BEACON TRANSCRIPT – The tricky Pluto question remains, as researchers still wonder what exactly is Pluto. “Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” – should we consider Pluto a comet or a planet? Currently considered a dwarf planet, it is still debated what its correct classification should be. But we might just get that answer soon.
Back in 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto is a dwarf planet. However, experts are still unsure what its status is. The New Horizons mission by NASA adds further confusion by suggesting that Pluto should be in a category of its own. NASA scientists are saying that is it surely not a comet but neither a planet.
One thing is certain – Pluto interacts with the solar wind in a way that has not been seen before. Researchers have come to this conclusion by examining the solar wind interactions of the nine planets that have already earned their name.
Solar wind is a plasma, a stream of energized and protons and electrons charged particles. When it crosses paths with a planet, the solar wind slows down. Comets hardly ever change the course of the solar wind, and the little difference it would make would take place near the body.
The Solar Wind Around Pluto, New Horizons’ instrument, has given surprising results. Until SWAP’s arrival on the dwarf planet in the summer of 2015, scientists believed that Pluto was too small to make any significant difference. But it appears that Pluto as well has interaction with the solar wind. Pluto’s gravity is sturdy enough to capture heavy ions in its atmosphere. Thus, we can scratch down the status of comet. Pluto’s effect on the solar wind makes it a hybrid between a comet and a planet. It might just be that Pluto is one-of-a-kind, and this is why the tricky Pluto question is so hard to answer.
SWAP’s findings add a new dimension to the art of exploration. It is discoveries like these that make us more aware of the nature around us and how little we actually know. There are so many mysteries still to be decrypted. Astronomers will continue to examine SWAP’s data over the years to come. As we further learn how this body interacts with the solar wind, we can learn even more about other planets and comets.
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikipedia