Clearing the neighbourhood

Clearing the neighbourhood

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"Clearing the neighbourhood of its orbit" is a criterion for a celestial body
Celestial Body
Celestial Body is a Croatian film directed by Lukas Nola. It was released in 2000....

 to be considered a planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 in the Solar System
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

. This was one of the three criteria adopted by the International Astronomical Union
International Astronomical Union
The International Astronomical Union IAU is a collection of professional astronomers, at the Ph.D. level and beyond, active in professional research and education in astronomy...

 (IAU) in its 2006 definition of planet.

In the end stages of planet formation, a planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 will have "cleared the neighbourhood" of its own orbital zone, meaning it has become gravitationally dominant, and there are no other bodies of comparable size other than its own satellites
Natural satellite
A natural satellite or moon is a celestial body that orbits a planet or smaller body, which is called its primary. The two terms are used synonymously for non-artificial satellites of planets, of dwarf planets, and of minor planets....

 or those otherwise under its gravitational influence.
A large body which meets the other criteria for a planet but has not cleared its neighbourhood is classified as a dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

. This includes Pluto
Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...

, which shares its orbital neighbourhood with Kuiper belt
Kuiper belt
The Kuiper belt , sometimes called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a region of the Solar System beyond the planets extending from the orbit of Neptune to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, although it is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive...

 objects such as the plutino
Plutino
In astronomy, a plutino is a trans-Neptunian object in 2:3 mean motion resonance with Neptune. For every 2 orbits that a plutino makes, Neptune orbits 3 times. Plutinos are named after Pluto, which follows an orbit trapped in the same resonance, with the Italian diminutive suffix -ino...

s. The IAU's definition does not attach specific numbers or equations to this term, but all the planets have cleared their neighbourhoods to a much greater extent than any dwarf planet, or any candidate for dwarf planet.

The phrase may be derived from a paper presented to the general assembly of the IAU in 2000 by Alan Stern
Alan Stern
S. Alan Stern is an American planetary scientist. He is the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto....

 and Harold F. Levison
Harold F. Levison
Harold F. "Hal" Levison is a planetary scientist specializing in planetary dynamics. He argued for a distinction between what are now called dwarf planets and the other eight planets based on their inability to "clear the neighborhood around their orbits", although his proposal suggested the terms...

. The authors used several similar phrases as they developed a theoretical basis for determining if an object orbiting a star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

 is likely to "clear its neighboring region" of planetesimal
Planetesimal
Planetesimals are solid objects thought to exist in protoplanetary disks and in debris disks.A widely accepted theory of planet formation, the so-called planetesimal hypothesis of Viktor Safronov, states that planets form out of cosmic dust grains that collide and stick to form larger and larger...

s, based on the object's mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 and its orbital period
Orbital period
The orbital period is the time taken for a given object to make one complete orbit about another object.When mentioned without further qualification in astronomy this refers to the sidereal period of an astronomical object, which is calculated with respect to the stars.There are several kinds of...

.

Clearly distinguishing "planets" from "dwarf planets" and other minor planet
Minor planet
An asteroid group or minor-planet group is a population of minor planets that have a share broadly similar orbits. Members are generally unrelated to each other, unlike in an asteroid family, which often results from the break-up of a single asteroid...

s had become necessary because the IAU had adopted different rules for naming newly discovered major and minor planets, without establishing a basis for telling them apart. The naming process for Eris
Eris (dwarf planet)
Eris, formal designation 136199 Eris, is the most massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the ninth most massive body known to orbit the Sun directly...

 stalled after the announcement of its discovery in 2005, pending clarification of this first step.

Details


The phrase refers to an orbiting body (a planet or protoplanet
Protoplanet
Protoplanets are large planetary embryos that originate within protoplanetary discs and have undergone internal melting to produce differentiated interiors. They are believed to form out of kilometer-sized planetesimals that attract each other gravitationally and collide...

) "sweeping out" its orbital
Planetary orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

 region over time, by gravitation
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

ally interacting with smaller bodies nearby. Over many orbital cycles, a large body will tend to cause small bodies either to accrete
Accretion (astrophysics)
In astrophysics, the term accretion is used for at least two distinct processes.The first and most common is the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter, typically gaseous matter in an accretion disc. Accretion discs are common around smaller stars or stellar remnants...

 with it, or to be disturbed to another orbit, or to be captured either as a satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 or into a resonant orbit
Orbital resonance
In celestial mechanics, an orbital resonance occurs when two orbiting bodies exert a regular, periodic gravitational influence on each other, usually due to their orbital periods being related by a ratio of two small integers. Orbital resonances greatly enhance the mutual gravitational influence of...

. As a consequence it does not then share its orbital region with other bodies of significant size, except for its own satellites, or other bodies governed by its own gravitational influence. This latter restriction excludes objects whose orbits may cross but which will never collide with each other due to orbital resonance
Orbital resonance
In celestial mechanics, an orbital resonance occurs when two orbiting bodies exert a regular, periodic gravitational influence on each other, usually due to their orbital periods being related by a ratio of two small integers. Orbital resonances greatly enhance the mutual gravitational influence of...

, such as Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

 and the Trojan asteroid
Trojan asteroid
The Jupiter Trojans, commonly called Trojans or Trojan asteroids, are a large group of objects that share the orbit of the planet Jupiter around the Sun. Relative to Jupiter, each Trojan librates around one of the planet's two Lagrangian points of stability, and , that respectively lie 60° ahead...

s, Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 and 3753 Cruithne
3753 Cruithne
3753 Cruithne is an asteroid in orbit around the Sun in approximate 1:1 orbital resonance with the Earth. It is a periodic inclusion planetoid orbiting the Sun in an apparent horseshoe orbit. It has been incorrectly called "Earth's second moon", but it is only a quasi-satellite. Cruithne never...

, or Neptune
Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named for the Roman god of the sea, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times...

 and the plutinos.

In their paper, Stern and Levison sought an algorithm to determine which "planetary bodies control the region surrounding them". They defined Λ (lambda
Lambda
Lambda is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals lambda has a value of 30. Lambda is related to the Phoenician letter Lamed . Letters in other alphabets that stemmed from lambda include the Roman L and the Cyrillic letter El...

), a measure of a body's ability to scatter smaller masses out of its orbital region over a long period of time. Λ is defined mathematically as


where M is the mass of the body, a is the length of the body's semi-major axis, and k is a function of the orbital elements of the small body being scattered and the degree to which it must be scattered. In the domain of the solar planetary disc, there is little variation in the average values of k for small bodies at a particular distance from the Sun.

If Λ > 1, then the body will likely clear out the small bodies in its orbital zone. Stern and Levison used this discriminant to separate the gravitionally rounded, Sun-orbiting bodies into überplanets, which are "dynamically important enough to have cleared its neighboring planetesimals", and unterplanets. The überplanets are the eight most massive solar orbiters (i.e., the IAU planets), and the unterplanets are the rest (i.e., the IAU dwarf planets).

Steven Soter
Steven Soter
Dr. Steven Soter, PhD, is an astrophysicist currently holding the positions of scientist-in-residence for New York University's Environmental Studies Program and of Research Associate for the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History...

 proposed an observationally based measure µ (mu
Mu (letter)
Carlos Alberto Vives Restrepo is a Grammy Award and three-time Latin Grammy Award winning-Colombian singer, composer and actor.-Biography:...

), which he called the "planetary discriminant", to separate bodies orbiting stars into planets and non-planets. Per Soter, two bodies are defined to share an orbital zone if their orbits cross a common radial distance from the primary, and their non-resonant periods differ by less than an order of magnitude. The order-of-magnitude similarity in period requirement excludes comets from the calculation, but the combined mass of the comets turns out to be negligible compared to the other small Solar System bodies, so their inclusion would have little impact on the results. µ is then calculated by dividing the mass of the candidate body by the total mass of the other objects that share its orbital zone. It is a measure of the actual degree of cleanliness of the orbital zone. Soter proposed that if µ > 100, then the candidate body be regarded as a planet.

Here is a list of planets and dwarf planets ranked by Soter's planetary discriminant µ, in decreasing order. Note that for all eight planets defined by the IAU, µ is orders of magnitude greater than 100, while for all dwarf planets, µ is orders of magnitude less than 100. Also listed is the Stern–Levison parameter Λ; again, the planets are orders of magnitude greater than 1, and the dwarf planets are orders of magnitude less than 1. The scattering power relative to Earth (Λ/ΛE) is also shown, as is the distance where Λ = 1 (where the body would change from a planet to a dwarf planet).
Rank Name Soter's Planetary
discriminant µ
Stern–Levison
parameter Λ
Mass (kg) Type of object Λ/ΛE Λ = 1 distance (au
Astronomical unit
An astronomical unit is a unit of length equal to about or approximately the mean Earth–Sun distance....

)
1 Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 
3rd planet 2,870
2 Venus
Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

 
2nd planet 2,180
3 Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

 
5th planet 6,220,000
4 Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

 
6th planet 1,250,000
5 Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 
4th planet 146
6 Mercury
Mercury (planet)
Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

 
1st planet 60
7 Uranus
Uranus
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. It has the third-largest planetary radius and fourth-largest planetary mass in the Solar System. It is named after the ancient Greek deity of the sky Uranus , the father of Cronus and grandfather of Zeus...

 
7th planet 102,000
8 Neptune
Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named for the Roman god of the sea, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times...

 
8th planet 127,000
9 Ceres  1st dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

 
10 Eris
Eris (dwarf planet)
Eris, formal designation 136199 Eris, is the most massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the ninth most massive body known to orbit the Sun directly...

 
3rd dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

 
11 Pluto
Pluto
Pluto, formal designation 134340 Pluto, is the second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-most-massive body observed directly orbiting the Sun...

 
2nd dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

 
12 Makemake  4th dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

 
13 Haumea  5th dwarf planet
Dwarf planet
A dwarf planet, as defined by the International Astronomical Union , is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite...

 

Disagreement


Stern, currently leading the NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 New Horizons
New Horizons
New Horizons is a NASA robotic spacecraft mission currently en route to the dwarf planet Pluto. It is expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix, Hydra and S/2011 P 1. Its estimated arrival date at the Pluto-Charon system is July 14th, 2015...

mission to Pluto, disagrees with the reclassification of Pluto on the basis that—like Pluto—Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, Jupiter and Neptune have not cleared their orbital neighbourhoods either. Earth co-orbits with 10,000 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), and Jupiter has 100,000 Trojan asteroid
Trojan asteroid
The Jupiter Trojans, commonly called Trojans or Trojan asteroids, are a large group of objects that share the orbit of the planet Jupiter around the Sun. Relative to Jupiter, each Trojan librates around one of the planet's two Lagrangian points of stability, and , that respectively lie 60° ahead...

s in its orbital path. "If Neptune had cleared its zone, Pluto wouldn't be there," he now says.

However, in 2000 Stern himself wrote, "we define an überplanet as a planetary body in orbit about a star that is dynamically important enough to have cleared its neighboring planetesimals ..." and a few paragraphs later, "From a dynamical standpoint, our solar system clearly contains 8 überplanets"—including Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune. Most planetary scientists understand "clearing the neighborhood" to refer to an object being the dominant mass in its vicinity, for instance Earth being many times more massive than all of the NEAs combined, and Neptune "dwarfing" Pluto and the rest of the KBOs.

Stern and Levison's paper shows that it is possible to estimate whether an object is likely to dominate its neighborhood given only the object's mass and orbital period, known values even for extrasolar planets. In any case, the recent IAU definition specifically limits itself only to objects orbiting the Sun.

See also

  • List of Solar System objects
  • List of Solar System objects in hydrostatic equilibrium
  • List of Solar System objects by size
  • List of notable asteroids
  • Mesoplanet
    Mesoplanet
    Mesoplanet is a term coined by Isaac Asimov to refer to planetary bodies with sizes smaller than Mercury but larger than Ceres. Assuming "size" is defined by linear dimension , mesoplanets should be approximately 1,000 km to 5,000 km in diameter...


External links

  • Ottawa Citizen
    Ottawa Citizen
    The Ottawa Citizen is an English-language daily newspaper owned by Postmedia Network in Ottawa, Canada. According to the Canadian Newspaper Association, the paper had a 2008 weekly circulation of 900,197.- History :...

    : The case against Pluto (P. Surdas Mohit) Thursday, August 24, 2006