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Could we tweak the solar system to make Pluto a planet again?

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Pluto’s back, baby! Seventeen years after it was demoted from planet to dwarf planet, it is time for Pluto to retake its former title…at least according to our hosts, Chelsea Whyte and Leah Crane.

In this episode of Dead Planets Society, Chelsea and Leah get into the nitty-gritty of what it would take to officially make Pluto a planet – not by changing the rules laid out by the International Astronomical Union, but by changing the solar system. They are joined in their quest by Kathryn Volk at the University of Arizona and Konstantin Batygin at the California Institute of Technology.

Of the requirements to officially be a planet, the one Pluto misses out on is the ability to clear its orbital path of debris: the distant little world is just not big enough to sweep away all the other rocks in its orbit. So what if it were bigger? It would take a lot of mass to make that happen, and there would be consequences to super-sizing it.

Maybe it would be easier to simply drag Pluto to a better orbit, somewhere that is already mostly empty – as long as that orbit is far enough from the sun that Pluto doesn’t just evaporate. There is always the option to drop a small black hole into Pluto or shrink the solar system around it. Those may be tougher to accomplish, but our hosts are up to the challenge.

Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from snapping the moon in half to causing a gravitational wave apocalypse – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.

To listen, subscribe to New Scientist Weekly or visit our podcast page here.

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