NASA chief sticks by dwarf planet Pluto, says it deserves to be a real planet

Astronomers in the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of its planetary status in 2006.

Its been 13 years and a week since Pluto, once the ninth planet in our solar system, was officially downgraded. Now a dwarf planet, Pluto appears to have more fans than ever. Among them is the American space agency chief Jim Bridenstine, who weighed in on the decade-old debate during a press conference on 23 August, announcing that Pluto is a planet in his view, and the press can tell the world that the Administrator of NASA said so.

"Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet, and you can write that the NASA administrator declared Pluto a planet once again", Bridenstine said at a robotics event in Colorado.

 NASA chief sticks by dwarf planet Pluto, says it deserves to be a real planet

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaking at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in August 2018. Image credit: NASA

This show of support for the solar system's underdog was adorable, but it goes against the verdict with the real authority in the matter: the International Astronomical Union (IAU), astronomers of which voted Pluto out of its planetary status in 2006.

That said, to the delight of many-a Pluto fans, the NASA chief reiterated his dedication and support for Pluto. Pluto is a planet, he said. "I'm sticking by that. It's the way I learned it, and I'm committed to it."

Meteorologist Cory Reppenhagen of 9News posted a video of the exchange on Twitter.   

(Also read: Earth is not a planet for the same reasons that Pluto is no longer considered one)

Not a Planet.

Not a Planet.

Icy, rocky Pluto had been the smallest of the nine planets; its diameter under three-quarters that of the moon and nearly a fifth of Earth. Researchers began calling its planethood into question in the 1990s when it was found that Pluto had plenty of company in the Kuiper Belt neighbourhood (an icy ring of small celestial bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune).

The last straw was the discovery of Eris in 2005, a distant object larger than Pluto. The following year, Pluto was stripped of its planetary status by the IAU.

To this day, many scientists (the NASA administrator among them) argue that Pluto isn't alone — that it is just the face of numerous other celestial bodies in our solar system that are denied this status under the prevailing definition of "planet".

(Also read: 'Make Pluto a planet again': Six-year-old Irish girl who dreams of being a astronaut, pens a heartfelt letter to NASA)

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