Will Pluto welcome Hygiea?

Taryn Zard, Staff Writer


In 2004, an asteroid was discovered that caught the eyes of scientists worldwide. With the prediction of striking Earth in 2029, later revised to the year 2036 for possible impact, the asteroid Apophis was carefully watched by astronomers. With a size of approximately 340 meters across, Apophis is one of the largest known asteroids to fly near Earth. 

After recalculating the size, NASA realized that they were within 25 meters of Meir’s initial prediction, who “first published his info on Apophis, at that time he referred to it as the red meteor, but he published his info in 1981.” 

Not only that, but their initial collision prediction in 2029 will actually skate by 19,000 miles away from Earth—which is still pretty close when talking about space. After NASA realized Apophis was not going to collide with Earth, they renamed it as an asteroid and potential planet, Hygiea. 

According to the International Astronomical Union, to qualify as a dwarf planet, the object in question must meet these four criteria: “It has to be in orbit around the Sun; but not around a planet (so, not a moon); it can’t have cleared the neighborhood of its orbit; and it must have enough mass that it has attained hydrostatic equilibrium—that is, it’s more or less round in shape.” 

Hygiea currently meets three of these requirements, and is close to being qualified as a dwarf planet. Originally, Hygiea was thought to be more oblong, but the “Very Large Telescope” proved the shape to be spherical, without a blemish in sight. 

Astronomers were confused how the asteroid showed no craters when surrounded by a small field of meteors. The theory proposed to explain that there was a collision about 2 billion years ago. Rather than breaking off pieces to create the asteroid field and leaving behind a huge cavity, the impact caused the former Hygiea to completely explode. Over time, the mass now known as Hygiea, accumulated debris and formed a smooth surface in addition to its asteroid belt of over 6,800 mini asteroids. The question remains if Hygiea will be too late to be welcomed into the dwarf planet by “miniature planet 134340 Pluto” or not. Formerly the ninth planet in our solar system, Pluto was reclassified after scientists proved the clearing of Pluto around the sun. The rule for a planet is that it cannot orbit the sun at the same rate as other asteroids in the area, but Pluto does. The reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet was to avoid other asteroids being labeled as planets, or we might have ended up with over 13 planets. NASA administrator Bridenstine believes that Pluto should be reinstated, and that the definition given for why Pluto isn’t a “real” planet is sloppy at best. Bridenstine firmly believes that the classification of planets is more intrinsic than astronomers are making it out to be. Additionally, the main reasoning of Pluto being declassified is under the claim that it doesn’t clear its orbit on its own. 

By this logic, “you could undercut all the planets—they’re all dwarf planets—because there isn’t a planet that clears its entire orbit around the sun.” 

With the debates and speculations happening, one must wonder how many planets will eventually be classified in our solar system. The question remains if Hygiea will be classified as a dwarf planet, and if Pluto will stick around long enough to welcome it to the club, or if the beloved planet will regain its “official planet badge.”

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