Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 16, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PLUTONS!....The world's astronomers have been unable for years to decide whether Pluto is really a planet or not. On the one hand, it's basically not a planet by all the normal criteria. On the other hand, they're afraid of being ripped to pieces by gangs of angry children if they stick to their guns and reclassify Pluto as a random iceball.

So, in a compromise worthy of the UN Security Council, a recently formed committee has proposed the creation of a new category of objects called "plutons." It's a floor wax and a dessert topping!

[Richard] Binzel and other committee members stressed that categorizing Pluto as a pluton was in no way meant to downgrade its longtime status as the ninth planet.

"We might be demoting it from the list of eight classical planets, but we're promoting it by making it the head of its own special class," said Owen Gingerich of Harvard University, who chaired the panel.

Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like something even a second grader wouldn't fall for? Even a dumb second grader? "No, you won't be going to regular third grade with the rest of your friends next year, Billy. You'll be going to second grade again. A special second grade!"

I just want to go on record as saying that this is one of the most dimwitted proposals I've heard in a long time. It's craven and calculated, it's going to confuse everyone, and it creates God knows how many new "planets." At least three including that lyrically named favorite of lovers everywhere, UB313 and maybe dozens depending on how many more big slushballs we discover in the future.

And what are they afraid of, anyway? The dinosaur folks managed to change the name of the brontosaurus to apatosaurus and lived to tell the tale. Surely astronomers can work up the courage to disappoint their nieces and nephews too?

UPDATE: Besides, doesn't "pluton" sound like a subatomic particle, not an astronomical body?

Kevin Drum 1:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (132)

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There's room for a few more honorablementionoids in the universe.

Posted by: Ross Best on August 16, 2006 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

Welcome to modern American education where consensus and tolerance beats fact.

Posted by: Kim Hanson on August 16, 2006 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

Those objects are Centaurs by darnit, and I'm sick of people trying to demote Pluto (the largest system of them) from a planet, or naming the Centaurs weird planet 10 names.

Posted by: Crissa on August 16, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

Changing the name of the brontosaurus had to be one of the stupidest things scientists have done. It's not like the Jesse Jackson of dinosaurs held a press conference and demanded the name be changed or anything semi-reasonable like that. Name-changing is just a way to make the general public lose the thread. It makes insiders feel smarter that they know the new improved name, but it makes everybody else get confused and lose interest.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 16, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

This strikes me as one of those "used to be considered a planet and remains so in popular discourse, but no longer is scientifically" moments.

It's technically not a planet. Always has been treated as if it were. Only matters to a select few, of which you are not a part, and you know the deal at this point.

By "you" I mean random person, not anyone specific.

Gee, telling the real truth would be so hard... we just can't handle it, apparently.

Why are so many people afraid of common sense and the fact that each and all of us recognize our own screw-ups big and small every single day of every single year? It's called being human, and communicating like a human.

I was wrong. Not proud of that, but now it's fixed, at least as far as I know, and it doesn't seem to have messed things up too terribly.

Apparently a rather noble come-down these days. Explains a lot, unfotunately. The better answer remians...I'm still correct, all evidence to the contrary, and vocabularic machinations aside.

Posted by: abjectfunk on August 16, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think this is just kowtowing. Scientists themselves aren't agreed on the semantics of the term 'planet', which is being strained anyway as we discover new oddball satellites around other stars.

Posted by: apantomimehorse on August 16, 2006 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/iau/lists/Centaurs.html

Centaurs by darnit.

Posted by: Crissa on August 16, 2006 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think this is just kowtowing. Scientists themselves aren't agreed on the semantics of the term 'planet', which is being strained anyway as we discover new oddball satellites around other stars.

Besides, semantics is not the exclusive domain of scientists, nor a matter subjectable to the scientific method (at least when you're prescribing rather than describing). This is not a blow against science by anti-science know-nothings.

Posted by: apantomimehorse on August 16, 2006 at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK

This is totally fucking mindboggling. What exactly are they concerned about? Do they really think that second-graders are going to be so upset about changes to the line-up of planets that they'll... what? Vote people out of office? What? I mean really, what the hell are second graders going to do to you? Why are you scared of them? Why are you even so deluded as to think that anyone of them really care?

It's not even like anything important rests on this. It's not like there is some planet-fund, and only planets get federal dollars or something. This entire debate is pointless. It's clearly not a planet, so just stop calling it one and everything will be fine and NO ONE WILL CARE.

Posted by: plunge on August 16, 2006 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

Great SNL line Kevin. Mm-mm, that's good bass!

Posted by: Pinson on August 16, 2006 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

Damn! Pluto was my son's favorite "planet." He's only going into first grade but still I suspect he'll sense shenanigans. Nonetheless, it seems the that tide is shifting such that eventually Pluto will be a planet no more - it will only end up taking about 25 years of facts vs. nostalgia debate.

Posted by: cthulhu on August 16, 2006 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

plunge, from Wikipedia:

"TNOs [trans-Neptunian Objects] are considered to be minor planets, so the question arose whether to consider Pluto to be one also.[citation needed] This planetary sciences debate landed in newspaper headlines, editorials, and on the Internet in the mid- to late-1990s. Thoughts that Pluto might be "demoted" to non-planet status created an emotional response in certain sectors of the public. Such news outlets as the BBC News Online, the Boston Globe, and USA Today all printed stories noting that the International Astronomical Union was considering dropping Pluto's planetary status.[citation needed] "Save Pluto" websites sprang up, and school children sent letters to astronomers and the IAU.[12]"

It regularly amazes me what does and doesn't get people all het up.

Posted by: cthulhu on August 16, 2006 at 2:21 AM | PERMALINK

Ya know, maybe they should have checked first to see if the name "pluton" was already used for something else. Like, say, an body of molten igneous material that solidifies before it makes it to the surface?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intrusion

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Posted by: Leszek Pawlowicz on August 16, 2006 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

A giant collection of molten rock rising through the crust to form the Sierras. A magma chamber.

Isn't it already being used?

Posted by: Bob G on August 16, 2006 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

Not all scientists are smart. Why don't they just call it a pseudo-planet since that's what it is?

Posted by: Fred F. on August 16, 2006 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

If they renamed brontosaurus, shouldn't the planetary scientists reconsider Uranus? I'm just sayin...

Posted by: Carl Manaster on August 16, 2006 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

You're all blissfully oblivious to the real problem here: astrology. If Pluto lost its status as a planet, oh my oh my, what waste it would lay to so much arcanity.

And you do know the enormous power astrolgers weild behind the veil, do you not?

Posted by: Fel on August 16, 2006 at 2:57 AM | PERMALINK

Weren't there riots in Europe at the introduction of the Gregorian calendar? Apparently the changeover involved renaming some days to bring everything into line and people were afraid that those days had been stolen from their lives and they wanted them back.

Completely OT, but wierdly not so, I suspect.

Posted by: floopmeister on August 16, 2006 at 3:09 AM | PERMALINK

"I just want to go on record as saying that this is one of the most dimwitted proposals I've heard in a long time."

Kevin, you're obviously joking, right? (If this is "one of the most dimwitted proposals," what do you call the invasion of Iraq? And where were you at the time?)

Are you venting your spleen at the scientists because they're a pretty safe target? Maybe it makes you feel like you have some backbone after bending over backward to appear "moderate" toward Bush the past few years.

I really haven't given this a lot of thought, but I find it fairly reasonable that the astronomers would like to reclassify the objects in the solar system: the eight classical planets and now plutons. With the prospect of new discoveries likely to happen, the ranks of the latter will probably grow in future years. Not everything fits into the cookie-cutter categories we have today (planets, asteroids), so what's the big deal?

One thing I like about this announcement is that it will create a lot more interest in space and our neighbors in the solar system. That really is a good thing.

Posted by: JJF on August 16, 2006 at 3:20 AM | PERMALINK

I would have gone more with Plutoid. Pluton definitely sounds like a particle and Plutid sounds like a biological condition or process (the body was warm and slightly plutid).

Posted by: Eric Paulsen on August 16, 2006 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: fdsf on August 16, 2006 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

"One of the most." It's possible for an idea to be smarter than the Iraq War without being a Nobel candidate. And while I agree that firming up the distinction between "planet" and "not quite a planet, maybe, we guess" is a good idea, saying that they're "making Pluto the head of its own special class" is incredibly stupid.

Posted by: Viserys on August 16, 2006 at 3:55 AM | PERMALINK

"Plutons" a problem? I read halfway through a blog post or comment before I realized that either I or the writer had confused neurons and neutrons.

Pharaonic monumnets, eidolons or ailerons?

Think of the possibilities of future Plutonic relationships.

Posted by: bad Jim on August 16, 2006 at 4:15 AM | PERMALINK

cthulhu, that's all well and good, but astronomy isn't a political organization. Random websites about saving Pluto don't get to vote astronomers out of office. These campaigns have no force whatsoever. What are people going to do, boycott encyclopedias and astronomy textbooks?

Posted by: plunge on August 16, 2006 at 4:18 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, we embrace diversity by welcoming Kuiper Belt objects. We have to bring Xena into the fold, but she probably isn't going to be the planet X we expected. Moreover, we can expect to find comparable candidates from XI to XV in the nearly immediate future.

The more planetoids the merrier.

Posted by: bad Jim on August 16, 2006 at 4:21 AM | PERMALINK

Pluton does sound like a sub-atomic particle. They should probably have gone with "plutoid" like asteroid, meteoroid, and planetoid. Oh hey, what about planetoid!? Not only is the name already taken, but it actually fits. Maybe they didn't need to "invent" a new category afterall.

But honestly, this is all symantics and purely academic. The term "planet" is strictly a matter of convenience and definition. This is in contrast to terms like "proton" or "neutron" where there are distinct definable properties distinguishing the two, or even terms for species which generally have recognized hallmarks for determination.

The issue is if they call Pluto a "planet" then our solar system has dozens, hundreds, thousands or more "planets". If they don't call it a planet, then the obvious question is where exactly is the line between "true" planets and others like Pluto, Zena, Ceres (the largest asteroid).

There may be a certain reasonableness to using our own planet as a basis for definition, but if so then one might argue that Jupiter and the other gas giants are more different than Earth than Pluto is. So maybe we should strike the gas giants from the list of planets too. Or maybe planets should include them all but simply sub-divide into sub-categories: gas giants, ferro-nickel (like the four inner planets and some of the asteroids), stoney (other non-ferrous asteroids), and icy (includes comets, Pluto, Zena).

But it's all silliness of no real consequence to the actual science --- and I say this as a former astronomer.

More important than reducing the number of planets, y'all know they removed a color from the rainbow? The mnemonic Roy G. Biv is no longer.

Posted by: Conjo on August 16, 2006 at 4:24 AM | PERMALINK

Probably what they are afraid of is that 10 years after they declare Pluto not to be a planet, they'll realize it really is one, for example based on much more data from planets around other stars.
If the problem is objections from schoolchildren, this would be a great opportunity to provide a lesson in how science moves forward by being willing to change when new information comes in.
Unlike let's day, the White House

Posted by: kevin on August 16, 2006 at 4:25 AM | PERMALINK

This debate -- whose endlessness is rivaled only by its sheer imbecility -- was the subject of my third piece for "SpaceDaily" back in 1999, and I still stick by my proposed solution then. Since any border between "planet" and "nonplanet" is purely arbitrary now that we're finding a steadly stream of intermediate-size objects in the Kuiper Belt (that whole new major division of the Solar System whose discovery in the 1990s was one of the most remarkable finds of modern astronomy), we should just set the official but arbitary dividing line (making it clear to everyone, especially kids, that it IS arbitrary) at a 2000-km diameter, which would (just barely) allow Pluto to keep its long-time historical membership in the Planet Club without letting in a lot of small and confusing new riffraff.

Instead, the IAU (while it does still call Pluto a planet) has decided to set the dividing line a lot smaller -- which, among other things, suddenly turns 620-mile-wide Ceres into a "planet" after 206 contented years in the "asteroid" category -- and, to confuse everyone still further, has apparently decided to rule that several Kuiper Belt objects LARGER than Ceres are nevertheless not "planets" because they're made mostly of ice rather than rock and are therefore not massive enough to "round" themselves gravitationally. Quite apart from the little fact that the definition of "rounded" is itself seriously ambiguous -- Saturn's 1000-mile-wide moon Iapetus varies from being round by about 50 miles; Neptune's second-biggest moon Proteus looks like a marshmallow; and the bizarre Kuiper Belt object 2003 EL61 is cigar-shaped, as wide as Pluto along its long axis but only half as wide on its other axes -- in a lot of cases we won't know for decades or even centuries how rock-rich and massive a lot of medium-sized Kuiper Belt objects really are, and thus we won't know whether they look "round" because they're massive enough for their gravity to mold them into a round shape, or just by accident. (See Dava Sobel's attempt to explain the decision at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/15/AR2006081501124.html , which just makes it worse.)

It's all enough to make one despair of the Enlightenment, and definitely of astronomers.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on August 16, 2006 at 4:29 AM | PERMALINK

I'm cool with calling the gas planets brown dwarfs, or at the least awarding Jupiter an honorary designation.

Stellar wannabes? Vast cold collations of gas?

Posted by: bad Jim on August 16, 2006 at 4:43 AM | PERMALINK

At the very least it's good news for Ceres, a much underappreciated goddess underrepresented by her virtually invisible designated planetesimal.

Posted by: bad Jim on August 16, 2006 at 4:52 AM | PERMALINK

Um, this might be a little premature. The IAU won't be making a final vote until August 24th. So write your astronomer! There's still time.

Posted by: modus potus on August 16, 2006 at 4:52 AM | PERMALINK

See also the Bad Astronomer, who seems more inclined to agree with Moomaw.

Which brings me, finally, to my big point. This is all incredibly silly. We’re not arguing science here. We’re arguing semantics. For years people have tried to make a rigid definition of planet, but it simply won’t work. No matter what parameter you include in the list, I can come up with an example that screws the definition up. I’ve shown that already, and I’m just warming up.

The problem here is simple, really: we’re trying to wrap a scientific definition around a culturally-defined word that has no strict definition. Doing this will only lead to trouble. Why? For one thing, it’s divisive and silly. How does a definition help us at all? And how does it make things less confusing than they already are? Charon is a planet? It’s smaller than our own Moon!

I'm copacetic with the concept of Selene's planethood. Titan, too. Bring 'em on!

Posted by: bad Jim on August 16, 2006 at 5:38 AM | PERMALINK

Welcome to the Bush era.

We don't admit mistakes.

Posted by: obscure on August 16, 2006 at 5:44 AM | PERMALINK

What's with Charon? Why should that be any kind of a planet at all, rather than a moon of Pluto?

Posted by: Alex R on August 16, 2006 at 5:57 AM | PERMALINK

If they reclassify Ceres, asteroid no. 1, as a planet, are they going to renumber all the other asteroids?

Posted by: Gunnar on August 16, 2006 at 5:58 AM | PERMALINK

Who cares what the hell we call them?!?!? Don't we have more serious matters to attend to RIGHT HERE ON EARTH?
Why all the fuss over a chunk of rock billions of miles away that in all probability no one alive today will ever set foot on?

Is it just me or does this smell like debate for the sake of distraction?

Posted by: KerouacZac on August 16, 2006 at 6:43 AM | PERMALINK

"This is not a blow against science by anti-science know-nothings."

True--it's a blow against science by scientists.

Posted by: BroD on August 16, 2006 at 7:06 AM | PERMALINK

The real question is: Are there any Plutons circling Uranus, looking for Klingons???

Posted by: Joe Bob Briggs on August 16, 2006 at 7:12 AM | PERMALINK

"Mmmm ... delicious!"

"And leaves no black heel marks!"

"Heheheheheheheheheh .... "

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on August 16, 2006 at 7:18 AM | PERMALINK

I think I like Plutoid better ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on August 16, 2006 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK

Me, I think we can keep Pluto in on the Grandfather Clause, and declare a Planet to be a body large enough that it has a spherical shape due to gravity, that orbits the Sun in the general plane of the solar system. While Pluto itself (nor any asteroids, nor any Kuiper belt objects) would qualify, let Pluto remain, rather than demote it.

Posted by: Paul on August 16, 2006 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

But think of the implications for the arts! My third-grader daughter was recently in a play called Star Search, a musical about the planets and a handful of big, important stars (the burning, hot kind). She was Uranus (and, yes, she was a bit disappointed with that particular casting decision, as no matter how you choose to pronounce it, it sounds kind of icky).

Anyway, think of how the role of Pluto could be made much more complex and interesting! Is he a planet? Is he a pluton? Did his parents really love him? Does he need to go to an analyst?

Posted by: Wonderin on August 16, 2006 at 7:25 AM | PERMALINK

Me, I think we can keep Pluto in on the Grandfather Clause, and declare a Planet to be a body large enough that it has a spherical shape due to gravity, that orbits the Sun in the general plane of the solar system. While Pluto itself (nor any asteroids, nor any Kuiper belt objects) would not qualify under this definition, let Pluto remain, rather than demote it.

Posted by: Paul on August 16, 2006 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

To all you amateur astronomers out there:

What about the plane of the ecliptic?

Seems like that's a hard dividing line between the eight classical planets we know and love dearly and the other merely Plutonic relationships out there.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on August 16, 2006 at 7:34 AM | PERMALINK

I say, when it comes time to give an official name to 2003 UB313, just pick "Pluto." And rename that other iceball "the Kupier belt object formerly known as Pluto." No fussing with mnemonic devices, no renumbering, no disappointed children.

Posted by: Barry on August 16, 2006 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Take a deep breath, Kevin! Who cares?

Posted by: Ace Franze on August 16, 2006 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, what color got removed from the rainbow?

Posted by: kgb on August 16, 2006 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who will stay up to two in the morning writing about planetoids and can work in a reference to a skit from the first year of Saturday Night Live deserves some sort of credit, but in fact the planet/pluton decisision makes a lot of sense. The eight "big" planets are all original descendents of the great gas ball that created the sun. Charon, the pluton to be between Mars and Jupiter, was probably part of another original planet that got ripped apart by the pull of Jupiter. (Our solar system: it's a jungle!) Pluto and the other outsiders, well, who knows where they came from! But they're here and we have to put up with them. But they aren't, you know, original, like we are. We're bigger, and we make the rules.

Posted by: Alan Vanneman on August 16, 2006 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

UB313?

Couldn't they at least call it UB40? Then we could call it the Red, Red, Wine Planet. Or maybe planet Bacchus, which would imply we had a revolving party planet. I'll bet astrologers would love it too.

How about naming one of them thar new ones (the 10th one) fabled Planet X?

Posted by: Ugly Moe on August 16, 2006 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that it fooled so many scientists for so long has already given it very special status that a curious, smart second grader could understand.

Posted by: NealB on August 16, 2006 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

They have proposed a similar new category for the not quite human- the Bushon.

Posted by: reason, t on August 16, 2006 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

Kinda sounds like a pluot, the tasty plum/apricot hybrid.

Posted by: Kuz on August 16, 2006 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Doesn't this tempest exist because of the discovery of "Zena" which is both larger and farther out than Pluto. As I recall a couple of other similar sized objects have since been discovered. Astronomers are horrified that there might be 50 "planets" in the solar system. Hence the need to demote Pluto.

Posted by: Ron Byers on August 16, 2006 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Planet Claire. Call it Planet Claire.

Posted by: Kate and Cindy on August 16, 2006 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

fel: You're all blissfully oblivious to the real problem here: astrology. If Pluto lost its status as a planet, oh my oh my, what waste it would lay to so much arcanity.

But they get a whole new category of astronomical objects to include, which fits with part of the basic astrological motif: when you can't make the cold reading work with the random stuff the sky gives you, add another layer of complexity.

Conjer: More important than reducing the number of planets, y'all know they removed a color from the rainbow?

Gasp! How did they do that? I'll bet it's done with mirrors.

Posted by: anandine on August 16, 2006 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

It's sounds like a marriage of convenience. Join together the facts with the ideals of our romantic past of how things used to be. Nobody is happy, but it is adequate for our needs. We can call it a Plutonic relationship, I guess.

Posted by: Jim in Arizona on August 16, 2006 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

I've always thought that we need a bright line between planets and asteroids. I can think of only one that's easy to determine on discovery.

1) The object must orbit the sun. Othewise, it is a moon (or a space station.)

2) Gravity must collapse the object into a spheriod.

This means Pluto qualifies -- but so does Ceres. I don't have that much of a problem with that, but it shows that it isn't the ideal line we apparently want -- one that say Pluto is a planet, but random TNOs and 1 Ceres are not.

We could set a mass line or a diameter line, but the problem is with the various TNOs we are finding at increasing distance, it's hard to tell what the exact mass and diameter is -- and it is probable that Sedena is larger and masses more than Pluto.

We can't use a moon test, Mercury and Venus would fail, lots of asteroids pass.

Limit on orbital eccentricity? Tough line to draw -- Mercury has an eccentrictiy of .206, Pluto, .249. So the obvious ".200" or ".250" don't work, and ".300" puts many of the TNOs into play -- the probably larger Sedena is out, at .855, but Orcus is in, at .226, and Quaoar is almost earthlike at .034

Better would be angle to the orbital plane of earth, but an angle that accepts Pluto is going to have a large range of possible objects (and include the largest asteroids.)

Historical isn't that good either -- 1 Ceres, 2 Pallas and 4 Vesta were considered planets when first discovered.

So roundness and orbital anchor is the only physical anchor I can find -- which keeps Pluto as a planet, but adds Ceres and a few new TNOs -- Sedena, Orca, etc.

The answer may be arbitrary.

1) Planets are Mercury sized or larger objects in orbit around the sun.

2) Pluto is a planet, for historical reasons.

That lets Pluto stay a planet, but keeps those lousy TNOs out.

Posted by: Erik V. Olson on August 16, 2006 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but the paleontologists live because everyone is ignoring them about brontosaurauses, anyway -- like reasonable people ignor the PC crowd who want to change the name Neanderthal to Neandertal. Changing a scientific name just is not kosher, and people who want to do that are heathens.

Posted by: Scorpio on August 16, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

I have a different similar question. What is a moon? the rings of Saturn are composed of dust particles. Could each little particle be considered a moon? If there is a continuous range of object sizes around the big planets, then the dividing line between dust and a moon is arbitrary, and maybe a moon is anything that can be discerned as an individual. Or maybe there's a bimodal distribution of sizes - lots of little things and some big things, with a whole range of sizes where there's nothing. If that's the case, it's clear what a moon is. Does anyone out there have any insights?

Posted by: Irwin on August 16, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't UB313 a VanHalen album?

Posted by: Doug on August 16, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

My, aren't all our panties in a twist this morning, just because of that nefarious IAU! I believe it was Clark Kerr who once said something like, "The reason that debates in academia are bitterly contested and vituperative is because the stakes are so low."

Calm down, people. I find the whole IAU discussion to be wonderful, because it highlights something very important to understand, but which is frequently overlooked: nature doesn't feel an obligation to adhere to our strict definitions and distinct categorizations. People often seem to labor under the concept that the things we give names to are what we say they are, precisely because we have christened them so. But the reality is that instead of clear delineation between planets and asteroids, there is a continuum of objects with varying sizes and shapes - nothing clear or clean about it. The same applies in biology with the things we call "species". You think the planet thing is confusing? Try keeping up with animal taxonomy.

This isn't to say that categorization is a waste of time - I don't believe that's the case at all. What it says is that knowledge is provisional, and that we should be free to discuss what we know, evaluate merits and demerits. That's exactly what I'm seeing here, which is why I'm not nearly as cynical as Kim Hanson, who for some reason equates this process with "American education". I wish American education was as spirited in its give and take as this one. I also wish our political leaders were as forthright in their discussions, and their thoughts and opinions as these scientists are - god forbid we actually have some transparency and that we admit some uncertainty in our lives.

The value here is in the meta-topic, and not the topic itself.

Posted by: Irony Man on August 16, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, all

Brontosaurus was not 'renamed'. Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were names given to 2 fossils back in the 1870s, and it turned out afterwards that they were found to be the same genus. Because the name Apatosaurus had been given FIRST, this name was retained for the genus (while Brontosaurus has been preserved in popular literature).

This isn't exactly hard to follow along with, either. I remember reading about this in my dinosaur books when I was about 7 or 8, and I didn't have much of a problem understanding it.

Posted by: MDP on August 16, 2006 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

And here I thought "Oh those wacky irrelevant scientists" was a genre reserved for the wingnuts.

Posted by: paul on August 16, 2006 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, my sincere compliments on the "floor wax / dessert topping" reference. Well done.

Posted by: exasperated on August 16, 2006 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Humans are fascinating.

Posted by: Spock on August 16, 2006 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

THEY CHANGED THE NAME OF THE BRONTOSAURUS?!!!!!!

Posted by: cailte on August 16, 2006 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I have been eating organic pluots this summer.

Posted by: Hostile on August 16, 2006 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine . . . ?

Posted by: bogey on August 16, 2006 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, by "UB313" you mean "Xena".

Posted by: jri on August 16, 2006 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

They could follow the lead of those luminaries, the Coca-Cola Company, and call their 12-planet concoction the "New Solar System", while calling the old 9-planet model the "Classic Solar System." Then popular culture would just ignore the newfangled one and go on happily using the "Classic" version.

Posted by: jimBOB on August 16, 2006 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

KerouacZac on August 16, 2006 at 6:43 AM: Is it just me or does this smell like debate for the sake of distraction?

Just be happy that Congress, with its sprited debates about urgent, America-threatening issues such as flag burning and steroid use in baseball, isn't getting involved.

Yet.

Posted by: grape_crush on August 16, 2006 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

This is one of the Silly Kevin posts.

MDP is right: "Brontosaurus was not 'renamed'. Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus were names given to 2 fossils back in the 1870s, and it turned out afterwards that they were found to be the same genus. Because the name Apatosaurus had been given FIRST, this name was retained for the genus (while Brontosaurus has been preserved in popular literature)."

Any parent of a young boy (and most parents of young girls) knows this. When I was growing up, there were only about 6 dinosaur species, including Brontosaurus, that you ever heard about. Now there are more than 6 relatives of Triceratops alone.

Talk to a 5 year old boy, Kevin. He will lay it out for you.

Posted by: Ottnott on August 16, 2006 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't a pluton a mass of hot rock oozing its way toward the surface, where it'll turn into granite and eventually make up the core of a mountain range, like the Sierra Nevada? (I'm not using Google to fact-check. It's just what popped into my mind).

Posted by: Dave on August 16, 2006 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Pluton is already a geological term.

The Pluto/Planet argument is probably the best example of asshattery in all of science.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on August 16, 2006 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

The Red Lectroids are from Planet 10. Not Planet 9. Therefore, Planet 9 is Pluto.

You can classify it all you want when you land troops on it, and conquer our base. Until then, your stupid "debate" is just a big academic circle-jerk of Eunochs.

End of story.

Monkey-bois.

Posted by: John Worfin on August 16, 2006 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

So what qualifies as a planet? The fact that it rotates around the sun and isn't the satellite of another planet doesn't qualify? It has to be made of something more than ice?

Sorry, I haven't studied this much at all since junior high. Didn't someone send a rocket to Pluto recently? Maybe that will settle it once and for all.

Posted by: Ringo on August 16, 2006 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Plutons? I prefer the more in-your-face term "plutes", as in, "Man, check out the plutes in THAT solar system."

Posted by: RWB on August 16, 2006 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, I'm glad to see political pundits should weigh in on this. I was getting tired of the astronomers being the only ones involved in their own field.

The fact is, the "official" definition of a planet is outdated and relatively meaningless, and should be revised. For example, the Earth does not orbit the Sun, it orbits the center of mass of the solar system, which is a point outside the sun.

Furthermore, some "planets" are chunks of rock, others are balls of sub-solar gas, and other potentially planet-worthy objects in the solar system, probably including Pluto, are chunks of ice. Do these distinctions mean nothing?

Perhaps astronomers should simply retire "planet" altogether as a scientific term and let the masses have their emotionally attached word.

Posted by: Adam on August 16, 2006 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

If they reclassify Ceres, asteroid no. 1, as a planet, are they going to renumber all the other asteroids?
Posted by: Gunnar on August 16, 2006 at 5:58 AM | PERMALINK

Please.

We're talking about astronomers here.

Not software engineers.

Posted by: John Worfin on August 16, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

The Pluto/Planet argument is probably the best example of asshattery in all of science.

Spoken like a true anti-idiotarian rottweiler. And to think, they're doing it all on OUR TAX DOLLARS!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Irony Man on August 16, 2006 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

why can't they just grandfather in Pluto as a planet?

Posted by: sc on August 16, 2006 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I missed it; did they happen to mention how this will affect the President's horoscope?

Posted by: bcinaz on August 16, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK
I just want to go on record as saying that this is one of the most dimwitted proposals I've heard in a long time. It's craven and calculated, it's going to confuse everyone, and it creates God knows how many new "planets."

Getting all bizarrely upset about this is ridiculous; the lines between different classes of balls of non-fusing matter in space are entirely arbitrary, creating a new class that incorporates some of two older classes isn't any worse than creating the old classes, and its not going to confuse anyone who cares (it might invalidate some old trivia questions, but so what?).

And if this is one of the most dimwitted proposals you've heard in a long time, you haven't been paying much attention to the world, or you have a very odd definition of a "long time", or a very generous definition of "one of".

Posted by: cmdicely on August 16, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Poor Pluto. Sort of reminiscent of "the artist formerly known as Prince."

Eventually, even he gave up the charade.

Posted by: coltergeist on August 16, 2006 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK
Pluton is already a geological term.

Geology is not astronomy.

Specialized terms get reused in different domains fairly frequently.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 16, 2006 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK
Welcome to modern American education where consensus and tolerance beats fact.

Definitions are always matters of consensus or authority, not questions of external, non-socially-derived, facts.

Posted by: cmdicely on August 16, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't know they'd changed the name of the brontosaurus! Is nothing sacred? What will I tell my children when they're loading their toy dinosaurs onto their toy Noah's Ark?

Posted by: Red on August 16, 2006 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, it worked for Prince!

Posted by: buck turgidson on August 16, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

George Bush should decide. He's the Decider in Chief. Scientific questions like these are too important for scientists to decide so politicians and pundits should make the decisions.

Posted by: Alf on August 16, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Plutos best source for the info on Led Grow Lights!

http://ledgrowlights.blogspot.com

Posted by: LED Grow Lights on August 16, 2006 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Just grandfather it in dear god. What part of THREE SETS OF THREE don't they understand?

Seriously though, the problem with space scientists (in the vernacular) is that they think the science involved in astronomy is so cool, that they don't need to PR it. This is dumb because the average person does not find it nearly as cool and things like three x three planets make it better.

Posted by: MNPundit on August 16, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, what an incredibly silly debate!

Just to add to the silliness, I suggest we call the Kuiper belt objects crutons.

And if there is a UB313, then does that mean there is an object called UB40?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on August 16, 2006 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Yikes! That should have been spelled "croutons".

Posted by: Yancey Ward on August 16, 2006 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

So is Yosemite's Half Dome now to be considered a planet as well as a pluton? I suppose it does indeed orbit the sun.

Posted by: The Bobs on August 16, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

I can live with "pluton" (though my nine year old son will probably object), I'm okay with apatosaurus, but can we please leave the poor starfish alone? I know they're not really fish, but changing the name to "sea stars" is just stupid.

Posted by: Chesire11 on August 16, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

They changed the name of the Brontosauras?

Posted by: Bolo on August 16, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Bolo: The story of how the official name of what is commonly called the Brontosaurus and is officially Apatosaurus is documented in one of the essays in the late Steven J Gould's "Bully for Brontosaurus"

Posted by: Paul on August 16, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, leave Prince alone! That was a fight between him and his record label! And if you want to see the republicans turn this into a "flag protection" or "marriage protection" issue, just try and demote the only planet ever discovered by the US.

Seriously, if you think this kind of stuff doesn't constantly happen throughout the history of science, pick up a copy of "A Short History of Nearly Everything," by Bill Bryson. It's a wonderful book and proves that this is just the latest in a long proud history of gaffes, blunders, and eventually, course-corrections.

Posted by: bobby on August 16, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

"If they renamed brontosaurus, shouldn't the planetary scientists reconsider Uranus? I'm just sayin..."

Not a chance! If they had renamed Uranus, then when my son was four, he wouldn't have been able to ask my wife, "Mommy is there a ring around Uranus?"

My wife didn't see the humor in it, but perhaps she was distracted by the tears of laughter streaming down my cheeks.

Posted by: Chesire11 on August 16, 2006 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

In the defense of the astronomers, I think they're simply trying to avoid confusion in the long run by agreeing once and for all what should be called a planet. This is somewhat irrelevant for our solar system, but now we've got telescopes doing planetary searches of nearby star systems. It can get pretty annoying if one person is writing papers referring to a borderline object as a 'planet' while another refers to it as an 'asteroid', and so on. Semantic quibbles are a waste of time, and it's probably good for them to just get it over with now.

For the record, as I understand it, our moon does not count as a planet because its mass is small enough compared to the Earth so that the center of gravity lies within the Earth. Pluto's largest moon, on the other hand, is comparable in size to Pluto and it is probably most accurate to say that they are orbiting each other - hence they both count.

Posted by: gjg on August 16, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Not to be confused with pluton, a term used by geologists referring to an igneous intrusion or a rock formed by mineral solution and replacement by circulating fluids.

Posted by: mark on August 16, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, I didn't even know that Pluto had a moon--is that the UB40 think?

I'm actually revelling in my ignorance of this issue, chanelling Peter Griffin.

Posted by: Ringo on August 16, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
Is this a parody? Aren't you like, um, overreacting just a tad? You're sounding kinda like some right-wing bloggers who take umbrage at stoopid shit.

Posted by: Bushtit on August 16, 2006 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe an opinion from an astronomer would be handy.
Let's start with a question that put this in perspective:

What is the difference between an island and a continent?

They're functionally the same, but there is an arbitrary size boundary that we've agreed upon. Greenland is an island; Australia is a continent.
I'd set the size boundary at Pluto (for historical reasons) and call anything larger a planet. This means Ceres isn't a planet (much smaller) and Charon is by definition a moon (a smaller object gravitationally bound to a larger one). Some of the KBOs could well be planets when we figure
out reliably how large they are.

If you're interested, here are how we define other things. Astronomers can agree on the difference between

1) a star (an object that is kept hot by nuclear reactions, or was kept hot before it exhausted its fuel)

2) A brown dwarf (a smaller object, between 15 and 85 Jupiter masses, that can ignite nuclear reactions but cannot sustain them). An alternate definition is anything formed by the same mechanism as the Sun, i.e. gravitational collapse of a gas cloud; this would permit smaller objects to be called brown dwarfs, down to a few Jupiter masses.

3) A planet (object formed by accretion of solids rather than a gravitational instability). Terrestrial planets form by accumulating rocky solids. Gas giants form where the temperatures are cold enough to permit ice to form, and they are massive enough to accrete gas once they've gotten large enough (10 Earth masses, give or take).

In the solar system today, we see

Small rocky objects in the inner solar system (asteroids)

Rocky terrestrial planets in the inner solar system, formed by accumulation of things like asteroids

Small icy object in the outer solar system (comets and Kuiper belt objects (KBOs), e.g. Pluto/most moons of the giant planets/Sedna etc)

Gas giants in the outer solar system

The distinction between rock and ice is crucial for understanding the formation of the solar system; the distinction between KBOs and planets is not.

Posted by: Marc on August 16, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Well, as someone who has for 20 years used variations on pluto (referring to the planet) as my various online handles, I admit to having a soft spot for it and sort of hoped it could remain a planet. Nevertheless, the gymnastics that astronomers seem to be going through in order to massage definitions so that pluto remains a planet but we don't end up w/ 80 of them seem ridiculous at best. Just find a definition such that the demarcation is fairly clear, and reclassify whatever needs to be reclassified! Or don't -- just accept the fact that nature will always come up with something that doesn't fit easily into our classifications, and that our divisions are arbitrary, so be arbitrary. But either way, get rid of this ridiculous name pluton.

And thanks Marc for a dose of sanity.

Posted by: ppluto on August 16, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

My Venerable Earth Mother Can Justify Setting Up New Planets, Can't Xu?

Posted by: Clifford on August 16, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Planet, schmanet, Janet. :)

They should have just said, "We're defining the planets of our Sun, as a term of art, to include only the eight planets known of a century ago. But colloquial use of a word can and often does differ from its term-of-art definition, and it won't bother us in the least if non-astronomers continue to regard Pluto as a planet."

Posted by: RT on August 16, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

"This is totally fucking mindboggling. What exactly are they concerned about?"

Generating a bunch of astronomy press coverage and articles about every planitarium in every local newspaper in the country during the prime summer 'take the kids to the planatarium' season?

Posted by: jefff on August 16, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

And wasn't Pluton a Roman god of money, or minerals, or something?

Posted by: cld on August 16, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

I want them to name a planet Bizarro and that's where the Republicans (and Al) will feel most at home.

Posted by: Michele on August 16, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

cld:

Hephasteus (sp?) / Pluto lived in Hades and was the Greco/Roman god of metallurgy, and by extention, extractive wealth.

It's why rule by the massively wealthy is called plutocracy.

Hephasteus was also lame and a helluva blacksmith as you might imagine -- and married to that hot babe Aphrodite (Venus) -- who cheated on him all the time with Ares (Mars), who was always down in their digs, bugging Hephasteus to hammer him up some new, improved weapon.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on August 16, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Let's keep it simple: Eliminate Pluto and make it eight.
9.5%"

And some fraction of those people thought they were voting for nuclear strikes on Pluto. To keep it simple, doncha know.

Posted by: DonBoy on August 16, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Send In The Plutons!

It's a great way to resolve this debate! Would that all debates were so easily resolved!

Posted by: Marc Valdez on August 16, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

In related news, Reuters reports that more high-school students can identify the three stooges than the proper nomenclature for Pluto. Why do astronomers hate America?

Posted by: buck turgidson on August 16, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see any problem with admitting that it was a mistake to classify Pluto as a planet. It made sense when it was the one exception in an otherwise relatively orderly category, but now that there are other exceptions, it seems better to exclude one than to include all the others.

And to correct an earlier post, Brontosaurus wasn't "renamed". It was realized that the species we had been calling Brontosaurus was the same one that we call Apatosaurus. Since the Apatosaurus name came first, the Brontosaurus name was dropped.

Posted by: sc on August 16, 2006 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

think of how the role of Pluto could be made much more complex and interesting! Is he a planet? Is he a pluton?

I think there's therapy for that, now. Plutons can be "cured" with faith and prayer, and that's a good thing, because we can't have plutons marrying plutons and planets marrying planets. That would be a threat to heteroplanetoidanal marriage!

But seriously... why do these planets hate America?

Posted by: mister pedantic on August 16, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

But, if they're defining a planet as something spherical which orbits a star and not another planet, why are they including Charon, a moon of Pluto?

Posted by: cld on August 16, 2006 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Now I get it,

Thanx to Wikipedia,


Under the latest proposal, which will be decided on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union may classify Charon as a pluton, officially making Charon a planet. Under this proposal, Charon would be considered a binary planet with Pluto since the two orbit each other around a center of mass that is outside either body.

Posted by: cld on August 16, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

It's much harder to take something away from people than to give them more. Taking away Pluto is much harder than adding a few more planets.

You've failed to talk about the criteria for a planet, which I find rather elegant --- a body orbiting a star that has a mass great enough to make it spherical.

This is a definite standard that should be able to be applied to bodies orbiting other stars in the future.

The plutons idea is less elegant, apparently based on a combination of a 200-year plus cycle around a star and ragged orbits and different composition. Discrepancies around other stars could cause this definition to need revision in the future. But not, probably for a very long time.

In the meantime, if we could start to focus more on subcategories of the bodies that are present in a solar system, terrestrial planets, gas giants, plutons --- this might help people to grasp a greater complexity about these things we learn in kindergarten.

How many people today think that planets like Jupiter have a hard surface similar to earth's?

How many really have any idea of the size scale of the different planets and the sun and the sun versus other suns. I just saw a beautiful web page on this yesterday, and I know I hadn't realized just how tiny the sun is, compared to stars like Aldebaran.

How many of us really learned about the asteroid belt between mars and jupiter and the Quiyper belt with pluto?

A little complexity will be good for us.

Posted by: catherineD on August 16, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

What? They changed Brontosaurus??

Posted by: terry in AZ on August 16, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Under the latest proposal, which will be decided on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union may classify Charon as a pluton, officially making Charon a planet. Under this proposal, Charon would be considered a binary planet with Pluto since the two orbit each other around a center of mass that is outside either body.

Yeah, but thx to Jupiter, the center of mass of the Solar system is outside the body of the sun. Guess that means that Jupiter is a mini-brown dwarf and that we really live in a binary star system....

Posted by: Disputo on August 16, 2006 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

And if you saw Titan orbiting a star you wouldn't think twice about calling it a planet.

Posted by: cld on August 16, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

I still think that UB313 and its moon should be "Xena and Gabrielle" as inititally nicknamed.

Posted by: John Steven on August 16, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be fair to Goofy....shall we call him Goofton

Posted by: mr nobody on August 16, 2006 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be fair to Goofy....shall we call him Goofton

Posted by: mr nobody on August 16, 2006 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

An amusing post, but it certainly reeks of no-nothingism.

First of all, under the proposed definition, plutons ARE planets. They are a type of planet, just like "gas giant." But when I spoke with Binzel yesterday, he stressed that they are not "second-class" bodies. He should know. He's on the committee which drafted the new definition.

He also stressed the scientific nature of the definition - a body, in orbit around a star, of sufficient mass that it naturally coalesces into a sphere.

The lower size limit will depend on several factors.

The advantage of this definition, Binzel stressed, is that it is scientifically based and not arbitrary.

And, OK, it appeases school kids and folks like me, who couldn't say MercuryVenusEarthMarsJupiterSaturnUranusNeptune and then stop.

And yes, there are, under this proposed definition, 12 planets now known, and there will probably be many more. So what.

There are a lot more sub-atomic particles known now than when I went to school. I can learn to live with quarks and muons. I can, likewise, learn to live with Ceres, Charon and 2003 UB313 ("Xena" to her friends).

One very interesting sidelight is that Charon has graduated from a moon of Pluto to being a double planet with Pluto, just like a double star.

Anyway, the proposed definition isn't final, and will be voted on by the IAU next week. Its passage not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

Posted by: Paul on August 16, 2006 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

One curious effect of the new definition would be the destiny of the Earth/Moon system as binary planets (though this might require their survival of the Sun's evolution through the red giant phase). In a few billion years, the Moon will have slipped far enough from the Earth for their gravitational center to lie beyond the Earth's surface. The Moon would then become a planet.

I just can't wait for this to happen.

Posted by: modus potus on August 16, 2006 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

One very interesting sidelight is that Charon has graduated from a moon of Pluto to being a double planet with Pluto, just like a double star.

Yeah -- that was a case that I missed, since you then get into the argument of which is the moon, which is the planet.

Another argument for Charon's promotion is tidal locks. All of the large close moons are tidally locked to thier planets -- except in the Pluto/Charon system, where they are both tidally locked to the other, with Nyx and Hydra orbiting around the pair. So, given the barycenter above the surface, the dual tidal lock, and the presence of moons orbiting the pair, I have no problem with promoting Charon to the level of planet.

Of course, the current nomenclature for the Pluto system needs to change. If Charon is now a planet in a binary system, it shouldn't be listed as Pluto I (Charon) -- unless we start also talking about Charon I (Pluto)

Plutons!

If you hate that, you're really going to love Cubewanos and Twotinos.


Posted by: Erik V. Olson on August 17, 2006 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

Just make an exception for pluto dammit. Our solar system is special cause we're in it if for no other reason. Keep a def. that denies Pluto planetary status but say "becuse of pluto's long service as a planet, it will continue to be called as such and that's the only reason why. Pluto = planet, but any other bodies same as pluto are not."

Posted by: MNpundit on August 17, 2006 at 1:28 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: dd on August 17, 2006 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: dd on August 17, 2006 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

FINALLY!!! Nothing against Pluto "the largest and grandest of its kind", but it IS NOT A PLANET!! As a middle school Astronomy teacher, I teach my students this based on the obvious facts:

1. It is made of ice and dirt. It is indeed a dirty snowball; as are all comets. If Pluto or any other pluton came close enough to the Sun it would get a tail, and begin to melt, as any other good comet would do.

2. It has an extremely irregular orbit.
a. It is EXTREMELY elliptical. So elliptical that it is actually closer to the Sun than Neptune for 20 years every orbit. (elliptical is more like an oval path more than a round path.)
b. It's path around the sun on the "planetary plane" (relatively in line with the Sun's equator) is tilted 17.5 degrees off from all the rest of the planets. This is consistent with the irratic orbits of comets.

3. Around the turn of the last century, astronomers were finding new "planets" between Mars and Jupiter. The big ones got names like Vesta and Ida. It became clear at some point that they were not planets but large rocks. Someone proposed we call them Asteroids. No one questions that today, but it may have made a child sad that "Planet Vesta" was demoted.

Just as a region where Asteroids are common was found between Mars and Jupiter, so now have we found a region where comet like bodies are found. It is called the Kuiper Belt. Just like Asteroids, some stay nicely on their orbits, and some fly a little to close to planets.

I am so glad that the education of our children is finally going to be consistent with scientific fact. As we learn more, the facts WILL change. Holding to old knowledge despite evidence to the contrary is as stupid as Galileo being put on house arrest because he dared to offer evidence that the Sun is at the center of our solar system!

So what if the 2nd graders cry!! They WILL learn what we teach them. Having the courage to say that we were wrong but we care for them to have the best education possible is our DUTY to the next generation!

I will still hold Pluto with honorable regard as the largest non-melting comet in the Kuiper Belt.

Posted by: Angel Ireys on August 17, 2006 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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