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Pluto Decision Meets with Frustration 464

Posted by Zonk
from the tiny-grey-different dept.
fuzzybunny writes "The BBC reports that the IAU's controversial Prague vote on demoting Pluto from planet status was irregular. 'There were 2,700 astronomers in Prague during that 10-day period. But only 10% of them voted this afternoon.'" On a less serious note, lx writes "Nonplussed by Pluto's recent downgrade from Planet Status, Fox News's own John Gibson does an incredible Stephen Colbert impersonation to correct the 'revisionist history' of the IAU's decision. Exemplifying 'truthiness,' from the article: 'Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?' "
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Pluto Decision Meets with Frustration

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  • by Snarfangel (203258) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:33PM (#15982326) Homepage
    He must have a hard time when we elect a new President.
    • by jdray (645332) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:51PM (#15982453) Homepage Journal
      The only thing "incredible" about that "Stephen Colbert impersonation" is how bad it was.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by saskboy (600063)
        It's bad because there's no way to tell if he's pulling our leg or not. Based on his past performances, I'd guess he's being serious and just mocking Colbert. At least with Colbert there's a 99.9999% chance that he's being sarcastic.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by RonnyJ (651856)
        Bad impersonation? Whilst not being an 'impersonation' as such (unfortunately it's real enough), the John Gibsn article certainly displays characteristics that Colbert's character often satirically displays, such as the following:

        Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?

        Actually I don't know why Pluto got itself unmade as a planet. I didn't even read the rest of the story, frankly.

        I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Stephen Colbert quoted this articl

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TubeSteak (669689)
          "It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts"

          John Gibson is just pissed off that someones with no accountability to the public decided to redefine 'the facts'.

          The only thing that has changed about Pluto is its classification, 'the facts' are still the same.

          You'd think someone at Fox News would know that defining 'the facts' is more important than 'the facts'.
    • by IdahoEv (195056) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:51PM (#15982456) Homepage
      'Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?' "

      Oh yes dear me, because information never changes and people should not EVAR be required to use their brains after their youthful indoctrination.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by PureCreditor (300490)
        >
        >Oh yes dear me, because information never changes and people should not EVAR be required to >use their brains after their youthful indoctrination.

        isn't that what religion is all about - that the "almighty" is absolute and no debate is allowed ?

        thank goodness i dont belong to brain-washing propaganda-spewing groups, frequently known as "bible study"
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cptgrudge (177113)

          isn't that what religion is all about - that the "almighty" is absolute and no debate is allowed ?

          On the contrary, I'm pretty sure that religion allows debate. Granted, there are tenets in a given religion which are to be adhered to, but people are allowed to ask questions. The exact "rules" as it is seem to be very open to debate and actually rather vague in some cases.

          Look at how many different sects there are in all religions. People in the organizational structure are always arguing and debatin

      • Much as I dislike Fox, the guy does have a point - the definition of 'planet' has absolutely no use whatsoever in science. If we are modelling the solar system, we add in objects of large mass, whether they are planets, moons, or asteroids, or whatever, depending on how much sensitivity is required. Stopping Pluto from being a planet makes no difference. Sure, it makes 'planet' more consistent. But no one in the science world truly cares. The facts of the world here in fact have not changed. Only nomenclatu
        • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash.p10link@net> on Friday August 25, 2006 @10:27PM (#15983587) Homepage
          The facts of the world here in fact have not changed. Only nomenclature has.
          well what has actually happened is that nomenclature has caught up with the facts. The new(ish) fact is that there is a big belt of pluto like objects in similar orbits to pluto. The final straw came when it was discovered that pluto wasn't even the biggest in that belt.

          It's also useful in education, because we ask our kids to learn the names of the planets, not every body that orbits the sun. There is really very little useful value in writing new textbooks here.
          well you could say there is very little value in teaching our kids the makeup of the solar system at all. After all its not as though any significant number of people leave earth and the only bodies with significant impact on everyday life are the sun and moon.

          what we have really discovered here is that pluto was not a one of a kind in a pretty unique orbit but part of a belt of very similar lumps of rock. School textbooks talk about the asteroid belt but not ceres in particular. Similarly they should talk about the kuiper belt but not pluto in particular.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by CarpetShark (865376)
        Oh yes dear me, because information never changes and people should not EVAR be required to use their brains after their youthful indoctrination.


        And certainly not during ;)
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:55PM (#15982477)
      > He must have a hard time when we elect a new President.

      Pluto downgraded. President still fucking Goofy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Doc Ruby (173196)
      You have stumbled on FoxNews' plans for November 2008. Bush Forever!
    • Alright here it is: we build a big "laser" and blast the planet/pluton/dwarf to smithereens. No Pluto = no controversy. All can, and will, be happy then. We can even get it a memorial plaque. It could say something like this:

      In memory of Pluto, 1930-2006
      Beloved 9th planet of our solar system, dwarf planet, and now intercosmic dust, we will remember you...
  • ...wait... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:34PM (#15982333)
    So wait.. let me get this straight. Fox News is trying to copy a show that is a direct parody of the Fox News network? There's got to be some irony in there somewhere.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ackthpt (218170) *

      So wait.. let me get this straight. Fox News is trying to copy a show that is a direct parody of the Fox News network? There's got to be some irony in there somewhere.

      There's probably a patent being violated somewhere...

      summon the army o' lawyers!

    • oh crap, they created a perfect paradox. There goes the universe.
    • by yali (209015) on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:03PM (#15982532)

      Actually I don't know why Pluto got itself unmade as a planet. I didn't even read the rest of the story, frankly. The headline was all I needed...

      Wait, I'm confused. Is this guy copying Colbert or slashdot?

  • In Other News... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) *

    After the ambush by the Dwarf Planet camp, on the last day, the IAU appears ready to fragment into smaller sub-unions, or dwarf unions.

    Meanwhile, astrologers going out of their minds over the contentious issue of what constitutes a planet, how many of them there are and how it will impact births, weddings and divining portents, have finally had enough. This evening Seoul, Mumbai and San Francisco are in flames as astrologers and their clients rampage.

    today's lesson: if you don't like the result of t

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And what's this 472 of 2,700 being 10% stuff?


      They are astronomers. Any two numbers within an order of magnitude are equal (on an astronomical scale). Thus 472 = 270 = 2,700/10 ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RonnyJ (651856)
      And what's this 472 of 2,700 being 10% stuff?

      I don't get this either - that's from a quote from a Harvard professor who drafted the proposal to increase the number of planets. From somebody from such a background, I'd hope for more accuracy - even if he'd doubled that figure, it'd have been closer (since the actual figure is ~15.7%).

      It's also interesting that, out of the two quotes in the article against this decision, one is from somebody leading a mission to Pluto, the other is from somebody who helped

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Jugalator (259273)
        I don't get this either - that's from a quote from a Harvard professor who drafted the proposal to increase the number of planets. From somebody from such a background, I'd hope for more accuracy - even if he'd doubled that figure, it'd have been closer (since the actual figure is ~15.7%).

        I guess he's using the definition of "percent" that ended as a draft proposal, because it was "better". :-p
  • Pluto (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WizADSL (839896) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:35PM (#15982337)
    Why are people so frustrated with this? I typically resist change, but I'm ok with this. If the definition of planet has been refined (that's my understanding) and pluto no longer fits the criteria, then this is fine.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It MAY have something to do with how that decision was made. 424 delegates, out of an expected number of 2600, (sorry, haven't found any number regarding actual anttendées) made that decision. That's 16% of the nominal number of people who had a say in it.

      A whopping majority, don't you think? If it had been in an American election that is - which it BTW wasn't, for you who haven't rtfn. ;-)
    • Re:Pluto (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DrVomact (726065) on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:33PM (#15982688) Journal

      Why? Well, first of all it's a lot of fun to argue about stuff like this--and I never could resist a good argument. It's too bad, though, that the astronomers turned this question into a pissing contest--shows they don't know how to have a proper argument. A vote, for cryin' out loud! Now if you want to see the fur fly with panache, call in the philosophers.

      Seriously, there are some interesting astronomical questions that are brought up by this "is Pluto a planet?" debate. When Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, astronomers were expecting to find another planet, because there were some irregularities in the motions of the known planets that could only be explained by more mass out beyond Neptune. So when Tombaugh spotted Pluto, everyone shouted "hurray", the problem was solved, and we had nine planets. Only it wasn't quite solved--Pluto didn't have enough mass to really account for all the observed perturbations. Well, at least that's what I remember reading about Pluto...feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

      Eventually, I think astronomers--and normal human beings--will come to a consensus, and I believe that consensus will indeed confirm Pluto's debasement. Like the guy in one of the articles said, Pluto just isn't that big, so if it qualifies for planet-hood, then a lot of other rocks do too. Clearly, that would get too confusing--it was bad enough just having to remember nine planets...think of the children!

      One thing that makes this such a productive argument is that it forces us to acknowledge that the solar system is a more complicated--and vastly more interesting--place than we thought. I think that's a good thing...even if it means the last true thing I learned in school has just gone down the tubes.

      I'll tell you what, though--while we're cleaning up astronomical nomenclature, let's do something about The Unmentionable Planet--you know the one just this side of Neptune, which was discovered to have rings around it. Ever since that joke went around, no one has been able to say--or even think--the name without dissolving into a fit of hysterical laughter. My personal favorite solution is to Greek-ify the spelling and pronunciation a bit to render it harmless: maybe "Ouranos".

    • by mrbooze (49713)
      Indeed. How about all the children who are inexplicably attached to having Pluto be called a planet grow the fuck up and stop crying about this poor frozen Kuiper Belt Object? It's depressing to see presumably adult astronomers acting like young girls who have had their pony taken away.

      Jesus, did people in the 1850s cry this much when Ceres was downgraded?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      I agree, and Pluto was always controversially labelled "planet" in the science communtiy.

      It feels almost like they're finally fixing a mistake made 70 years ago.

      But since people more often than not resist change and there are so many different opinions on this, this is an impossible matter to define (and I believe we need stricter definitions with the late Trans-Neptunian Object discoveries) without upsetting groups of people. Bear in mind that some complaining about this may be people that would rather hav
    • Re:Pluto (Score:4, Funny)

      by treeves (963993) on Friday August 25, 2006 @07:22PM (#15982938) Homepage Journal
      and look at the positive side of it: when we get old we can say things like, "you kids today, you don't even remember when Pluto was a planet!"
  • How about this? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dtfinch (661405) * on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:36PM (#15982343) Journal
    We keep the new definitions, but still call Pluto a planet, just as an honorary title.
    • by User 956 (568564) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:38PM (#15982361) Homepage
      We keep the new definitions, but still call Pluto a planet, just as an honorary title.

      Much like how the United States still refers to Canada as a soveriegn nation, instead of a 51st state.
    • by Surt (22457)
      Indeed, or the rather obvious alternative that no one ever seems to bring up:

      Define a planet as 'one of the nine classical planets, or any body meeting the following definition' ....

      Problem solved already.
    • by s20451 (410424) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:55PM (#15982480) Journal
      To: Pluto "luto@planets.org"
      From: Punctual D. Industrious "fastdegrees@spam.net"
      Subject: PLANETARY STATUS FAST based on your LIFE EXPERIENCE

      Are you being held back because you don't have STATUS? Is NASA ignoring you? Not getting name recognition you deserve from grade schoolers?

      You may already qualify for PLANETARY STATUS based on your LIFE EXPERIENCE. Prestigious non-accredited astronomy associations want to give you the life you deserve.

      Gas Giant or Terrestrial Body status available. Acceptance guaranteed. No exams or essays. Fast delivery of official certificate worldwide.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)
      Look, this is about *facts*, and it's a fact that Pluto is quite clearly not a member of the class of objects occupied by the other 8 planets. The fact is that our previous classification was wrong, and that it should now be changed to reflect our new understanding of the universe. This is the way science works, and ridiculous publicity stunts like what you suggest do nothing but compromise scientific objectivity, lowering it to simple public opinion.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by KiloByte (825081)
      Then why not Ceres and co?

      They were called planets for quite a bit of time. There's a number of precedents for such demotion.
  • bad diet? (Score:3, Funny)

    by User 956 (568564) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:36PM (#15982345) Homepage
    The BBC reports that the IAU's controversial Prague vote on demoting Pluto from planet status was irregular.

    Well then, it sounds like they need more fiber.
  • 'Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?'

    Don't fret it. Long ago Romans learned it was a god. They didn't have to unlearn it. Their empire simply collapsed.
  • We got it wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mwongozi (176765) <slashthree@Nospam.davidglover.org> on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:38PM (#15982366) Homepage

    Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?

    Because we were wrong. It's orbit is incredibly un-circular, it wildly off the plane of the solar system, and it's smaller than the moon! It never belonged in the pigeon-hole we've labelled "planet".

    Part of science is accurate classification. We can't label something just because we want to.

    • Re:We got it wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:53PM (#15982466) Homepage
      Because we were wrong.

      Exactly! It's like saying "I learned the earth is the center of the universe and I see no reason to unlearn it." It's plain and simply factually *wrong*, and people who react this way betray an alarming inability to accept new facts, instead clinging onto their pre-existing notions with near *religious* ferver.

      Yes, that last bit was flamebait. ;)
    • by Dasher42 (514179)
      Yes, but I don't know that anyone has clearly resolved why Pluto's orbit is so ecliptic (I realize good theories exist), and our study of extrasolar planets has shown that highly ecliptic orbits are nothing unusual. Also, Saturn's moon Titan is bigger than the planet Mercury, so size is proving a purely arbitrary thing in this argument.

      I firmly believe that geological features and activity should define the lower bound of what we call planets. Pluto has a atmosphere during parts of its year, and most like
      • by Dasher42 (514179)
        Turns out my information is out of date. Ceres most likely has differentiated layers, and is generally more interesting than previously thought [planetary.org].
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Abcd1234 (188840)
        Yes, but I don't know that anyone has clearly resolved why Pluto's orbit is so ecliptic (I realize good theories exist), and our study of extrasolar planets has shown that highly ecliptic orbits are nothing unusual.

        Yes, but *no other planetary object* has such a highly elliptic, inclined orbit. Pluto is the only one. I think that's sufficient reason to believe that it belongs to another class of objects (Kuiper belt objects, to be precise).

        Also, Saturn's moon Titan is bigger than the planet Mercury, so si
  • Considering... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:41PM (#15982380)
    Considering that Pluto orbits both inside and outside of Neptune's more circular orbit, even if on a slant to the ecliptic, what are the chances they could collide someday? Is there a common point both celestial bodies (note how cleverly I've avoided the use of the now obsolete term 'planet') have both passed through at some 4th dimensional offset (time for those of you in Rio Linda) from each other?
    • Re:Considering... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tygt (792974) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:47PM (#15982422)
      They're apparently in a fairly stable orbital situation such that ne'er will their paths cross.

      As such:

      Pluto is locked in a 3:2 resonance with Neptune; i.e. Pluto's orbital period is exactly 1.5 times longer than Neptune's. Its orbital inclination is also much higher than the other planets'. Thus though it appears that Pluto's orbit crosses Neptune's, it really doesn't and they will never collide.
      See this [nineplanets.org] for more.
    • by tool462 (677306)
      Nope. Despite how the 2-d projections in science textbooks look, Pluto and Neptunes orbits never cross. And unless there's some tiny precession or a major event like a giant asteroid knocking them out of their orbit, they never will.
    • by imemyself (757318)
      No they won't collide.
    • Check it yourself! (Score:3, Informative)

      by mangu (126918)
      Look in the 'dead tree file' "Astrophysics with a PC", by Paul Hellings. [willbell.com]

      Item 4.7.3. "The case of Pluto and Neptune" explains why they will never collide, and gives the source code for implementing the simulation. Sorry, it's in BASIC, but you can easily reimplement it in Perl or Python, or whatever your favourite langage is, it's just one page of code.

  • Recount (Score:5, Funny)

    by kirun (658684) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:50PM (#15982448) Homepage Journal
    Don't worry, Diebold has just announced the results of the recount, and 3,134 of the 2,700 delegates voted to make Pluto stay as a planet.
  • While they're at it they should create a category of "minor astronomers." In their spare time these same busybody pinheads probably wander around their suburban neighborhoods measuring grass with rulers and checking their watches to see if anyone's leaving a trash can out on the sidewalk too long.

    Personally I think Pluto makes a fine 9th planet.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      The problem is, there was no real classification of planet. At the time of it's discovery we were more ignorant of it, and other star systems.

      Persoanlly, I think the whole planet category idea is flawed.
  • orly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sam.thorogood (979334) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:55PM (#15982484)
    Long ago I learned it was a planet and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?

    Before five hundred years ago [wikipedia.org] I learned that the Earth was flat and I see no reason to unlearn it. Why should I?
    • by Bryansix (761547)
      I call Shens! You were not alive 500 years ago. Besides, this is a classification that we made up. It's not like we suddenly understand more about Pluto then we did two days ago.
    • The ancient Greeks, among others, believed the Earth to be round. That's not five hundred years ago; it's more like 2300.

      It took over 50 years to locate Pluto. I think that calling Pluto a "planet" is, among other things, fitting recognition of the countless thousands of astronomer-hours that eventually led to its discovery.

      Anyway, I don't care if we wind up with 100 planets in the Solar System. I like planets.
  • by meburke (736645) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:56PM (#15982492)
    Whether Pluto is or is not considered a planet is not as important to me as the integrity of high-level guidance among senior scientists. When the arguments for or against a decision depend on popular vote rather than rational consensus, scientists reduce themselves to the level of lawyers. When the objectivity of scientific thought is bypassed by special interest groups and politics, science is no longer Science. This whole process has been a shameful exhibition of politics.
    • by Kesch (943326)
      I fail to see how Pluto's planetary status benefits any special intrest groups or political parties. The two groups making money off this are the media and the T-shirt vendors. Astrologers might care, but they make up their own rules anyways so it doesn't matter.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by meburke (736645)
        A couple of good points have already been made in subsequent posts, but if I understand it, there were almost 10,000 scientists at this gathering (about 2700 were considered authoritative), and the vote was cast in the 11th hour by a mere 457 scientists with a specialized point of view. I agree that useful standards and definitions ought to be made, but I expect a fair-minded body to have something like 90+% consensus, not just a majority of the voters available.

        My favorite definition of politics (verb): "V
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by antares256 (659113)
      I couldn't agree more. The IAU has the authority to make this decision, but if the OP is correct, and only 10% of the IAU voted, that isn't even a quorum.

      Two things really bothered me about this decision, and neither of them are the decision that Pluto is not a planet, but have to do with the way the decision was made.

      1) When asked about applying this definition to other stars and their potential planets, the committee that proposed this definition said that the definition on the table only applies
  • by daddyrief (910385) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:57PM (#15982493) Homepage
    I usually don't comment much, but when a nationally-recognized news anchor makes stupid comments, I feel obliged.

    He says, "All of a sudden Ringo isn't a Beatle? All of a sudden somebody changes a standard and Curly isn't a stooge, or Zeppo isn't a Marx, or Ari isn't one of the "Entourage"? Actually I don't know why Pluto got itself unmade as a planet. I didn't even read the rest of the story, frankly."

    My god. Yeah, because Ringo Starr's status as a Beatle hinges on statistics and his orbital ellipse, just like Pluto's. Look out for that 'Two Stooges' DVD also. John Gibson sounds like a prick -- if our understanding of the universe evolved John Gibson's way, we might still be afraid to fall off the edge of the world, or the Sun might still rotate around the Earth. The changing of 'standards' is inevitable as a better understanding of the universe becomes available. The more technologically advanced we become, you can bet laws, theories, and yes, even TEXTBOOK PRINT may become outdated.

    (Note: this rant directed toward John Gibson's stupid 'rebuttal,' regardless of the IAU decision whether Pluto should be considered a planet or not.
  • Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kaenneth (82978) on Friday August 25, 2006 @05:57PM (#15982497) Homepage Journal
    I'll tell you why.

    Ever look at the price tag on a Textbook?, those things are expensive.

    To pay for the textbook publishers political action committee.

    Think of the money that will need to be spent by schools for new science textbooks; just after they got done replacing them to give equal space to 'Intelligent Design'.

    You might think it's unimportant, but when the federally mandated standardised test asks how many planets are in the Solar System...
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:04PM (#15982535) Homepage
    Here's a copy of a letter I sent off to myword@foxnews.com. I wonder if anyone there will get it:

    That article about Pluto not being a planet has to
    be one of the funniest things I've seen you produce yet.
    I couldn't stop laughing! The notion of having to
    "unlearn" something just kills me. What a perfect
    example of Truthiness, and how appropriate that it
    appears on your print version of "The Word".

    I also have a question for you. How long have you
    been writing under the pen name "John Gibson"? Or
    is John Gibson your real name, and Stephen Colbert
    is your stage name? Just curious.

    Keep up the good work, and I'll be sure to catch
    you on The Report.
  • I wouldn't expect anything else from this guy. He admits just glancing at a headline too.

    The prague convention reclassified it, they didn't "invent" anything, he just conjures up his own version of what happened and denounces it as a revisionist act based on no authority whatsoever. It's actually precisely the reaction I'd expect from a person like Gibson and he shows his superficial apreciation of the scientific process by publishing it. I bet he was pissed when the french standardised the meter too.

    Oh, an
  • by Dr. Zowie (109983) <`slashdot' `at' `deforest.org'> on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:09PM (#15982557)
    The exact wording of Resolution 5(a) is:
    (1) A "planet"1 is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

    (2) A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape2 , (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

    There are several problems with (1). In particular:
    • Extrasolar planets are no longer "planets" since they don't orbit the Sun.
    • Jupiter is not a planet, because it has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit - it has asteroids at the Trojan points.
    • Earth is not a planet, because it has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit -- there exist Near-Earth asteroids and Earth-crossing asteroids. (One might argue that this is getting worse, what with all the space debris we keep flinging into near-Earth solar orbit).

    (2) looks OK, but the IAU folks have taken the (IMHO) insane view that a "dwarf planet" is not a subtype of "planet" at all (contrast "dwarf pine tree" or "dwarf sunflower" or "dwarf hippopotamus", all of which are subtypes of their source nown). That destroys a potential way to finesse the Pluto issue -- by calling it a dwarf planet, they could have let everyone have their semantic cake, and eat it too.

    On a different note, another scientist friend of mine just told me his six-year-old daughter burst into tears when she found out Pluto isn't to be considered a planet anymore. :-(

    • Jupiter is not a planet, because it has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit - it has asteroids at the Trojan points.
      Earth is not a planet, because it has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit -- there exist Near-Earth asteroids and Earth-crossing asteroids. (One might argue that this is getting worse, what with all the space debris we keep flinging into near-Earth solar orbit).


      To quote a response from Wikipedia: Even if you don't neglect the Trojan asteroids and other such objects, all the gas giants have cleared their orbits. The Trojans are at very specific points along Jupiters orbit that are defined by Jupiter's gravity. If Jupiter hadn't cleared its orbit they would not be restricted to those points. A massive body collects all bodies near it either into itself, its orbit, its L4 and L5 points with the sun, into resonant orbits, or it ejects them. Its just like cleaning your room. It doesn't mean nothing is in your room, but simply that it's all neatly put away.

      Also, I highly recommend that you read this paper [arxiv.org].
      • Neptune and Pluto (Score:4, Informative)

        by robbak (775424) on Friday August 25, 2006 @07:33PM (#15982990) Homepage
        As an interesting extension, it could be argued that Neptune has also 'cleared' its orbit. Pluto is locked into a 3:2 orbit with Neptune, and this is fixed by Neptune's gravity. Neptune has forced Pluto into a stable orbit WRT itself, and so has cleared its orbit.
        Correct decision, IAU, well done
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      On a different note, another scientist friend of mine just told me his six-year-old daughter burst into tears when she found out Pluto isn't to be considered a planet anymore. :-(

      Think of the children.

      The last thing we needed in this debate.

      Oh wait. Mentioning Nazi's too. These IAU guys are acting like nazi's in their ruthless decision process, aren't they?

      OK, I'm done. :-)
  • Only 10% voted? Mabye because most astronomers just don't care as much as the summer-starved media is hyping this?
  • Back in the day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ndansmith (582590) on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:17PM (#15982604)
    Gibson would've said the converse when they added Pluto:

    "I grew up with eight planets. Now some know-nothing radicle tells me there are nine? This 'planet' Pluto is nothing but a rock of ice in space."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:34PM (#15982695)
    Guys, it's called science, and science revises itself over time to accomodate new data. Gravitational perturbations of Neptune first led astronomers to seek a ninth planet. When Tombaugh found it in 1930 Pluto was thought to be Earth-sized and similarly massive. Over the decades its size and mass kept getting revised downward as new scientific discoveries were made. The perturbations turned out to not exist-- another example of science refining itself.

    Now we've discovered UB313, Sedna, Ixion, Quoar and others, and it's clear that Pluto's only the most prominent representative of the Kuiper belt, just as Ceres is the most prominent member of the asteroid belt. The media that are causing this furor are ignorant of the real issues involved and seem merely interested in running stories about Mrs. Johnson's 3rd grade class being upset about Mickey's dog.

    Pluto is still there. It's still the same size and mass it always was, and New Horizons is still going to visit it. But it never would be called a planet if it were discovered today.
  • by Aqws (932918) on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:45PM (#15982756) Journal
    I know of a way to end this debate once and for all, lets blow up pluto
  • by McDrewbie (530348) on Friday August 25, 2006 @06:55PM (#15982809)
    "It's an awful definition; it's sloppy science and it would never pass peer review - for two reasons." (from the first link) This isn't a scientific decision . . . it is merely a case of semantics and any decision either way is arbitrary. Naming something a planet or not naming it one does not change its properties. The decision to "demote" Pluto was a good one, for the sake of simplicity, otherwise as more Kuiper Belt objects were discovered, the number of planets would increase and increase and be unmanagable.
  • by Jim in Buffalo (939861) on Friday August 25, 2006 @08:16PM (#15983134)
    When I read that Pluto was being downgraded to "dwarf planet" status, I thought, "it'll always be Yuggoth to me," and I broke out in song...

    (Sing it to the tune of "Always a Woman to Me" by Billy Joel)

    They can harp on its size
    They can call it a dwarf planet
    And they can say that it's wise
    To just keep on ignorin' it
    They can say it's remote
    And just too hard to see
    They can talk about Pluto
    But it'll always be Yuggoth to me

    No, the Mi-Go are far
    from concerned what we say to it
    Put your head in a jar
    And they'll fly you away to it
    And you'll learn how to speak
    Buzzing just like a bee
    Blame it all on Lovecraft
    'Cause it'll always be Yuggoth to me

Egotist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me. -- Ambrose Bierce

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