Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Just say no to Pluto

By Aussiegirl

At last I agree with the New York Times editorial board. Sadly, Pluto should be relegated to non-planet status - only an emotional attachment is keeping this from happening. Otherwise we are going to have to learn entire Homeric odes in order to remember the names of the hundreds of planets that will have to be added given this new definition. Somehow, political correctness has infected even the interplanetary spheres. Click here to read about the controversy surrounding the definition of a planet.

Dissing Pluto and the Other Plutons - New York Times

A panel appointed by the International Astronomical Union thinks it has come up with a dandy compromise to the years-long struggle over whether we should continue to count Pluto as a planet. The trouble is, the new definition of a planet will include an awful mélange of icy rocks found on the outer fringes of the solar system. It would be far better to expel Pluto from the planetary ranks altogether, leaving us to bask in the comfortable presence of the eight classical planets that were discovered before 1900 and have excited wonder ever since.

Pluto, discovered in 1930, never deserved to be called a planet. It is far smaller than first thought, smaller in fact than our own moon. Its orbit is more elliptical and tilted in a different plane than those of the other planets, and its icy, rocky body is more like a comet’s core. If Pluto were discovered today, it seems highly unlikely that anyone would consider it a planet. But Pluto has emotional partisans who resent anyone picking on the puniest planet, so efforts to demote it invariably meet resistance.

Now a panel of astronomers and historians has come up with a new definition of the word “planet” that will keep Pluto in the club. Under the new definition, a planet would be any celestial body that orbits around a star and is large enough for its own gravity to pull it into a spherical shape. That definition would produce an ugly porridge of 12 old and new planets, with dozens more on the way.

Ceres, heretofore considered the largest of the asteroids, would qualify. The panel suggests that people might want to call it a “dwarf planet,” raising the question of why bother to call it a planet at all.

Pluto would still count as a planet but would be shunted into a new category called “Plutons,” which would include any object that meets the definition and has an orbit beyond Neptune’s. Two other bodies already qualify as plutons, namely Charon, which had been considered a moon of Pluto, and a recently discovered ice ball somewhat bigger than Pluto. Many dozens of distant ice balls may ultimately qualify for planethood.

All this just to keep Pluto as a planet. Whatever merit the new definition may have scientifically, it is an abomination culturally. When the astronomical union votes on the matter next week, it ought to reject the new definition and summon the courage to scratch Pluto from the list of planets.


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