It’s been 13 years since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet—and fans of the celestial body are still not over it. Everyone from kids to respected astronomers have argued that Pluto deserves the title of the ninth planet in our solar system. As IFL Science reports, even the head of NASA has come out as Team Planet Pluto.
At a FIRST Robotics event on August 23, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine jokingly declared Pluto to be a planet again. “Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,” he said in a clip broadcast by NASA TV. “I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.”
Based on that soundbite, it’s easy feel hopeful about Pluto’s planetary status. But NASA doesn’t set the standards for planets in our solar system: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) does. On August 24, 2006, the organization announced that Pluto didn’t meet the new criteria used to define true planets. According to the IAU, a planet should orbit the sun, be spherical due to gravity, and be the dominant body in its orbit. Even though Pluto meets these first two requirements, its orbit overlaps with that of Neptune, which means it’s not technically a planet in the IAU’s view.
The ruling was hugely controversial, and not just because it contradicted what millions of people were taught in grade school. The amount of “cleared space” in its orbit, an indicator that differentiates planets from asteroids, is not easy to measure, and it was rarely used to define planets prior to 2006.
Even if it’s not official, Bridenstine’s declaration should at least validate the many Pluto supporters still fighting for the former planet’s dignity.