Saturn May Also Lose Its Planet Status


A few leading astronomers are of the opinion that Saturn could soon lose its planet status as well. Recently, the issue was hotly debated at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Vienna. Some astronomers claimed that the object does not meet the definition of a planet as decided in the international meeting of the IAU at Prague in August 2006. It was at this meeting that Pluto was demoted to the status of Dwarf Planet. Will Saturn have the same fate?

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest in the Solar System, after Jupiter. With an average radius about nine times that of Earth, this gas giant is best known for its ring system.

The criteria are the following – First, to be a planet, the object should orbit our sun. Second, it should have enough gravitational pull to create a spherical shape. And third, it should be large enough and have enough gravity to pull planetary matter to itself and, essentially, clear the region around the object of debris.

Pluto interestingly, meets the first two, but fails the third. These astronomers are saying that Saturn’s status needs to be reconsidered for the same reason.

Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena says, “Saturn’s case resembles Pluto’s in many aspects, and I think it was a mistake, not to revoke its status back in 2006”.

Pluto is a small and spherical object that isn’t large enough to clear the neighborhood of debris within its own orbital zone. Saturn is much larger, but it too cannot clear anything. There is a lot of debris in its atmosphere. There are many moons and moonlets. Saturn cannot be a planet if the same criterion is applied.

62 moons orbit Saturn. 53 of them are officially named. There are hundreds of moonlets within its continuous rings and discontinuous arcs.

International Astronomical Union members now have two options. They can either take away Saturn’s status or they must review their formal definition of a planet.