-4
$\begingroup$

The 2006 definition of a planet states that a planet is a celestial body that

(a) is in orbit around the Sun

(b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium shape

(c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

Point c is why Pluto allegedly is no longer a planet. However some "proponents" of the definition, namely those who use logic, figured out that according to this vague definition, if we take it literal and set a arbitrary border on "clearing the orbit", then either Pluto is still a planet or we have no planets at all. Therefore these guys actually set up an own definition, thereby replacing point c by the requirement that a planet must be the dominant mass in its orbit. This is not what the 2006 definition is telling, so these anti-Plutoers aren't actually proponents of the 2006 definition. They have their own definition according to which really only Pluto is no planet because Neptune dominates its orbit.

However their definition still doesn't exclude Eris from planethood. Its orbit is far from any of the eight recognized planets. From a vertical point of view, Eris' orbit intersects with that of Pluto. However Eris' orbit is highly tilted to the ecliptic and the two bodies don't really come close enough that their gravities would influence each other strongly. Eris is more massive than any Kuiper belt object (including Pluto). Eris itself is not really a KBO because it only intersects the Kuiper belt while most of its year being outside it. So there is no reason to ban Eris from planethood if point c states (according to some anti-Plutoers) that a planet must be the dominant mass throughout its orbit. So why don't these guys consider Eris a ninth planet?

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't know why two people have down voted without leaving a helpful comment or at least a clue. There have been some questions that seem to be pushing a viewpoint rather than asking for an objective answer, so it's possible that it's related to that. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 25 at 9:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Thank you. $\endgroup$ – user30007 Feb 25 at 11:08
  • 1
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ -1 for beating a dead horse. There's a new category of solar system bodies. The official definition is weak. Arguing about it here is Not Useful. $\endgroup$ – Mike G Feb 25 at 15:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ -1 because this is an "argument" and not a proper Stack Exchange question. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Feb 25 at 23:41
7
$\begingroup$

You are correct that the IAU definition of "clearing the orbit" has the problem of being not explicitly quantified. And a complete clearing was obviously never the intention behind the definition. I like this statement by Steven Soter:

The IAU definition of a planet as a heliocentric body that "has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit” is problematic. Clearance is never complete because the asteroid and comet reservoirs are leaky, and resonant planet-crossing orbits can be stable. A more accurate criterion for planetary status is "dynamical dominance". An object is dynamically dominant if it sweeps up or scatters other objects from its orbital zone in a time much less than the age of the system (theoretical criterion), and/or if its mass is much greater than the total mass of all other objects in its orbital zone (observational criterion), where "orbital zone” can also be simply quantified.

However, there really are substantial difference in between Eris/Pluto and the regular planets concerning their dominance in their respective orbits. The Wikipedia article on "Clearing the neighbourhood" has a neat overview over a few of the proposed ways to make this difference more quantifiable.

Probably the most straight forward definition is the fraction $\mu = M/m$ between the mass of the object in question $M$ and the combined mass of other objects in its orbits zone $m$. But there are other options as well:

$$ \begin{array} { r |r |r |r |r |r |r |r } \mathrm{ Name} & \mathrm{Margot's \,\,} \Pi & \mathrm{Soter's \,\, } \mu & \mathrm{Stern–Levison\, parameter \,\, } \Lambda & \mathrm{Mass} (kg) \\ \hline Jupiter & 4.0 \times 10^4 & 6.25 \times 10^5 & 1.30 \times 10^9 & 1.8986 \times 10^{27} \\ Saturn & 6.1 \times 10^3 & 1.9 \times 10^5 & 4.68 \times 10^7 & 5.6846 \times 10^{26} \\ Venus & 9.5 \times 10^2 & 1.3 \times 10^6 & 1.66 \times 10^5 & 4.8685 \times 10^{24} \\ Earth & 8.1 \times 10^2 & 1.7 \times 10^6 & 1.53 \times 10^5 & 5.9736 \times 10^{24} \\ Uranus & 4.2 \times 10^2 & 2.9 \times 10^4 & 3.84 \times 10^5 & 8.6832 \times 10^{25} \\ Neptun & 3.0 \times 10^2 & 2.4 \times 10^4 & 2.73 \times 10^5 & 1.0243 \times 10^{26} \\ Mercury & 1.3 \times 10^2 & 9.1 \times 10^4 & 1.95 \times 10^3 & 3.3022 \times 10^{23} \\ Mars & 5.4 \times 10^1 & 5.1 \times 10^3 & 9.42 \times 10^2 & 6.4185 \times 10^{23} \\ Ceres & 4.0 \times 10^{−2} & 0.33 & 8.32 \times 10^{−4} & 9.43 \times 10^{20} \\ Pluto & 2.8 \times 10^{−2} & 0.08 & 2.95 \times 10^{−3} & 1.29 \times 10^{22} \\ Eris & 2.0 \times 10^{−2} & 0.10 & 2.15 \times 10^{−3} & 1.67 \times 10^{22} \\ Haumea & 7.8 \times 10^{−3} & 0.02 & 2.41 \times 10^{−4} & 4.0 \times 10^{21} \\ Makemake & 7.3 \times 10^{−3} & 0.02 & 2.22 \times 10^{−4} & 4.0 \times 10^{21} \\ \end{array} $$

In this paper by Sober he also made some nice plots showing the categorical difference between the two types of objects depending on their M, m and their semi-major axis a:

So, you see, while the IAU definition of "clearing an orbit" really is ambiguous in its interpretation, following its intent, there are quantifiable ways to show the existing difference between planets and dwarf-planets.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ But they have arbitrary definitions of "neighbourhood zone" that are obviously pretty strict. Most of its year, Eris is outside the Kuiper belt. The values you show however obviously take into account Eris' path only within the Kuiper belt. There needs to be a definition of "orbit zone". If one means the hill sphere then all three bodies (Ceres, Pluto and Eris) should be planets because their mass is greater than that of all other bodies together crossing their hillspheres. $\endgroup$ – user30007 Feb 25 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @user30007 if the clear plots and table cannot convince you that there is a distinct difference between current planets and current dwarf planets - then probably nothing can. It's a distinction in naming to make clear what type of object one talks about - which in turn implies different histories and effects being important. It's less one of a single property of the bodies involved. $\endgroup$ – planetmaker Feb 25 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @planetmaker First the IAU should better find another term than "dwarf planet" because such term would mean it is actually a planet. As you say, one must make clear what type of object we're talking about, so it shouldn't depend on its orbital parameters anyway but solely on what the body itself is. I'm not opposed to a definition that would allow eight planets (and a hypothetical ninth one far beyond the Kuiper belt) but it must be a clear one. How do YOU consider the planets' neighbourhood zone? Is it 10 times its radius from it or perhaps 100 or 1000 times the radius of them? $\endgroup$ – user30007 Feb 25 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @user3007 -- The planetary discriminant described in the Wikipedia page is not arbitrarily defined but defined from first principles. $\endgroup$ – antlersoft Feb 25 at 14:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @user30007 You already start with a false assumption: Eris is not a dominant mass in its orbit. Its perihelion is inside Plutos oribit, thus there is at least one object in its orbiti of similar size. There are many more, if you consider its highly eccentric orbit between 38 and 97 AU. Inclination is of little importance when considering whether bodies interact on their dynamical timescale - it mostly defines how they scatter eachother, not the if. $\endgroup$ – planetmaker Feb 25 at 16:36
0
$\begingroup$

Because the "orbital neighbourhood" of Eris (and Ceres and Pluto) is defined as the entire Kuiper belt or in Ceres' case the entire Main belt in the planetary dominance discriminants user SpaceBread is showing. If the IAU defined the orbital dominance region as the body's hill sphere all three bodies would have to be classified as planets. Except if they took a strict approach that no body must even cross their hill sphere, in such case there wouldn't exist any planets at all. And they'd perhaps take the strict approach since, as you say, Eris actually isn't part of the Kuiper belt but just crosses it. Therefore, the IAU took the approach to call the entire belts their "orbital region" and from a 2-dimensional point of view rather than a 3-dimensional one (despite Pluto's and Eris' orbits being highly inclined to the ecliptic) in order to fit their definition of 2006.

According to the argument by some you provide, that another body dominates more than the three bodies, you're right that Neptune dominates Pluto's orbit but one might also conclude that Jupiter dominates Ceres' and farther on that Neptune dominates the entire Kuiper belt and bodies crossing it (like Eris). Still, Eris is the most massive known object beyond Neptune.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.