Pluto Downgraded Again

Oh, those geeky scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory! One of my buddies says this went out over their internal network this morning.

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In a surprise announcement, the International Astronomical Union said at a news conference Tuesday that Pluto -- the one-time planet that was defined as a dwarf planet in 2006 -- has been reclassified once again.

"Based on new observational evidence of more objects of significant size in the outer solar system, Pluto will no longer be described as a dwarf planet," said David Perel, chair of the IAU's Committee on Designations. "We will be meeting to consider a permanent name for the category of objects that Pluto falls under. In the meantime, we are describing it with the working label of 'FLR' (Fairly Large Rock)."

On the heels of the announcement, NASA Headquarters issued a statement that the New Horizons mission, once destined for Pluto, will be redirected.

"Considering the relative scientific merits and the value to the public, New Horizons will now be reprogrammed to orbit Mars," said Nick Denton, acting deputy assistant associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Since the spacecraft is now past the orbit of Saturn, this will require a series of gravity assist flybys known as the UVEJES (Uranus-Venus-Earth-Jupiter-Earth-Saturn) maneuver to accomplish."

JPL will be performing navigation for the flybys to deliver New Horizons to the Red Planet, where it is scheduled to arrive in 2073.

Posted April 1, 2009

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