The Reclassification of Asteroids from Planets to Non-Planets

Status Report From: e-Print archive
Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2018

Philip T. Metzger, Mark V. Sykes, Alan Stern, Kirby Runyon
(Submitted on 10 May 2018)

It is often claimed that asteroids' sharing of orbits is the reason they were re-classified from planets to non-planets. A critical review of the literature from the 19th Century to the present shows this is factually incorrect. The literature shows the term asteroid was broadly recognized as a subclass of planet for 150 years. On-going discovery of asteroids resulted in a de facto stretching of the concept of planet to include the ever smaller bodies. Scientists found utility in this taxonomic identification as it provided categories needed to argue for the leading hypothesis of planet formation, Laplace's nebular hypothesis. In the 1950s, developments in planet formation theory found it no longer useful to maintain taxonomic identification between asteroids and planets, Ceres being the sole exception. At approximately the same time, there was a flood of publications on the geophysical nature of asteroids showing them to be geophysically different than the large planets. This is when the terminology in asteroid publications calling them planets abruptly plunged from a high level of usage where it had hovered during the period 1801 - 1957 to a low level that held constant thereafter. This marks the point where the community effectively formed consensus that asteroids should be taxonomically distinct from planets. The evidence demonstrates this consensus formed on the basis of geophysical differences between asteroids and planets, not the sharing of orbits. We suggest attempts to build consensus around planetary taxonomy not rely on the non-scientific process of voting, but rather through precedent set in scientific literature and discourse, by which perspectives evolve with additional observations and information, just as they did in the case of asteroids.

Comments:    27 pages, 4 figures
Subjects:    Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); History and Philosophy of Physics (physics.hist-ph); Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph)
Cite as:    arXiv:1805.04115 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1805.04115v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Philip Metzger
[v1] Thu, 10 May 2018 18:00:09 GMT (752kb)

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