Pluto Killer Discovers New Planet


G. Cruz


The demotion of Pluto as an official planet in 2006 was one of the more contentious events in the field of astronomy. Now, one of the planetary experts who fought the celestial object’s demotion claims to have discovered an actual planet deserving of acknowledgment.

According to The Daily Beast, Caltech astronomer and planet killer Mike Brown claims to have discovered evidence of a prospective planet in the Kuiper Belt, around 2.7 billion miles from Earth. According to the publication, the object is “six times more massive than Earth and the fifth largest planet in our solar system.”

Brown is in an awkward situation because he was one of the driving forces behind Pluto’s disputed delisting as a planet. After discovering Eris in the Kuiper Belt 15 years ago, he petitioned the International Astronomical Union, a premier organization for astronomers and planetary scientists, to redefine the term “planet.” 

“After we discovered Eris, and realized that Eris is more massive than Pluto, you’ve got to do something,” he told the BBC in July. Brown was concerned that because there were likely numerous objects larger than Pluto out there, there might soon be an overabundance of planets recognized as such, so he decided to modify the definition of planet.

Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet as a result of the redefinition. It was also unpopular among scientists, who admired Brown but disagreed with his decision.

“He’s wrong about Pluto,” NASA’s New Horizons investigator Alan Stern told The Daily Beast, later wondering, “Do we have eight states in the United States so schoolchildren don’t have to memorize all 50? Do we limit the number of species?”

Despite this, Stern and his colleague Konstantin Batygin, a Caltech astronomer, are optimistic that their recent finding will be recognised as a planet without dispute if it proves out to exist. The Daily Beast quoted Batygin as saying, “There is gravitational evidence for it. But the search will not conclude until we have an image in hand.”

But we’ll have to wait and see. I have a sneaking suspicion that some angry astronomers are still bitter about Brown’s planet-killing history.