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Head of New Horizons Pluto Mission Issues Challenge to Neil deGrasse Tyson to Debate Pluto Planet Status

Looks like we're dealing with a badass over here.

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Pluto isn’t a planet anymore (or really, it never was). While it’s still managed to get on with its day-to-day of being relatively small, orbiting the sun, and hanging out in the Kuiper Belt, some humans aren’t happy with the demotion. So, Alan Stern of New Horizons’s Pluto mission has risen as their champion to challenge dwarf planet status advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson to a debate.

Pluto was demoted from its planet status in 2006, because the International Astronomical Union (IAU) set a definition for planets in our solar system saying they must orbit the sun, must have reached hydrostatic equilibrium (basically become spherical) from their own gravity, and must clear the path of their own orbit. Unfortunately for Pluto, its mass is much smaller than the total mass in its orbital path, so it became a “dwarf planet.”

Not everyone agrees with the decision, and Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, wants a chance to defend Pluto’s status against noted Pluto demotion advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson. Pluto has already made its case to Tyson face-to-(sur)face, and Tyson already has one debate on the subject under his belt, so Stern has his work cut out for him.

Stern told NBC News, “I am challenging him to the equivalent of the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’ Before New Horizons gets to Pluto, I want him to accept the debate. … ‘Cosmos’ is over next week, so he’s got some time on his hands.” The New Horizons probe is on its way toward Pluto right now and will arrive in July next year, so there’s plenty of time for Tyson to respond to this spot-on boxing metaphor of a debate. (Though I’m not sure Stern and Tyson would agree over who represents which combatant in that metaphor.)

Stern doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the “dwarf planet” designation, but he thinks that all planets, dwarf or not, were created equal and should be treated as such. Will Tyson rise up to the challenge of his rival and give us another awesome space debate?


Only time will tell.

(via, image via NASA)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.