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Pluto is a planet, says Trump’s NASA chief, Jim Bridenstine

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NASA director Jim Bridenstine said that Pluto should be considered a planet, wading into a decades long debate over the status of the ninth rock from the Sun.

In remarks to reporters during a tour of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building at the University of Colorado Boulder, Bridenstine said he sided with scientists who believe Pluto is a planet.

“Just so you know, in my view Pluto is a planet,” he said. “You can write that the NASA administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.”

Despite being NASA chief, Bridenstine has no background in science. After his nomination to the role by President Trump in 2017, lawmakers voiced concern about his lack of experience.

While NASA administrators are usually appointed from within the ranks of the agency or have substantial military or scientific experience, Bridenstein is a former congressman from Oklahoma and Navy pilot who used to run the Air and Space museum in Tulsa.

Read more: An astronaut may have committed the first space crime while aboard the International Space Station

Previously, his comments questioning scientific consensus on climate change drew criticism, but he has since said he has changed his mind, and now accepts that climate change is largely driven by humans.

The scientific community is torn over whether or not Pluto is a planet

Four images from New Horizons were combined with color data from the spacecraft to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Scientists have long debated the status of Pluto, which was declared a planet after its discovery in 1930 by US scientist Clyde Tombaugh.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded Pluto’s status to that of dwarf planet, after other objects of a similar size were discovered in its vicinity.

Read more:‘We want our country to do it first’: A NASA executive says a US-China Mars mission is not in the cards

Bridenstine’s claims are likely to be met with support by some scientists within his agency. Alan Stern, the leader of NASA’s New Horizon’s Mission to research Pluto, has long been a staunch critic of it’s reclassification.

“My conclusion is that the IAU definition is not only unworkable and unteachable, but so scientifically flawed and internally contradictory that it cannot be strongly defended against claims of scientific sloppiness,” he wrote in September 2006.

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