Burb Rocking
Monday, September 04, 2006
  Mercury is Next! Save Pluto!

(inset-pluto by luisfernandoaranguren)

Playing politics with planets? The planetary geologists were blindsided by the dynamicists.


Less talk, more blog.

The planetary name game Opinion (Daily Herald)

Astronomers plot to overturn planet definition by David Shiga (New Scientist)

Pluto is a Planet!

Pluto demotion draws protest (AP)


Pluto vote 'hijacked' in revolt by Paul Rincon (BBC)

25 August 2006

A fierce backlash has begun against the decision by astronomers to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.

And the chair of the committee set up to oversee agreement on a definition implied that the vote had effectively been "hijacked"....

Stern said like-minded astronomers had begun a petition to get Pluto reinstated. Car bumper stickers compelling motorists to "Honk if Pluto is still a planet" have gone on sale over the internet and e-mails circulating about the decision have been describing the IAU as the "Irrelevant Astronomical Union".

'Inconvenient arrangements'

Owen Gingerich chaired the IAU's planet definition committee and helped draft an initial proposal raising the number of planets from nine to 12.

The Harvard professor emeritus blamed the outcome in large part on a "revolt" by dynamicists - astronomers who study the motion and gravitational effects of celestial objects.

"In our initial proposal we took the definition of a planet that the planetary geologists would like. The dynamicists felt terribly insulted that we had not consulted with them to get their views. Somehow, there were enough of them to raise a big hue and cry..."

(in remembrance of pluto by sobriquet . piquet —>)

Being a long-time space freak, you're hoping I can boil this down a bit more? Then how about this? Pluto is sometimes scorned as an oversized comet (or, more recently, as a monster KBO (Kuiper Belt Object)). And what is Mercury but the largest of the nickel-iron asteroids? That's the spectrum bodies in our solar system follow, with quasi-planets at either end.

My solution?

If the concern was that too many newcomers would be allowed into the planet club, the way out was easy enough: a new definition with a grandfather clause. Pluto would therefore be "grandfathered in" by virtue of having been awarded planet status before the new definition took effect. All subsequent planet discoveries would take the new planet test on a pass/fail basis.

This would basically acknowledge the force of history, as well as the cultural signifigance of the appearance of the 9th planet three-quarters of a century ago. As well, neither Neptune nor Mercury would be threatened by any revised definitions, now or in the future. The current heirarchy of the solar system would be locked in place, with small chance of anyone new showing up to crash the party.

(Yes, Neptune's in trouble, too. According to the new definition, a planet is only a planet if it has swept all rivals out of its orbit. But Neptune shares its orbit with Pluto. What's bad for Pluto is bad for Neptune? Maybe.)

My poem?

Wait, you want a poem? Oh, all right:

Underworld underdog

Dark god reining in the three-headed dog,
some bad news: dynamicists don't like you.
No one was looking: ambush sprung in Prague.
Beware the ides of this year's IAU!
Just to say this, Disney's dwarfs learned Czech:
'Meet Pluto's man, grave-spinner Clyde Tombaugh.
Your loud-mouthed minority's vote is dreck!'
Stickers say, 'Pluto's a planet - honk now!'
And planetologists are biding their time
Till Rio's party in 2009...

(nuevo configuracion sistema solar by luisfernandoaranguren)

And, just in case you're wondering if I'm just making any of this stuff up, there's already a major movement afoot by astronomers to reinstate Pluto: Petition Protesting the IAU Planet Definition. Sponsored by the Planetary Science Institute, no less. So grab yourself some popcorn and peanuts. This is going to be a real dogfight!

(Sorry, just can't stop with the puns...)
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