Pluto has officially made a comeback.
The dwarf planet—demoted from full planet status in 2006—has captured the world’s heart again after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flyby of the distant world Tuesday.
And while NASA’s received a lot of attention for their amazing achievement—a successful mission across nine years and 3 billion miles—we now face the disputed question: Do we call Pluto a planet again?
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) stripped Pluto of its title because it didn’t stand up to the organization’s what-it-takes-to-be-a-plant standards: that it orbits the sun, that it’s generally spherical and that its gravity has cleared the path around it.
There have also been discoveries of similar objects in Pluto’s neighborhood that the dwarf planet’s gravity does not dominate, like the 2005 discovery of Eris, which is actually more massive than Pluto.
So why now that we have new photos of Pluto do we have the right to call it a planet? Nasa’s flyby was huge for space, for sure. We were able to complete a successful mission to the last unexplored “planet.” But that flyby doesn’t change what Pluto is: a dwarf planet.
If we were to call Pluto a planet again, we’d have to do so for all the other floating objects that share likeness with Pluto (and that’s probably more than just a few).
The only reason we haven’t named those bodies planets is because scientists can’t agree on the definition of a planet. Are planets to be thought of as bodies with geophysical properties, or rather just objects orbiting around other objects?
Lowering the standards could add dozens of more planets to the solar system, so what makes Pluto greater than those bodies? Well, after being a part of the solar system for 76 years, someone’s got to save face for mistakenly naming Pluto a planet.
I’m team space all the way. But unless Pluto’s orbit was mysteriously transformed by this mission to no longer cross Neptune’s, I’m not using Nasa’s flyby as an excuse to rename Pluto a planet.
But I’ll give Pluto one thing: it has a heart, unlike Neal Degrasse Tyson and me.