It is the smallest among the small ones, but now Igea is a planet, a qualification not easy to conquer. Moreover it is not one of the now 4000 and more extrasolar planets, which revolve around stars other than our sun, a number that grows practically every day thanks to robotic telescopes orbiting around our planet, this new acquisition instead is just a stone’s throw away from us, just beyond Mars, half a billion kilometers from the Sun, only three times farther than the Earth. Nothing compared to the billions of billions that is the nearest star.
Who discovered Igea?
The discovery was announced just today by the European Southern Observatory, and it is the work of a large group of astronomers, the majority overwhelmingly French, who used the 4 European VLT telescopes in Chile, huge beasts with primary mirrors to 8 meters enclosed in forty meters high domes, in the Atacama desert in the Andes, one of the places in the world where the clouds never arrive and the air is more transparent.
More than a discovery, however, it is a field promotion: Igea, Hygeia in Greek, has long been known as an asteroid, from 1849, when it was discovered at the Naples Observatory in Italy: very dark, difficult to observe in detail, it is remained there until now with its name dedicated to the Greek Goddess of Health and the Bourbons.
The French team succeeded, with new instrumentation enslaved to VLT telescopes, to see it for the first time in great detail and was able to understand that it has a spherical shape and a decidedly planetary appearance.
Igea, therefore, satisfies almost all the conditions established for being defined planet, rules that have been dictated by the International Astronomical Union, delegated by the UN for this task, less useless than it may seem at first glance.
What Is Igea?
Igea revolves around the Sun, like Earth, Mars and the others, has a spherical shape, as scientists who have carried out these new researches have seen, and to be able to have this form must have a mass that, however small compared to the brothers greater, it allows its gravity to reach sphericity.
It is not a satellite of any main planet, although there are natural satellites like our Moon or Titan, Saturn’s satellite covered with methane and other hydrocarbons, much larger, from 3000 and over kilometers in diameter, while the small Igea has a diameter of only 430 kilometers.
He failed, however, a condition required to “clean up” debris around him, given that it is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where there are many hundreds of small and very small asteroids. But it could do it in the future, it is young in fact, less than 2 billion years old.
Computer simulations, inevitable, have shown that probably, given that Igea does not present signs of great impacts on the surface, the new small planet was formed by a much larger body reduced in crumbs by the impact with another asteroid large at least 150 kilometers in diameter, precisely 2 billion years ago.
The many splinters provoked in part would have remained such and in part, they would have regrouped forming Igea. Suggestive hypothesis and considered very plausible.
Igea and the Status of Planet: Another Pluto?
It is also very likely that this discovery will bring back to life the torment, which is so heartfelt to the US, on the theft of the title of “planet” to Pluto. In 2004, the International Astronomical Union had always redefined the rules to call a celestial body as planet, Pluto had passed to the lower class of “small” and the solar system was reduced from 9 to 8 planets.
Open up the sky: US consider it a planet of their own, since it was discovered 90 years ago by a good American, but with a notable stroke of luck and owes its name to a girl who proposed it, and consequently they did , in the last 15 years the devil at four, without the slightest reasoning on the fact that it is a question of nomenclature and nothing else.
Moreover, the decision had not been adopted out of pure wickedness towards US colleagues, but because in the meantime, with the tools of new technology that we possess, other worlds have been discovered, which are part of our solar system, also great as Pluto but more distant.
In short, we see a lot further and in the immediate future, in the next 10 years, we will find dozens if not hundreds. The poor students in the next decade would, therefore, be forced to memorize not 9 names of planets as happened to most of us, but a few hundred.
The technological revolutions, on the other hand, always change the cards on the table. Just think of Galileo Galilei, to stay in the field, who with a cardboard tube and two lenses of very bad glass, opened the roads of the universe that we know today or, to go to the opposite world, the invention of the microscope changed completely the approach to medicine.
Small or large, therefore, Pluto always remains a planet and even the newcomer promoted to the field aspires to this medal. It is, therefore, a nomenclature and perhaps US astronomers should be a little more romantic, like the Europeans, and re-read the balcony scene in Juliet and Romeo, when the beautiful and unforgettable young girl reminds her beloved, precariously clinging to her..
“What is a name? A rose retains its fragrance even if we call it by another name “(Act II, Scene II).
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