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Geologists Angry About New 'Pluton' Definition 390

An anonymous reader writes "According to a story over at Nature, some geologists are ticked off at the International Astronomical Union for using the word 'pluton' to describe a round object orbiting the sun with a period more than 200 years. A pluton, it seems, is a common type of rock formation that exists in most Geology 101 curricula. IAU head Owen Gingerich is quoted as saying that he was only peripherally aware of the definition, and because it didn't show up on MS Word's spell check, he didn't think it was that important."
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Geologists Angry About New 'Pluton' Definition

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  • by snowgirl (978879) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:37PM (#15953105) Journal
    IAU head Owen Gingerich is quoted as saying that he was only peripherally aware of the definition, and because it didn't show up on MS Word's spell check, he didn't think it was that important.

    In other news, the US Congress voted not to move to Linux, after Senator Binghaman discovered that MS Word's spell checker doesn't recognize it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by adam (1231) *
      except that in a quick experiment, i noted that MS Word (Office 2004 trial, on my Macbook Pro) *DOES* recognize Linux, as well as "Slashdot,"

      I think that using MS Word is a pretty good way to check vocabulary that may be in the zeitgeist. Even abridged dictionaries are full of words that are virtually unused in our society... and from TFA, it appears their intention was to ensure whatever word they used didn't already have significant meaning in popular culture.

      The question they seem to failed to ex
      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:06PM (#15953220) Journal
        The question they seem to failed to examine, is whether or not a word is not significant enough in the collective consciousness of society [to be included in MS Word spell check] does that mean it is fair game for assignment of new meaning?
        The answer is "No, it is not fair game".

        MS Word's default dictionary is hunky dory for most people, BUT the second you want to start using technical terms, the default dictionary is worthless.

        Example: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HA010 483191033.aspx [microsoft.com]
        "If you find it frustrating that the default Microsoft Word dictionary doesn't recognize the medical terms you use every day, there's a simple way to make the spelling checker work for your specific needs. Just customize your Word dictionary so that the default dictionary points to Stedman's Medical Dictionary or another medical terms list that you want to use."

        Even abridged dictionaries are full of words that are virtually unused in our society
        And even un-abridged dictionaries will not include technical or specialized terminology that is limited to a single field. That's why you can buy subject specific dictionaries: legal, medical, niological, chemical, etc etc etc
      • by Nutria (679911) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @12:04AM (#15953411)
        and from TFA, it appears their intention was to ensure whatever word they used didn't already have significant meaning in popular culture.

        Angstrom, Joule, Candella.

        They don't have "significant meaning in popular culture" either, but you would not go around redefining those words, would you?
        • by Static11 (894657) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @01:15AM (#15953626)
          Angstrom, Joule, Candella.

          They don't have "significant meaning in popular culture" either, but you would not go around redefining those words, would you?


          Only in everyone's favourite 'most important' country, would Joule be classified as not having significant meaning in poular culture. Travel to the outside world, where people use decimal measurement systems, and you'll see kilojoules in the nutritional information of everything in your supermarket.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Nutria (679911)
            Travel to the outside world

            Why would I travel out of the greatest, best, most wonderful country ever?

            Well, ok, Prague makes the best beer, and Belgium is right up there. But other than that...

        • You mean? (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @01:50AM (#15953711)
          joule: (n) a gemstone, such as amber, from which energy can be generated

          candella: (n) a scented candle, usually used to illuminate bubble baths

          angstrom: (n) a digital write-once medium for storing memories of fear and anxiety
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Creepy (93888)
          There's a lot of bad blood between astronomers and geologists going back to the abbreviation AU - astronomers call it an "astronomical unit," while geologists call it gold (latin: aurum). Then there's using the greek alphabet to describe light phenomina instead of radioactive decay - that's got to rub geologists the wrong way.

          Astronomers also dis Disney by calling some stars "red dwarfs" - implying that they're rednecks or drunks, yellow dwarfs (commonly called yeller in the south) being cowards, and white
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by germanStefan (766513)
        I usually use google as a spell checker as if there are many websites with something, but it suggests an alternate spelling I may click that and see if the same pages come up, also because it will figure out things if it is in the wrong context. Ex. type in: "kaffee annan", and google will suggest koffee annan. Type in: "kaffee tasse", and it will suggest the german word kaffeetasse (german for coffee mug). It figured out what I was meaning, whereas MSword type spell checkers just look at each individual wo
      • see the usage of 'crack', 'cracking', 'cracker' versus 'hack', 'hacker' and 'hacking'. in popular culter 'hacker'=='cracker' and cracker is a racial slur. 'Hacking' is considered glamourous, while it means doing sloppy work in the correct subculture. These terms have been reassigned by the media, much to my chagrin.

        In this way I also seperate the real nerds from the 'wannabes'. A real nerd uses crack, cracking and cracker and hacking means slapping something together instead of really thinking and engine
    • I was going to post "cue the collective groans of 90% of slashdot readers."

      Looks like the groaning beat its cue.
    • by letxa2000 (215841) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:09PM (#15953227)
      It's silly anyway. If something else in Geology were to be called a Pluton I can understand why there could be confusion. But if a Geologist says, "Take a look at that pluton over there", there's a very low probability that people will think he's talking about an astronomical object with an orbital period of more than 200 years. Likewise, if an astronomer references a pluton, there's a small probability he's talking about a rock formation.


      So why in the world are geologists upset? Just been awhile since they had a rumble with astronomers, or...?

  • Done before... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fatbuddha (851420) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:40PM (#15953118)
    A word with more than one meaning? The horror!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by x2A (858210)
      They're just p***ed off because whilst they can share the name, they can't share the domain name!

  • 1st Time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Helios1182 (629010) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:40PM (#15953122)
    This is far from the first time that a term has been overloaded. It happens all the time across fields, sometimes even within (I'm looking at you computer science).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tempest69 (572798)
      Um yea, Watch a molecular biologist perk up when you talk about UDP, (critical for glycogen synthesis). Then a computer scientist perk up about UDP (critical for webcasting, and other non-guaranteed traffic). And then the poor bioinformaticist who looks up UDP, just to find the wrong article in a journal, and cringes a little about acronym overuse.

      Storm

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rubycodez (864176)
        that's nothing, watch a slashdot reader perk up when he hears of an Unprotected Double Penetration
  • Oh lordy (Score:5, Funny)

    by agent dero (680753) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:40PM (#15953123) Homepage
    There's nothing worse than when rock geeks, and rocks in space geeks get into argument over vocabulary. ;)
    • Re:Oh lordy (Score:5, Funny)

      by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:48PM (#15953359)
      "There's nothing worse than when rock geeks, and rocks in space geeks get into argument over vocabulary. ;)"

      See that lumpy formation on the back of yo mama's leg? It looks like a pluton!

      Take that back, mother fucker!
    • by Bastian (66383)
      What will be even worse is when the physicists and chemists gang up to pummel computer scientists for using 'atom' to describe a kind of data.

      Also coming up on pay-per-view, psychologists and meteorologists duke it out over the term 'depression' and disagreement between poets and parking enforcement officers over 'meter' finally boils over.
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:42PM (#15953128) Journal
    The numbers in defintions of words that have more than one meaning...

    1. n. some rock thingy that noone* cares about.
    2. n. some astromomical thingy that nooone* cares about.

    * by weight, not intellectual capacity.

  • by casehardened (700814) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:43PM (#15953134)
    Today, the UFC brings you: Scientist Cage Match! My money's on the geologists. Despite their tendencies towards excessive beer consumption, at least they run around outdoors occasionally.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LiquidCoooled (634315)
      The problem with this is that astrologists are campers.
      They obsessively watch their scopes for the perfect kill.
  • by Espectr0 (577637) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:44PM (#15953135) Journal
    Geologist goes postal against Ballmer, fights back, actually throwing his chair at him (oh the irony) for not including the world pluton in the ms word spellcheck.
    • Geologist goes postal against Ballmer, fights back, actually throwing his chair at him (oh the irony) for not including the world pluton in the ms word spellcheck.

      ITYM Plutony.

  • by Russ Steffen (263) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:44PM (#15953138) Homepage
    Plutrino
    Plutonite
    Mini-Pluto
    iPluto Nano
  • Context (Score:5, Insightful)

    by talkingpaperclip (952112) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:44PM (#15953139) Homepage
    Context should be sufficient to tell what kind of 'pluton' is being discussed. It's not like plutons [wikipedia.org] pluton [wikipedia.org] through the atmosphere and become plutons [wikipedia.org] all the time.

    Seriously though, the word 'nucleus' has several different definitions in different branches of science, and I've never had problems with it.
    • Re:Context (Score:4, Funny)

      by x2A (858210) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:10PM (#15953230)
      "Seriously though, the word 'nucleus' has several different definitions in different branches of science, and I've never had problems with it"

      Well I do because I don't know which one you've never had a problem with! *ARGH*

    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      The reason that geologist threw a fit was because he envisioned papers about "Plutons [geologic structures] on a Pluton [small object that takes over 200 yrs to orbit the sun]" or some other such nonsense.

      It would be less confusing if they called those small objects "planes". Seriously, "Plutons on a plane" would be less confusing than "Plutons on a Pluton".
      • It would be less confusing if they called those small objects "planes".

        Plane as in airplane/aircraft, plane as in supposedly infinite 2D structure, or is this something else?

        Given that many words have different definitions, I really don't see the problem. Chemists might see a metal as a shiny element with ductile properties when solid, astrophysicists might call any solid object metal. IIRC, physics and chemistry disagree on whether the charge of a standard electron is positive or negative, and what direc
        • Given that both uses are jargon specific to different and relatively unrelated fields, I really don't care.

          The problem is that geology and astronomy are in fact very much related. Ever heard of planetary geology? I'll note that there are plenty of planetary geologists who are faculty members in astronomy, not geology departments.

          Anyhow, the point is that it is easy to imageine how overloading "pluton" could result in a lot of unnecessary confusion in the planetary sciences, so it would make sense for th
      • I'm getting tired of these motherfucking plutons on a motherfucking plane!
  • Perhaps next time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by x3nos (773066) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:46PM (#15953145)

    because it didn't show up on MS Word's spell check, he didn't think it was that important.

    Well next time, maybe the IAU should check Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] just to be sure. There is some really good info there. . .

    Way to go Owen.

  • Pluton eh? Six letters long, good chance of annoying at least two groups now. Now I know what to call my next game [eveparadox.com]. ;)
  • Not a moot point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mattr (78516) <`mattr' `at' `telebody.com'> on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:48PM (#15953156) Homepage Journal
    Skipping for the moment implications of inadequacy on the part of both MS and this scientist, clearly there is a problem when people base their work on expectations of intellectual integrity on the part of corporate IT products like this, especially those not easily accessible by reviewers. There is a Japanese character dictionary built into Windows too but I have no idea how a reviewer could grade it against commonly used print versions.

    Besides, geology seems to be one of the most highly leveraged sciences in planetary studies, if you consider most of what the Mars robots were doing was geology. For a planetary scientists to miss this is bizarre.
    • Re:Not a moot point (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Richard Mills (17522) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @12:40AM (#15953524)
      Besides, geology seems to be one of the most highly leveraged sciences in planetary studies, if you consider most of what the Mars robots were doing was geology. For a planetary scientists to miss this is bizarre.

      You are entirely correct. How a group of planetary scientists missed this is pretty strange, given that many planetary scientists are geologists! Apparently no planetary geologists were invited to this party.
  • by Mostly a lurker (634878) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:50PM (#15953161)
    In future, when they need to check possible prior uses of a word, perhaps they could find someone who has access to the Internet and check the Wiki, answers.com, or even Google.
  • MS Word? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mr_Tulip (639140) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:51PM (#15953168) Homepage
    Since when is MS Word the definitive guide to the english language?

    They should have googled it [google.com].

    Sheesh, those astronomers sure are lacking in the geekiness department.

    • Since when is MS Word the definitive guide to the english language?

      When you're an arrogant academic? He got a nice bit of Humble Pie Smackdown, and I can't think of anyone more deserving at the moment. Not to mention, both groups and a lot of other scientists will learn lessons from this....

  • So... What is a Planet Again? [kuro5hin.org]

    i'm basically saying that as we discover more and more exotic extrasolar orbital arrangements out there, the meaning of "planet" will come under ever-increasing fluidity

    so basically i am saying:
    1. anything round with an atmosphere is a planet. in other words titan is a "planet of saturn"
    2. anything round without an atmosphere is a moon. in other words mercury is a "moon of the sun"
    3. a gas giant should come to mean something different than a planet... something more akin to a star, since gas giants really are nothing but stars not massive enough to start fusing. a little more mass and we'd be in a binary star system, with jupiter shining bright
    4. anything non-round=asteroid

    my basic point is that the "what it is made of" should come to mean something different than the "what it orbits", and the "what it is made of" should be more important in our nomenclature than the "what it orbits." is mercury more interesting than titan? no. so why is mercury amongst the pantheon of planets and titan relegated to lowly moon status along with captured asteroids and other forlorn rocks?

    titan certainly is more interesting to us than mercury, simply because it has an atmosphere. and our nomenclature should reflect that. why is something as complex and interesting as titan just a moon, like deimos and phobos, which aren't really "moon"s either, but just captured asteroids? and why is mercury a planet? it could never be as interesting as titan. having an atmosphere means something significant, MORE significant than orbital focus

    look: elephants eat plants. so do ants. is that a valid system for classifying elephants and ants together, and keeping elephants apart from lions? not at all. lions and elephants are mammals, ants are insects. elephants should be classed closer to lions than to ants, because the "what it eats" is LESS important than the "how it is designed" in zoology. and this makes obvious sense. why should planetary classification be any different?

    just like with planets and moons: the "what it is made of" is more interesting and important to us (titan is more important than mercury is to us) than the "what it orbits", mercury is just a moon. titan is a planet

    our nomenclature should focus on composition over orbital focus. and our current system of placing orbital focus over composition will be shown to be more and more broken as our catalogue of satellites grows and grows as we discover more and more exotic extrasolar arrangements
    • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:03PM (#15953211) Journal
      1. anything round with an atmosphere is a planet. in other words titan is a "planet of saturn"
      2. anything round without an atmosphere is a moon. in other words mercury is a "moon of the sun"


      Even our moon has an atmosphere. Is it really a planet?

      If you set an arbitrary "value" for minimum atmosphere, what do you do with planet/moons that fluctuate with their orbit? Do they change categories when they warm up and get more of an atmosphere, and then return to being a moon when they freeze again?
      • and in fact, pluto has a tenuous atmosphere as well, so pluto is still controversial

        i'm not saying that this classification system i'm talking about is absolute and noncontentious and without any fluidity or controversy

        NO system is

        i'm just saying that the trade off in arguments from "is pluto a planet because it is so puny?" to "does pluto have an atmosphere worthy of consideration?" is a valid trade off in arguments.

        that the atmosphere arugment is more highly contrained... not more arbitrary... not like we
    • look: elephants eat plants. so do ants. is that a valid system for classifying elephants and ants together, and keeping elephants apart from lions?

      Yes, in fact it's done all the time. There are many classification systems for most things, and you chose the one relevant to the phenomenon which you are interested in.

      KFG
      • of course there are many classification systems

        it is also true, in any field of study, that one classification system comes to rise above the other as the most common shorthand for the most useful measurement of interest

        this system comes to dominate, as well it should, as it is most useful to our minds

        it doesn't stop the other systems form being used, in certain more rare situations, but that one dominant system comes to be most useful for introducing students to a discipline, etc.

        let's say we find a new ex
    • i'm basically saying that as we discover more and more exotic extrasolar orbital arrangements out there, the meaning of "planet" will come under ever-increasing fluidity

      Which means the term "planet" has very little meaning and is realistically only useful as a means to determine research funding.
    • by x2A (858210)
      I agree with you, if I can change the definition of "agree" to mean "you can't change definitions of words just because you don't agree with what they should classify!".

      A planet's a planet's a planet, a round (which implies large enough to form rounded under its own gravitation pull) object orbiting a star. If you want some other way of classifying objects, make up new words (or annoy geologists by nicking more of theirs).

      If you start redefining words, you all of a sudden have to take the extra time to make
      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change [wikipedia.org]

        there is no magic lord of all language who decides what word means what. meanings drift all the time

        go back a century or two and i think you'll find the word "gay" (happy) meant something different

        that "imp" was a plant offshoot... then a child... then a little evil thing

        that "cannibal" used to mean a native of the caribbean

        how many more thousands of examples do you want?

        and so as we discover more extrasolar objects, we could start calling things "planets" that or
    • Not sure it needed verbatim cut & paste here, though. I shouldn't complain too much, having done the same thing a few times myself. As I posted there - and have posted here several times - I do not believe in external "symptomatic" definitions. Those identify the object by effects rather than causes, and by appearance rather than mechanics. I have offered here, there (and just about everywhere) a definition scheme which is extensible, flexible and structural, which allows you to categorize planets, star
      • but i'd like to throw a monkey wrench at your nascent definitions with these examples:

        How about a tertiary star system orbiting a common gravitational barycenter, each star with it's own planetary system... and one planet that, via natural harmonics between the three stars, switches orbital allegiance every now and then? Unlikely but possible. Well, what do we call such an object then with a nomenclature dependent first and foremost on what something orbits, rather than what it is made of?

        How about a trojan
    • I think we need to make a distinction between bodies within
      the star's termination shock and outside. Those outside are
      fundamentally different in that they start to feel the galactic
      plasma more and star's radiation less. This is especially true
      if we intend to eventually colonize things because we would want
      to classify them by how much solar energy they get and how
      consistent the cycles are. This also means that bodies which
      orbit the star are different from those bodies' satellites, since
      their weather patterns
      • i like it (Score:5, Interesting)

        by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @12:12AM (#15953440) Homepage Journal
        and even if we didn't use those definitions for what a "planet" was, it doesn't matter:

        because whatever word we agree that would be this earthlike range of parameters of size/ atmosphere/ etc... say this word was "fred", then this word would rapidly become the most interesting word in use when talking about extrasolar systems

        say we found 10 new systems

        and we classified each according to our current definitions: gas giants, planets, moons, etc. the first thing everyone would want to know is where the "fred"s were: the bodies most like earth. the gas giants, planets, moons: who cares

        "ok, this system has 20 planets, 3 gas giants, and 45 moons"

        "whatever, where are the freds?"

        "well, the freds, the most earthlike orbs, are: 4 orbitting the star, 2 orbitting the first gas giant, and one orbitting the third gas giant"

        "ok, that's what i'll be researching"

        the "fred"s are the most important things: the things that might harbor alien life, or be targets of our colonization.

        and so in the future, whether we use the word "planet" or some other word to describe the most earthlike worlds, whatever word that is used will come to have the most meaning to us, and all other classifications will fall into more esoteric and archaic meanings, so that in a future of many known extrasolar systems, our current defintion of planets and moons will be looked down as ancient and archaic and useless

        kind of like how modern chemists look at the quaint classifications of alchemists "earth/ air/ fire/ water", or how modern astronomers look at the whimsical classifications of astrologers ("libra", "virgo", "aries")

        so will future astronomers look down on our current understanding of planets and moons and its basically useless emphasis on "what it orbits" as being more important than "what it is made of"
      • by khallow (566160)

        I don't like it. An asteroid like Ceres potentially has as much living space as Earth currently does, because you can tunnel virtually the whole thing out. Things like atmosphere can be added. And being above a certain threshhold doesn't make it livable. After all, Jupiter isn't a great place to put a colony. There's no surface and the gravity is much too high.

        My take is that being massive enough that the object is spherical, and orbiting the Sun is a better definition.
    • Please...

      Titan certainly is more interesting to us than mercury

      Perhaps it's more interesting to you

      Messenger is well on its way to study Mercury.

      BepiColombo will hopefully be launched in the not-so-distant future

      It's clear that Mercury is indeed a very interesting place to go.
      Now I don't dispute that Titan is a wicked/awesome place to go, just don't pick a fight where none exists.

      There are a great many reasons why Mercury is a seriously cool object to study.

      What are the composition
      • the sahara desert is interesting, for a whole range of reasons and endeavours and scientific pursuits and knowledge classifications

        but i assert that the amazon is more interesting than the sahara

        simply because it is more complex (varieties of life/ water/ etc.)

        my point is that more complexity is directly proportional to our level of interest

        and titan is orders of magnitude more complex than mercury

        ANYTHING with an atmosphere becomes more complex than something without, because it introduces an entirely new
  • by Tycho (11893) on Monday August 21, 2006 @10:59PM (#15953196)
    I have a bachelor's degree in Geology and this never crossed my mind before, I'm sort of embarrased that this never never happened. Now that someone has mentioned that "pluton" refers to both an intrusive igneous body and a type of planet, I think that the IAU was pretty stupid. Then again IIRC, in Geology "pluton" may be deprecated because I don't recall too many of my professors using it. The perferred word, in Geology, may be "intrusion", but what do I know?
    • by macshit (157376)
      Now that someone has mentioned that "pluton" refers to both an intrusive igneous body and a type of planet, I think that the IAU was pretty stupid.

      Why? It's not like anybody's going to confuse the two meanings, even if the "old" meaning was commonly used among geologists.

      From reading the article, it sounds more like one geologist who's spent his career studying plutons (and apparently could use a wee bit more perspective) is upset, not the field as a whole.
    • by lxs (131946) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @03:31AM (#15953963)
      As a burglar, I'm furious of geology's use of the word "intrusion".

      For what it's worth, as a mathematician, I'm furious at the use of the word "matrix" by geologists, "integration" by sociologists, "differentiation" by biologists, the use of the word "domain" by web users, and the use of the verb "to commute" by ordinary people stuck in traffic.

      Then again, I'd better watch out for those geologists, they walk around with pointy hammers in their pocket.

       
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TobascoKid (82629)
        I think it goes deeper - I think geologists are pissed off a bit because they're the ones who study what planets really are (it's why these days, geology is often called Earth & Planetary Science), but they haven't been invited to participate in defining what a planet is. It's not just the reuse of a geology term, it's the fact that astronomers are stepping on geologist's toes.
  • by igny (716218)
    Actually, in Greek, Pluto is Plutonas, if anyone cares.
  • Ironically... (Score:4, Informative)

    by JHromadka (88188) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:12PM (#15953239) Homepage
    The built-in dictionary in Mac OS X would have saved him: :)

    pluton |plotän| noun Geology a body of intrusive igneous rock. ORIGIN 1930s: back-formation from plutonic .

  • by PaulBu (473180) on Monday August 21, 2006 @11:13PM (#15953241) Homepage
    "Pluton" IS Pluto, transliterated... Uran, Neptun, Pluton are three last planets in Russian, or whatever they are called now. I had to stop reading and give myself some time to parse (in lexical, not synctactic way! :-) ) the announcement to realize that what they are talking about is just a "pluto-ish" object!

    Paul B.

  • I've got a few:

    Morons

    Pylons

    Nylons

    Klingons

    No, not the planets - the scientists. Astro-types can be morons, geologists shall be klingons...

    I figure if we give them names they can waste their time arguing about that instead of winding the mainstream media up into a frenzy of "Pluto's not a planet" stories.

    Who's with me?
  • It doesn't spell check on my Mac, but if I right-click and do a "Look up in Dictionary", voila, there it is. Go figure.
  • a dictionary or wikipedia or even google?

    I want to know how so many idiots get out of bed each morning?

  • They also renamed Uranus to Urectum.
  • by Ranger (1783)
    What about calling it a Clydon or even a Tombaughn after the guy who discovered Pluto. Better yet. Since he was from Kansas. We could call them Kansons or Americons.
  • by east coast (590680) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @12:01AM (#15953395)
    I demand (DEMAND!) that everything that orbits the sun be called "natural space satellite" and that all other objects that do not orbit the sun be called a "space pebble" except for man made extra terrestrial matter that will be called "space junk" and that satellites of my newly termed "natural space satellite" be called a "remote natural space satellite" and that satellites of those satellites be called "remote natural space satellite subtype a [or b, c, d, e...]" and so on and so forth for satellites of satellites of satellites (and so on and so on...)

    Now as for light within in the the heliosphere but not within the atmosphere of a satellite it must be called "space light type [star, phosphorescent gasses, space junk emitted]".

    And the tails of comets must be re-termed as "debris of satellite [enter satellite name]" and that any solid particles put off in the tails of the comet over a half a gram must be termed "space pebble in the debris of satellite [enter satellite name]"

    This of course will lead to the renaming of "meteor showers" to "space pebble fallout to natural space satellite Earth".

    Furthermore we need to rename the "asteroid belt" to "natural space satellite collective between natural space satellite Mars and natural space satellite Jupiter". Objects within the "natural space satellite collective between natural space satellite Mars and natural space satellite Jupiter" that are not residence of "natural space satellite collective between natural space satellite Mars and natural space satellite Jupiter" for at least 300 years at a time must be rename "temporary natural space satellite not wholly belonging to the natural space satellite collective between natural space satellite Mars and natural space satellite Jupiter".

    And this is just the tip of the iceberg! I have a million ideas on how we can further fuck up the order of things by bickering and fighting over some random bullshit that isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference under the sun.

    Hold on! Damn it! A pebble is a rock formation! Jesus! My entire idea is for nothing! God damn those geologists!
  • A pluton is also... (Score:2, Informative)

    by lptport1 (640159)
    A French missile [wikipedia.org]
  • I've never seen such a fuss over a space rock that nobody has ever even seen up close. First millions of kids write letters to NASA to keep it classified as a planet. Then astronomers fight over goofy definitions that try to save planetude for the kids. Then geologists fuss about the naming used in the goofy workaround.

    I hope somebody nukes Pluto in the middle of the night[1] to end this. If the brats fight over the toy, you take the toy away. Maybe if somebody paints a big 666 on it, then nobody will want
    • by VENONA (902751) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @02:19AM (#15953797)
      I'd agree. The only objections I've see to terrestrial planets, gas giants, and Pluto as a Kuyper Belt Object was from a children's letter-writing campaign. We are way to fixated on our children when we change a workable scientific nomenclature so some random six year old, who won't remember a think about it at twenty, like as not, gets a smile.

      We're going to be reworking this system anyway in a few years, as more extrasolar planets are discovered. You already see references to 'hot Jupiters' and such in the popular and semitechnical press. We should have just demoted Pluto, lived with a few subspecies of asteroids, and waited 'till we had more knowledge of other systems.

      What we now have is just stupid. We're going to end up with a couple of hundred planets, of such diversity that the term will convey no information.

      The IAU is going to be hideously embarrassed about the whole sorry episode, at some point. They may as well get started now.
  • Everyone knows a "Pluton" is a unit of currency based on plutonium - it says so right here in my copy of Robert Heinlein's Gulf!
  • by sbaker (47485) * on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @12:51AM (#15953556) Homepage
    I don't see the need for picking a more or less random word. Pluto is still going to be described as a kind of planet. The term 'pluton' (presumably meaning something like "Pluto-like-planet") is not scientific - we should use a term that has meaning and not something that means "this is kinda sorta like that".

    Picking a term that's also used in geology was a terrible misstep - when geologists finally get out to these smaller planets, they are going to get horribly confused. Is the rock a Pluton - or is it FROM a Pluton - or is that a typo and it's actually from Pluto? Yuk, yuk, yuk! If you have to make up a word - especially a word that's still going to be used a thousand years from now - at least think through the consequences *carefully*.

    The term "Dwarf Planet" seems entirely suitable here. It indicates that it is a kind of planet (which is reasonable given that it's round and orbits a star) - and it tells you something useful about it (it's evidently smaller than you might expect a typical planet to be) - and it has strong similarities with "Dwarf Star" which is a nice thing. We could then apply a kind of uniform taxonomy to those kinds of things - yielding "Dwarf Moon" for those teeny-tiny (but round) moons out there. All nice and uniform, neat and scientific.

    If we got really elegant about this, we could talk about a "Dwarf X" (where X is a star, planet, moon or other body) as being an object that's in the lower tenth percentile of the size range for objects of class "X" (or twentieth percentile - or whatever makes that work). Terms like 'Red Giant' for stars and 'Gas Giant' for planets are already set up kinda like that. By implication then, our moon would be a Giant Moon or something like that since I guess it's the largest moon we know of right now.

    If the astronomers don't get this 100% right this time, they are only going to have to do it all over again in another 10 years. We're already in trouble over free-floating "planets" that don't orbit stars and things that are borderline between stars and planets (Brown Dwarf Stars for example). We're also in danger of finding tiny stars that orbit humungous stars such that their barycenter lies within the diameter of the bigger star - and we could end up having to call those things planets!

    We also could find moons that have their own moons - and 'double-moons' that co-orbit each other whilst together going around a common planet (actually - I think we already have some of those around Saturn).

  • by mkcmkc (197982) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @02:02AM (#15953751)
    So, if I understand this correctly, a whole gaggle of astronomers have spent months (at least) pondering what is essentially a religious question anyway--Is Pluto a planet?--a question that could have been resolved in either direction with no real effect--and they still managed to screw it up.

    Now that's talent!

  • by frdmfghtr (603968) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @03:19AM (#15953940)
    I think a very important point is being missed here...

    Owen Gingerich, an astronomer at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and chair of the IAU committee that created the definition, says that they were aware of its usage amongst geologists, but unaware of its importance to the field. "Since the term is not in the MS Word or the WordPerfect spell checkers, we thought it was not that common," Gingerich wrote in an e-mail to news@nature.com. The geologic definition of the word does appear in common dictionaries, including the Oxford English.


    Gingerich is head of the IAU. He's supposed to be pretty damned smart.

    He used a word processor SPELL CHECK dictionary as the authority to determine the existence of a scientific/technical term.

    A SPELL CHECK dictionary. Used as the authority to determine the exisatence of a scientific term.

    The head of the International Astronomic Union. Spell check dictionary. Existence of a scientific term.

    Is anybody home??

    He may as well have done no research into the background of the term. He would have looked less stupid that way. Sloppy and careless maybe, but not stupid.

    And how is it he got to this position and how long will he be allowed to remain? Maybe he was elected so he wouldn't hurt himself running with scissors.

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