SSP seminar

Planet Classification and Planetary Science: Coming of Age in the 21st Century

Alan Stern (Southwest Research Institute)

Tuesday 28th June 2011, 2:30 pm
Pratt conference room, 60 Garden Street

In both the solar and extra-solar contexts, numerous discoveries of new planetary bodies have been made since the early 1990s. These discoveries, ranging from the prevalence of dwarf planets in our solar system, to the very existence of unexpected types like pulsar planets, hot Jupiters, super-Earths, etc. have forced upon us the need to classify and categorize planets in a way that was never before necessary. Two competing schemes have developed for such classification: dynamics based and attribute based. In this review I will point out some of the difficulties that dynamics-based classification schemes result in, and argue that intrinsic attribute-based classification produces a far less ambiguous, conflicted, and more intuitive result for both astronomy and the general public. I will also discuss the need to develop planet classification schemes that are adaptable to the many kinds of new and very likely unexpected planet discoveries likely to be revealed in coming decades. As requested, I will also provide a brief overview of the objectives, status, and ecnouter plans for New Horizons at the Pluto system in 2015.


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