Pluto: Planet, Dwarf Planet Or Comet, Scientists Reveal It Is Something Else
Ever since the International Astronomical Union took a decision in 2006 to downgrade the position of Pluto, from a planet to a dwarf planet, there has been a constant debate over its correct classification. Now, yet one more point of confusion has been added to the ongoing debate, according to reports. The New Horizons mission by NASA has placed Pluto in a hybrid bracket between a comet and a planet.
According to a report published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Pluto's interaction with the solar wind is unlike anything else yet seen in the solar system. Made up of charged particles, the solar wind is plasma that is thrown from the sun at 160 million kilometers per hour and covers everything in its path, be it interplanetary space, comets, asteroids or planets, with a celestial mix of electrons and protons. However, when a comet stands in the way of solar wind, there is a marked region of gentle slowing of it. Meanwhile if a planet, like Mars or Venus, stands in the path then there will be an abrupt diversion of solar wind.
As per NASA, on the basis of the observation of Pluto's interaction with the solar wind, the dwarf planet is now being thought as a hybrid. "This is an intermediate interaction, a completely new type. It's not comet-like, and it's not planet-like. It's in-between," said David J. McComas, lead author of the study. "The results are astonishing. We've now visited all nine of the classical planets and examined all their solar wind interactions, and we've never seen anything like this".
The team of researchers arrived at their conclusion using data from New Horizon's Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument. SWAP has the ability to distinguish between lighter hydrogen ions that have their origin in the sun, and heavy methane ions which is the principle gas being thrown into space from Pluto's atmosphere. On the basis of the data, the scientists found that the gravity of Pluto was sturdy enough to keep heavy ions in its larger atmosphere. According to the experts, the data gathered by SWAP may reveal deeper secrets which will come to light after a detailed observation and analysis of it in the years to come.