccentric, causing it to overlap with Neptune’s. The IAU has a dozen other objects similar to Pluto on its “watchlist” and is expected to announce new dwarf planets in the coming months and years.

Ever since its discovery by American Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto has been considered a planet, though its status has been questioned many times after it was discovered to be far less massive than earlier calculations suggested, and because of its many other eccentricities. As a consequence of the vote, many textbooks, encyclopedias and other sources will need rewriting.

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August 16, 2006

Astronomers to vote on potential new planets

Astronomers to vote on potential new planets

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Our solar system, showing the Sun, Inner Planets, Asteroid Belt, Outer Planets, and a comet. If astronomers endorse a new proposal for the definition of the word “planet”, the planets in our solar system would be Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon and 2003UB313.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has offered up a new definition of the word “planet” that could potentially increase our solar system’s nine planets to at least twelve. According to the proposed definition, “A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.” Roughly speaking, the former includes objects over 5 x 1020 kilograms (1/12,000th of Earth’s mass) and 800 kilometers in diameter, but all borderline cases would require confirmation by observation of their shape.

According to this new definition, Ceres (an asteroid in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter), 2003UB313 (an astronomical object beyond Pluto which has previously been called the tenth planet), and Pluto’s moon Charon may be dubbed planets. A dozen other candidates, like Sedna, Orcus, Quaoar, 2003 EL61 etc., along with the asteroids Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea are awaiting evaluation by the IAU.

The draft resolution also introduces the term “pluton”, which refers to a growing subcategory of planets that have orbits around the sun that take at least 200 years to complete – effectively this will mean planets that orbit beyond Neptune. Plutons differ from classical planets: their orbit is highly tilted, eccentric and not circular, which suggests they have a different origin, the main reason why astronomers are interested in them.

The word “planet” comes from the ancient Greek word for “wanderer”, because it was known in ancient times that certain lights in the sky moved in relation to other stars. However, since then no formal definition of the word planet was agreed upon. With the advent of powerful telescopes on the ground and in space, knowledge about heavenly bodies became more complex, stressing the need for unambiguous definitions. The issue came to a head in 2005 with the discovery of the trans-Neptunian object 2003UB313 (unofficially termed Xena by its discoverer, Michael E. Brown). 2003UB313 is a body larger than the smallest accepted planet, Pluto.

The suggested definition is not universally popular: some astronomers would like to draw the line at Neptune, and wouldn’t classify icy dwarfs like Pluto as a planet, but as a trans-Neptunian object (similar to the plutons in the draft resolution) part of the Kuiper belt. Robin Catchpole, from the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, said in an interview: “The public are very clear about what they understand by “planets”. Those are the big, dominant bodies in the Solar System that we’re all familiar with, the eight – or nine if you include Pluto. I think including more is going to add confusion to the public, but not really be particularly useful for astronomers.”

Celestial object 2003UB313 viewed in relation to the outer planets and the sun, with current position on August 16, 2006. AU = Astronomical unit, almost 150 million kilometers.

Pluto is now being considered to be moved off the list of classical planets, but as the prototype of the new plutons category. The ninth planet (as it is termed, but maybe not for long), discovered in 1930, is a curiosity among planets for more than one reason: because Charon is so big in comparison, both are considered twin planets by some.

The current proposal is the result of two years work of the Planet Definition Committee of the IAU, which is responsible for the naming of astronomical objects. The 26th IAU General Assembly in Prague plans to vote on the proposal on Thursday, August 24 of 2006. When asked if he was confident the proposal would get the necessary two thirds of the votes, Professor Owen Gingerich, Chair of the IAU Planet Definition Committee, replied: “I’m sure it will be controversial to those with a stake in some other solution, but I hope we will get an overwhelming endorsement.”

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June 23, 2006

Pluto\’s moons named

Pluto’s moons named – Wikinews, the free news source

Pluto’s moons named

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Artist conception of Hydra (foreground), Pluto & Charon (background), and Nix (bright dot center left)

The two recently discovered moons of the planet Pluto were officially named Hydra and Nix by the International Astronomical Union, the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies.

The moons were discovered in May last year by the Pluto Companion Search Team, a team of scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), the Johns Hopkins University‘s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the Space Telescope Science Institute and Lowell Observatory, using images taken from the Hubble space telescope. The moons were designated as S/2005 P1 (Hydra) and P2 (Nix) upon discovery.

Their discovery comes 27 years after the discovery of Pluto’s largest moon Charon. The two moons are roughly 5000 times fainter than Pluto and two to three times farther from Pluto, compared to Charon. The two bodies are roughly 50 km in diameter.

The names are derived from Greek mythology, where Hydra is a monster with the body of a serpent and nine heads and Nix is the goddess of darkness and night. Nix is also the mother of Charon, an allusion to the giant impact which is believed to have created the three satellites of Pluto, with Charon borne of the material from which Nix formed. Pluto himself is the god of the underworld.


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January 19, 2006

New Horizons probe bound for Pluto on nine year journey

New Horizons probe bound for Pluto on nine year journey

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons lifting off.

Earlier today, an Atlas V rocket carrying the New Horizons unmanned spacecraft probe lifted off from Pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station bound for the last unexplored planet in the solar system, Pluto, at 11 am EST, after two scrubbed liftoffs the past two days because of bad weather.

The probe will take a nine-year, 3-billion-mile (5-billion-km) journey to Pluto, the ninth and final planet in the solar system. It is expected to take photos of the planet that are of the highest resolution ever, since current photos of Pluto are not of the highest quality, even those taken from Hubble Space Telescope. It will also attempt to characterize the global geology and morphology of the planet and study the atmosphere of the planet.

After accelerating to 36,000 mph, it will pass the moon in nine hours. The probe will pass by Mars in April and then head on to Jupiter where it will pass by in February 2007 and continue on. Around July 14, 2015, the probe is expected to fly by Pluto and its moon Charon, after which the probe could possibly make a flyby of one or more Kuiper Belt objects. (KBOs).

New Horizons is powered by an onboard nuclear electric generator, known as a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, using 24 pounds (10.8kg) of plutonium as its radioactive “fuel” source. Some anti-nuclear activists feared that the launch could end in an accident with radioactive material being spread over a wide area. The chances of such a disaster were calculated by the United States Department of Energy at 1 in 350.

The Tuesday liftoff was postponed because of high winds at the launch site. The Wednesday launch was stopped after a severe storm near Laurel, Maryland knocked out power at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, which hosts the flight control center for the mission.

As a side note, the probe is also carrying some of the ashes from Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.


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New Horizons Launch (info)
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July 30, 2005

Bigger than Pluto, possible 10th planet found

Bigger than Pluto, possible 10th planet found

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Saturday, July 30, 2005 The definition of what is and what is not a planet is being challenged by a newly announced discovery Friday. Astronomers from the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California said they found a chunk of ice and rock in the solar system larger than Pluto.

The object, given the temporary generic name of 2003 UB313, is about 9 billion miles away from the sun. It was first photographed in 2003 using the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii. But it was an indistinguishable bright spot among a field of stars in an area of the sky where astronomers don’t usually look at for planets or planet-type objects.

Solar system bodies found beyond the orbit of Neptune are called “trans-Neptunian objects”. One of them, Pluto, is also classified as a planet. Up until now all other planet-like discoveries beyond Neptune, including Sedna, found by the same Palomar team in 2004, are called Kuiper Belt objects, or minor planets.

Size matters

Using a photo taken on January 8, the Palomar team compared it with previous 2003 UB313 photos to triangulate the object’s distance, brightness and orbit.

Using mathematical formulas, they found a range of sizes for 2003 UB313, with an estimated average showing the approximate diameter of the new body to be about 2,600 kilometers. But even at the smallest estimate scientists are certain 2003 UB313 is larger than Pluto’s 2,250 kilometer diameter.

To determine size, Scientists deduce the relative size of a solar system object by its brightness, just as one can infer the size of a faraway light bulb if one knows its wattage. The reflectance of 2003 UB313 is not yet known for sure. Scientists can not yet tell how much light from the sun is reflected away from its surface, but the amount of light the planet does reflect puts a lower limit on its size.

“Even if it reflected 100 percent of the light reaching it, it would still be as big as Pluto,” Michael E. Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology said in a NASA press release. “I’d say it’s probably one and a half times the size of Pluto, but we’re not sure yet of the final size.”

“We are 100 percent confident that this is the first object bigger than Pluto ever found in the outer solar system,” Brown added.

Why wasn’t it discovered earlier?

The object is inclined by a whopping 45 degrees to the main plane of the solar system, where most of the other planets orbit. That’s why it eluded discovery: nobody was looking there until now, Brown said.

Most objects in the solar system are just a few degrees from the main plane of the solar system, called the Ecliptic. Pluto, which is considered substantially different from the rest of the planets, is only 17 degrees from this main plane. Astronomers who study the sky for asteroids and comets usually look in the region of the sky that the rest of the planets occupy.

The brightness of this object is just barely fainter than the telescopes from earlier sky surveys were able to identify, so new advances in the making of telescopes has also played a part in this discovery.

The name

Now that the discovery data has been released, the scientists will turn over their work to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which will review it, classify the object and approve a new name to replace the temporary 2003 UB313.

Sometimes the discoverers of a new planetary body get to choose its name, but not always. “We have a name we really like, and we want it to stick,” Brown told reporters at a press conference. He said the team has submitted the name to the IAU but would not disclose their choice. In the 2004 naming of Sedna, Brown noted objects found in the Kuiper Belt are usually named after deities of the Underworld.

The astronomers have been using a code name of sorts for the discovery. The tongue-in-cheek nickname is “Xena” after the fictional main character of the television series of the same name. “Because we always wanted to name something Xena,” Dr. Brown said in a New York Times report.

Defining ‘planet’

These time-lapse images of a newfound “planet” in our solar system, called 2003 UB313, were taken on Oct. 21, 2003, using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif. The planet, circled in white, is seen moving across a field of stars. The three images were taken about 90 minutes apart. Scientists did not discover that the object in these pictures was a planet until Jan. 8, 2005. Source: Samuel Oschin Telescope, Palomar Observatory

There has been controversy in the scientific community about what is and what is not a planet. Some purists insist the Solar system has only eight planets and that Kuiper Belt object including Pluto, Sedna and 2003 UB313 cannot be listed among the major planets.

A minor furor erupted when the IAU suggested removing Pluto from the pantheon of planets a few years ago. Because of that Pluto’s status as a “planet” in addition to being a Kuiper Belt object was cemented. But with the discovery of 2003 UB313 the “planet or not” debate may rekindle.

“Pluto has been a planet for so long that the world is comfortable with that,” Brown said in the teleconference. “It seems to me a logical extension that anything bigger than Pluto and farther out is a planet.”

Offering additional justification, Brown said 2003 UB313 appears to be surfaced with methane ice, as is Pluto. That’s not the case with other large Kuiper Belt objects, however.

“This object is in a class very much like Pluto,” he said.

A second object found

The new “10th planet” was not the only new discovery in the Kuiper Belt this past week. José-Luis Ortiz at the Sierra Nevada Observatory in Spain announced the discovery of an object called 2003 EL61. This object, thought to be larger than Sedna, is the brightest trans-Neptune object next to Pluto.

Although some news media confused the discovery of 2003 EL61 with 2003 UB313, they are different objects.

2003 EL61 is so bright, it can be seen with high-end amateur-grade telescopes equipped with CCD cameras. Although this second discovery may not be as large as 2003 UB313, scientists have confirmed that 2003 EL61 has its own moon.

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