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Pluto Making a Comeback 439

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the little-space-mass-that-could dept.
anthemaniac writes "Space.com reports that the American Astronomical Unions Division of Planetary Scientists recognizes the IAU's authority to make a new planet defintion but expects it to be altered. Separately, 300 astronomers have signed a petition saying they won't use the definition. All this stems from the discontent over how only 424 astronomers voted on the proposal that demoted Pluto. Looks like this little dog is on the comeback trail."
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Pluto Making a Comeback

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  • waiting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thesupermikey (220055) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:49AM (#16021895) Homepage Journal
    it seems like any vote on the future of pluto ought to wait till after the prob gets there in a few years. We do not even have good pictures of the planet, or a lot of solid date (if the wikipedia entry is good). I say wait to make any changes until than, anything else would be jumping the gun
    • Re:waiting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lbrandy (923907) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:26AM (#16022052)
      anything else would be jumping the gun

      I am much happier thinking that astronomers are in a hole somewhere in the middle of the night staring into the sky adding to the human body of knowledge, then sitting in a giant auditorium fighting over meaningless bullshit and operating at the lowest forms of the intellectual discourse (semantics and sophistry... voting on definitions.. oh jesus). I liked it better when a bunch of people sitting in a giant room yelling and screaming about nothing and being otherwise useless was called Congress...

      This is an argument over terminology. There is nothing of any value, at all, at stake here. This is so people can refer to planets and have it mean something, as a word. This is basically the equivalent of Webster writing down what a word means. This isn't even actual science.. it's just a bunch of people trying to formalize their industry's terminology to facillitate communication. The scientific value of a probe is going to be exactly the same if Pluto is a dwarf planet, a pluton, a planet, a really large Kuiper Belt Object, or anything else.

      Just pick a god damm definition. I'm starting to think astronomers are doing this on purpose to get themselves alot of free press and airtime. Professors everywhere are making 6 minutes TV and radio spots to explain this stupid "controversy". It's semantics. Nothing more, nothing less.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by sumdumass (711423)
        Unless more deviousactiond undermines this effort (like killing astroligy), You might be correct in that they are doing this for the attention. Keeping Pluto listed as a planet just for historic reasons should be enough. It isn't like we found the flat earth was actualy round. With pluto and planets we just made a definition, changed the meanings, and then discovered pluto doesn't fit into it now.

        Pluto is and always should be a planet. If they try to claim it isn't, i think it will start a bigger controvers
        • Re:waiting (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Twiek (980373) on Friday September 01, 2006 @07:46AM (#16023094)
          Then I guess we should reclassify Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta planets as well... you know, for historic reasons.

          Originally the Sun and moon were classified as planets. Should we keep that definition for historic reasons?

          What about all the round trans-Neptunian objects? 2003 UB313, Charon, Sedna, Quaoar, or the 1000 others? Should all those be planets as well? And if you're gonna include at least everything in the Kuiper belt, you might as well include all the round asteroids. And all the round Trojan bodies.

          Shoot, while you're at it, why don't we just include every single comet in the Oort cloud? Then the solar system would have billions of planets. Take that 55 Cancri!

          /sarcasm

          I don't understand why people have a hard time "letting go" of Pluto as a planet... It's floating in a cloud of objects, just like Ceres. And just like Ceres, once we discovered that it's just one of many (some even larger) in a belt of objects, it got reclassified. What's so freggin' hard to understand?
      • Re:waiting (Score:5, Funny)

        by Tablizer (95088) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:48AM (#16022126) Journal
        I am much happier thinking that astronomers are in a hole somewhere in the middle of the night staring into the sky adding to the human body of knowledge [rather than] sitting in a giant auditorium fighting over meaningless bullshit and operating at the lowest forms of the intellectual discourse

        Kind of like Slashdot, you mean? :-)
                 
      • Re:waiting (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:23AM (#16022231)
        We can't take it back now, we've arlready sent it out in the "Arecibo message". We're going to like pretty silly to the aliens in the m13 cluster. So are we going to have to resend that signal, saying "Whoops our bad, its eight not nine planets....no really, we do know how to count."
      • Re:waiting (Score:5, Funny)

        by kfg (145172) * on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:25AM (#16022241)
        I am much happier thinking that astronomers are in a hole somewhere in the middle of the night staring into the sky adding to the human body of knowledge, then sitting in a giant auditorium fighting over meaningless bullshit. . .

        You're new here in science, aren't you?

        Just pick a god damm definition.

        Big Ass Round Thing! Big Ass Round Thing! Big Ass Round Thing!

        Come on people, let's show these Bozos the power of the Web. Send letters, emails, customized party poppers, whatever; and let 'em know we want our Big Ass Round Things.

        KFG
      • by teal_ (53392) on Friday September 01, 2006 @05:08AM (#16022681)
        Oh but it is, it's very important. A precise terminology is critical to get anything done in any field.

        Nostalgia or neat names your kids like are no reason to violate the rules of your field. AIDS was orginally categorized as a form of cancer, but then we found that it's not a cancer, so we stopped calling it a cancer. It's simple, really. Once you disprove something, it makes no sense to go on believing it.

        The simple truth is that if you call Pluto a planet, then you also have to call Ceres and potentially hundreds of bodies in the Kuiper belt planets as well. Pluto does not dominate its orbit around the sun, it shares it with Charon, they spin around each other, one is not a moon of the other. None of the other planets in the solar system have such a symbiosis, they all have moons that orbit them. What shall we do when we manage to spot specific planetary bodies in distant solar systems? "let's see... hrm, that's a class-M planet, that's a gas giant, that's a dead rock, all of these have moons and they're spherical and dominate their orbits, but hey, here's a neat looking body there dancing with another body, I guess that's a planet too, let's call it Mickey and forget the thing it's spinning with." Where does it end? We need a concise definition that works every time, no exceptions.

        As it is, with that gold disc in the voyager spacecrafts showing the planets of our system, it's doubtful ET will find us now since he'll see our system has only 8 planets but his directions said there would be 9. If he stumbles into the system anyway, and finds that's he's got the right place, he's going to think we're a bunch of retards for saying we have 9 planets :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by buswolley (591500)
      Two things: 1> Taxonomic classifications will never satisfy everyone, nor will they ever be precise enough to cover all cases. 2>Its sad that the news focuses so much on this non-issue. Its not important! There are other things much more important that need the airtime. 3>This reminds me of old snotty aristocrats who pride themselves on their extensive and obscure vocabulary because it distinguishes them from the common man. Sorry..I'm studying for my GRE's.. Words like Stygian.. I mean fuck you,
      • Re:waiting (Score:4, Funny)

        by lbrandy (923907) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:50AM (#16022129)
        Sorry..I'm studying for my GRE's.. Words like stygian.. I mean fuck you, if you know what that means.

        Fuck me? Fuck you, you fatuous rube with your puerile lexicon.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SEE (7681)
        Dank and dismal. From the river Styx, which Charon ferries people across to the realm of Hades (Pluto to the Romans), a dank and diamal realm of the dead very similar to the Jewish Sheol, both of which are often conflated with Hell in Christian cosmology . . .
    • Re:waiting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:42AM (#16022114) Homepage Journal

      What more information do we need about Pluto? There's lots to learn, but nothing that bears on the argument at hand.

      You seem to think that "planet" is a word astronomer's agree on, and we just don't know enough about Pluto to say whether it is one. It's the other way around.

      Despite the headlines, astronomers are not arguing over whether Pluto's a planet. They're arguing over the right way to define "planet". Pluto's relevent only because lots of people are used to thinking of Pluto as a planet, and don't want a definition that leaves Pluto out. But that's hard to do. There are millions of trans-Neptunian objects. If Pluto is a planet, than so are many of them.

      I heard an interview with an astronmer who described our solar system as it would be seen by an alien arriving from outside. The first thing the alien would notice is the huge cloud of trans-Neptunian objects. Then much further in he'd see 8 planets. Or maybe he'd view them as 4 rocky worlds and 4 gaseous worlds. But in any case he'd differentiate all 8, which orbit pretty much in a single plane, from the TNOs, which form a sort of donut-shaped cloud. If he noticed Pluto at all, he'd definitely classify it with the TNOs.

      Then suppose he met us, and we tried to tell him that Pluto isn't a TNO, it's a planet, just because it was discovered before the TNOs. He'd think we were being pretty arbitrary — and he'd be right.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by C0R1D4N (970153)
        All those damned illegal aliens coming and trying to change my language! Speak english! We define what a planet is dammit!
      • Re:waiting (Score:5, Insightful)

        by techno-vampire (666512) on Friday September 01, 2006 @03:21AM (#16022392) Homepage
        There are millions of trans-Neptunian objects. If Pluto is a planet, than so are many of them.


        So? If there's more trans-Neptunian objects out there big enough to be called planets, our system has more planets. What's the big deal? There's nothing magic about the number 9 (or 8) as the number of planets. When Uranus was discovered, the number of known planets increased; it increased again with Neptune. If we find more planets out there, it will increase yet again. No big deal.

      • Re:waiting (Score:5, Informative)

        by cptgrudge (177113) <cptgrudgeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 01, 2006 @03:21AM (#16022393) Journal

        Your post intrigued me, and after some quick research with the help of Google, I agree. You can fire up Celestia and actually see some of them, just make asteroid orbits and names visible. Pluto fits right in with them; it seems to be the largest of them.

        For you unbelievers, here's a list. These objects are all out of the "normal" plane of orbits, just like Pluto.

        Name, Radius
        Pluto, 1,151km
        Ixion, 600km
        Quaoar, 625km
        Orcus, 800km
        Varuna, 450km

        And these are just some "nicely named" ones. See "2003 EL61", "2005 FY9", etc for more examples. And you can add more [celestiamotherlode.net] as well. For those with computers that aren't slow, this page [cornell.edu] contains a Celestia ssc of 1007(!) TNOs. Doughnut shaped indeed.

        Also, there is a class (like 20%-30%) of them called Plutinos [cornell.edu] which share Pluto's stable 3:2 orbital resonance with Neptune. How did this come to be? There are theories [hawaii.edu], but nothing definitive yet.

        The debate will continue, but if you look at that Celestia ssc of 1007 TNOs, it is pretty clear that Pluto is not a "major planet". If it is, then we've got dozens, possibly hundreds of them.

        (Apologies if this has been covered before.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by frankie (91710)
          Your Celestia is at least a year out of date, because Pluto is at best the SECOND largest TNO/KBO, and probably lower than that. Here's a good illustration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:2006-16-d-prin t .jpg [wikipedia.org]

          p.s. I'd like to remind everyone that Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta all used to be officially recognized planets ... until it was discovered that there are thousands of other objects much like them in the same part of space. Then they got redefined. Hmm... does this pattern of events sound familiar?
      • Despite the headlines, astronomers are not arguing over whether Pluto's a planet. They're arguing over the right way to define "planet". Pluto's relevent only because lots of people are used to thinking of Pluto as a planet, and don't want a definition that leaves Pluto out.

        My only relevant qualification for this argument is to be an enthusiastic amateur astronomer, but if anything it has meant I've been following it quite closely.

        To be honest, the whole argument seems quite ridiculous to me. If the def

  • by grumpyman (849537) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:52AM (#16021908)
    The publishers are loving this.
  • by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Friday September 01, 2006 @12:55AM (#16021920)
    they pissed off a LOT of people.
    What more can you say?
    • by I am Jack's username (528712) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:23AM (#16022233)

      When Aristotle pointed out that the Earth wasn't flat, it pissed off a lot of people. When Darwin published The origin of species, it pissed off a lot of people. When climate scientists pointed out the dangers of anthropogenic climate change, it pissed off a lot of people. When they found that Pluto, like Ceres, was within a belt of similarly sized objects, it pissed off a lot of people.

      I suspect the reason these people were pissed off is because they can't fathom that new observations means that what they were taught before was wrong, and that the new information gives a better approximation of reality.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Quaoar (614366)
        I don't have a problem with demoting Pluto. I have a problem with their lame definition, which doesn't really concretely define anything.
  • by shoma-san (739914) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:01AM (#16021935)
    ...in other news today, doctors tried to demote any penis that is not at least 7 inches long to 'dwarf penis' status.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:04AM (#16021944)

    If they were real scientists, they'd accept the new designation. That's how science works. You modify your model of the universe as new information becomes available. Clyde Tombaugh found the first of an unknown class of objects because Pluto happened to be the closest and easiest to see. They just called it a planet because they lacked the information we have. But now we know about the Kuiper Belt, and have adjusted the definition of Pluto accordingly. Mode me a troll, but stop with the sentimental bullshit. Rather than :losing" a planet we've gained a whole new neighborhood of the Solar System to explore.

    • by geobeck (924637)

      With only 424 of the IAU's 10,000 members having voted on this "issue", it seems that the real scientists are too busy with real science to care about what arbitrary label we give a faraway chunk of rock and ice.

      New story tag needed: -1: Who cares?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Brandybuck (704397)
      That's how science works.

      It is NOT how science works! Science is not a democracy. Facts, definitions and terms are not up for a vote. A ridiculously tiny handful of "scientists" forgot that last week.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jiawen (693693)
        If science is not a democracy, then why does it matter how many scientists decided on it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 4D6963 (933028)

      They just called it a planet because they lacked the information we have.

      Actually they called it a planet because they were looking for one. Unfortunatly for them, it wasn't the giant Planet X they were expecting from their calculations.

    • In science our primary means of communication are words. Because of that, we need to have some degree of stability in the definitions of the words that we are using. At the same time, we (scientists) are constantly encountering new phenomena which can challenge our current definitions and systems of classification. Much of the same problem can be seen in biology: when taxonomists were originally dividing living organisms into families, species, and genuses, they had no genetic information available - they b
  • So... What is a Planet Again? [kuro5hin.org]

    the issue centers on one the IAU itself says it hasn't addressed with it's new definition of a planet: extrasolar systems. as new telescopes come on line with more resolving power, our bestiary of planets is going to grow by leaps and bounds. it will render the debate over pluto moot

    i think a definition of planet should be:
    -round, with a significant atmosphere
    -this is distinct from a gas giant, which should be considered closer to stars than to planets (round, mostly gas: really just stars without enough critical mass to ignite fusion)
    -and distinct from a moon (no atmosphere, but still round)
    -asteroids, comets, etc make up the miscellany

    and notice, most importantly, i said nothing about what something orbits. what something orbits is really secondary in consideration to what something is composed of. if we find an earth-like "moon" orbiting a gas giant in another solar system, is what it orbits really the first consideration in picking what to call it? no, composition should come first, orbit second. so you could have a moon of the sun (pluto), or a planet of saturn (titan), or an asteroid of mars (deimos/ phobos, etc.)

    so this system demotes not only pluto, but also mercury. while promoting titan. so our solar system is composed of:
    -4 planets (venus, earth, mars, titan)
    -4 gas giants (jupiter, saturn, neptune, uranus)
    -and countless moons (of the sun and the planets)/ asteroids (of the sun and the planets)/ comets/ ring systems/ kuiper belt, oort cloud objects/ etc

    really, as we see more and more exotic arrangements in extrasolar systems as new telescopes come on line, this debate about pluto will look more and more pedantic. and the IAU should really begin focusing on a more rigid definition no matter what, something they said they weren't doing at their last congress. we will soon have a vastly larger catalogue of strange orbital objects/ arrangements out there. pluto is small potatoes... literally
    • i think a definition of planet should be: -round, with a significant atmosphere -this is distinct from a gas giant, which should be considered closer to stars than to planets (round, mostly gas: really just stars without enough critical mass to ignite fusion) -and distinct from a moon (no atmosphere, but still round) -asteroids, comets, etc make up the miscellany

      What constitutes a "significant" atmosphere? What does "mostly gas" actually mean? (i.e. what separates "planet" from "gas giant"?) Do you reall

      • pluto, for one, has a tenuous atmosphere

        and certainly there's something solid at the core of saturn/ jupiter

        however, ANY system you can possibly think of will be controversial: there will ALWAYS be objects which will defy ANY system of classification. look at our current nuttiness over pluto for example

        so if you are going to dismiss this classification system because the definition of "significant" atmosphere can be controversial, then you might as well as dismiss all classification systems, and just stop t
  • Oh Pluto (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:08AM (#16021976) Journal
    The death of Pluto as a planet is going to be a watershed moment in my, albeit sad, life. No longer can I dwell in childish thoughts of a small comet like body with an excentric orbit being a planet. There are definitions after all. Definitions are an important part of adult life. I can't carry on wearing a cape and claiming to be superman anymore. Its time to stop pretending that my stick is a sword and my coconut percussion is a hourse. Yes, its time to put away such childish thoughts that led to Pluto's planetary status. A world of progress and commerce awaits us bold explorers who dare to stare into the blindingly obvious truth and confront it for what it is. Changing the definition is out of the question. We've matured now, ripped off the band-aid of addolesence in one quick, but fluid motion. As much as we would like to remove the bitting sting of pulling out a dozen arm hairs, we know deep in our hearts that we are better off as we are than as we were. Alas poor Pluto, I hardly knew thee, but though hast gone to a better place. A place where you can be amougnst your own kind. You were my favorite Planet, its true, but now you start a new life abielt less a less glamourus one. You'll forever be my favorite planet, dwarf or otherwise. I'll think of you fondly and call you every other weekend.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:11AM (#16021991)
    Too late, solar system already took Pluto off of his Friends List [ytmnd.com].
  • by UseTheSource (66510) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:14AM (#16022001) Homepage Journal
    That scientific "fact" can be changed by petition.

    Yes, I know that this whole planet thing is just taxonomy, but do they? Do the politicians really understand that, either?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JPriest (547211)
      If Pluto is included in the definition of planet then that would mean also promoting Xena [wikipedia.org] (or 2003 UB313) to planet status as well since it is larger than Pluto. Ceres and Charon are smaller than Pluto, but would need to be considered for entry if Pluto was to remain.

      So, the option was to either demote Pluto and have 8 planets, or promote Xena and maybe others and have 10 - 12 planets. I think the correct decision was made.

    • That scientific "fact" can be changed by petition.

      Or the "fact" that it can be voted on in the first place.. without a quorum.
  • by waxigloo (899755) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:15AM (#16022005)
    The problem is that the definition they came up with is still open to interpretation. The official definition from the IAU website [iau.org]:
    (1) A "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) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

    They demote pluto because it hasn't cleared the neighborhood of its orbit because its orbit intersects the orbit of Neptune. But doesn't this necessarily mean that Neptune has not cleared its neighborhood and therefore is also not a planet?

    What does clearing the neighborhood mean? To me it suggests the planet should have no moons either?

    If you are going to make a big deal and change the definition of something like this you should put a heck of a lot of thought into creating a definition that is objective and not open to interpretation.

  • by vmxeo (173325) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:21AM (#16022029) Homepage Journal
    For those of you at home who are playing along, here's the score so far:
    ~800 bc - Roman god of the underworld.
    05-01-1930 - New planet. Also Mickey's new canine companion. Retains position as god of the underworld.
    08-10-2006 - Still a planet. And a dog. Takes time off as god of the underworld to "spend more time with his new ceslestial family".
    08-24-2006 - Demoted as a planet. Reclassified as a "dwarf planet" (or as they prefer to be called "Little planetiods"). Resumes job as god of the underworld.
    Today - A planet again. Maybe. Title of "Roman god the the underworld" undisputed. Still a dog.

    (ps. Tomorrow - Profit ???)
    • by lbrandy (923907)
      Don't forget slipping behind the bleachers with Urianium to father that illegimate child that may end up ending the world.
  • Yes but the previous definition of what a planet was just as sketchy. You can measure a degree of roundness but a hard limit that seperates planets and asteroids is not really very appealing. There is a clean physical limit between stars and planets - stars can sustain thermonuclear fusion and this corresponds to a clean range of physical conditions. You can argue that massive Jupiters are brown dwarfs and vive versa but we can still divide into star and not star cleanly.

    There just isn't any such clean divi
    • by Aardpig (622459)

      but we can still divide into star and not star cleanly.

      Izzat so? Brown dwarfs undergo nuclear fusion -- so why aren't they stars?

      • by gsn (989808)

        stars can sustain thermonuclear fusion

        the don't have enough mass to *sustain* nuclear fusion in their core - atleast thats what I remember learning. I mostly work on SNIa and RR Lyr so if theres been some new info on brown dwarfs its entirely possible I missed it. Though you are right brown dwarfs do represent a transition between giant planets and stars and you can see this in the HR diagram, but I still thought sustained fusion corresponds to some temperature/mass limit or is that totally wrong?

        • by Aardpig (622459)
          IIRC, there is a period (lasting ~ 10 million years) of sustained deuterium fusion. But all that really does is retard the brown dwarf's passage to the bottom right of the HR diagram, following a similar cooling curve as WDs. (Disclaimer: not a BD expert, I work on massive stars).
  • Last week a bunch of us were ridiculed for using the word "planet" in reference to Pluto. We were accused of being Bushitlerian anti-science fundamentalists. Some even suggested we were closet flat earthers. How dare we question the infallibility of science and its inerrant prophet the scientist!

    But now 300 scientists have signed a petition to promote Pluto back to a planet. That's THIRTY more scientists than voted for the demotion in the first place!

    I'm wondering how long it will be until I get an apology?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:30AM (#16022068)
    Dear distinguished ladies and gentlemen of letters,

    Humanity has arrived at an inflection point in our history, one whose influence will steer our course for decades, or, more likely, centuries. The post-millennial rise of both Islamic and Christian fundamentalism tears at the very skirts of the Enlightenment.

    Your fellow citizens have twice elected an inarticulate and violent demagogue as President, a man who has expressed deep personal doubts [bbc.co.uk] about the validity of the scientific method and its relevance in America's primary-school classrooms. Three-fourths [biblicalrecorder.org] of the adult population profess a belief in angels; two-thirds [wnd.com] believe the Christian Bible is the literally-true word of their God. Over half [cbsnews.com] state that humans were created by God in their present form.

    One American adult in one thousand [rrmtf.org] can state the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

    Meanwhile, to the elected representatives of this singularly-unenlightened population, you, America's scientists and engineers, have cheerfully handed control of several thousand thermonuclear weapons [cdi.org].

    And now you're bickering endlessly about... whether or not Pluto is a planet.

    Cut this shit out. Now. I don't want to live in another Dark Age, or worse, die upon the threshold of one.

    Let Pluto be Pluto, whatever Pluto is, and let's put our heads together and figure out how to deal with the delusions we've created for ourselves here on Earth. We need intellectual leadership, not semantic panem et circenses.

    Answers? Sorry; you're the scientists, I'm just some obviously-unlaid AC, ranting into the night on Slashdot's nickel. If I had any suggestions, believe me, I'd be making them, but I don't.

    But come on. We've got to do something productive here.
  • misses the point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigpat (158134) on Friday September 01, 2006 @01:40AM (#16022106)
    I think a lot of the summaries have missed the point.

    The final "definitions" that they came up are not scientifically useful or even useful for any reason. No better than the previous enumeration of planets. Really a lot worse in that now by definition planets only exist in our solar system. So, all those things that orbit other stars... oh well now they are just thingies that orbit other stars. The draft proposal seemed much better by comparison and provided a much more broadly applicable definition. Hell kick pluto out of the main planets if you want, but do so by increasing some arbitrary size threshold and then don't use planet as part of the name for whatever you are left with, at least if by definition it is now not a planet or any type of planet. Even the dorky sounding "pluton" would have been better than "dwarf planet"

    And you have to imagine we are going to be finding a lot more planets around other stars in the coming decades as telescopes and processing power improve. or we would have, now we can't since all we can find is something that has no category of its own, unless they too will get a two word name that includes the word planet, such as "extrasolar planet" even though the word "planet" alone is not applicable.

    And the part about clearing the neighborhood of the orbit part of the definition seems like it could be problematic from an observational standpoint. The idea that even if we agree to extend this new "definition" to other star systems, then observations probably won't be sensitive enough to be able to determine if the planet-like object has cleared all the asteroids from the "neighborhood". So, until we actually go to another star system, the likelyhood of finding another object and consitently (with the definition) say that we have found a planet will be nil.

    Those of you who think the problem some of us have with these problematic new definitions is merely nostalgia, think again.

    Bring back the draft proposed definitions and maybe tinker with those a bit. These ones they came up with need to be thrown out.

  • by Chacham (981) *
    It just bothers me, that I, uh, you, have an organization that sold our system, and is willing to milk it way out there. Pluto is having a ruff time, no matter which way you plan it. Like a dog that barked at the daughter or bit the son, it'll always come at you.

    Or so the bad pundits say.

  • What I heard... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by astrogirl2900 (944414)
    ...is that because of the New Horizons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horizons [wikipedia.org] mission NASA and US astronomers has been pushing for a definition where Pluto is a planet because it is more prestigious to send a probe to a planet than to a dwarf planet. We are supposed to be scientists, and make definitons that make sense from a scientific point of view, but this is politics.
  • by JanneM (7445) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:28AM (#16022249) Homepage
    I really liked the original suggestion. It's a planet if:

    * It is round under its own gravity

    * it is not already classified as a star

    * It is not a satellite to something else not classified as a star (ie. when the common point of rotation is located within the body of the other object)

    A possible fourth criteria could be:

    * It orbits something classified as a star

    though I'd be happy without that criteria, making solitary, wandering bodies be called planets as well.

    Sure, that will probably get us planets by the dozen as we get a clearer idea of what't out in the edges of our system - but why is that a problem? It's not like having nine planets has some mysterious significance, and it hasn't been nine - or eight for that matter - for very long either.

  • I For One Welcome Our New 424 Astronomer Overlords!
  • A "planet" is . . . (Score:4, Interesting)

    by achurch (201270) on Friday September 01, 2006 @02:36AM (#16022277) Homepage

    . . . something you look at and say, "hey, that's a planet."

    No, seriously. Given all the historical baggage surrounding the term "planet", people shouldn't be trying to use it as a scientific term in the first place. If you want something that can be used to scientifically denote a certain class of astronomical objects, call them "primary satellites" or something. What's wrong with saying something like this, for example? "A planet is one of the nine satellites of Sol: Mercury, Venus, Earth, ..., Pluto; or a similar object orbiting another star that is widely recognized as a planet." That keeps the status quo with respect to our solar system, which doesn't seem to have hurt anything in the 76 years it's been around, and lets public opinion decide on anything else that pops up. Which leaves astronomers free to spend their valuable time actually watching the sky rather than trying to convince people that something that looks like a planet and smells like a planet isn't actually a planet.

  • Pluto is / was the *only* planet discovered by americans. Now american astronomers fight for it to remain a planet. Never mind that any sensible definition of "planet" that includes Pluto will have to include hundreds, if not thousands of other ball-shaped rocks out in the Kuiper belt.

    So what do we have? A nation for which to win (keeping the planet they discovered) is more important than to have a good result overall (a solid definition of "planet" that's usable for the forseeable future). Unfortunately,

  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday September 01, 2006 @04:57AM (#16022643)
    Lovell (he of canals on Mars fame) decided that there must be a huge Gas Giant out beyond Neptune, but could never find one.

    In order to find this planet, and ensure that Lovell wasn't primarily remembered for his fanciful and incorrect thesis regarding life/civilisation on Mars, a junior astronomer was set to work searching for this suposed super giant Gas Planet.

    Note that I say Junior, no-one else wanted the job, no-one....

    Instead of a Huge Gas Giant, he found a tiny rock. As it turns out this was the first sighting of a Kuiper Belt Object, a noteworthy acheivement in itself which was sullied and robbed of its true importance as a milestone in astronomy due to the politics of the day within the astronomy movement.

    So, this tiny rock was hailed as Lovells planet, in spite of the ludicrous nature of this claim, given the obvious disparity between the predicted object, and the one found. It could never have caused the gravitational perturbance by which the presence of the gas giant was inferred by Lovell.
    It's status as a planet, whilst debated by some then, and many since, has been assured due to this fear of blackening Lovells name.

    Interestingly, none of the astronomers who wanted Pluto to be a planet would consider calling our moon, or Ceres planets, even though admitting Pluto into the list of planets meant these, among others, would now qualify.

    It is this bizarre situation that the decision regarding Pluto is seeking to resolve. That not many astronomers were there to vote is beside the point. The vote was known to be taking place a long time in advance (many months), it wasn't a rushed secret ballot or anything.

    The people who want to discredit the vote don't actually have an alternative classification, they just want the ambiguity to remain.

    In effect, what we have here is an old fashioned cat fight among supposedly mature people of science (predominantly men).
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Friday September 01, 2006 @06:07AM (#16022848) Homepage
    ...I just don't get why this is raising such a fuss.

    When I was a kid, there were Baltimore Orioles. Then they decided that they were really the same species as Bullock's Oriole and both of them got renamed the "Northern Oriole." Then molecular genetics studies suggested they were really all that similar and now there are Baltimore Orioles again.

    My science teachers were old enough to remember when _their_ sciences teachers had said "There are ninety-two elements. There have always been ninety-two elements. There will always be ninety-two elements." And "elementary" particles? Don't get me started...

    The horseshoe crab was Limulus polyphemus. Then it was Xiphosura polyphemus. Now it ''seems'' to be Limulus again... or is it?

    Classification is prescientific activity. It's very important but it's always arbitrary and subject to change.

  • five planets (Score:3, Insightful)

    by devonbowen (231626) on Friday September 01, 2006 @07:25AM (#16023024) Homepage
    Personally, I'd like to go back to the original five. The word "planet" comes from Greek and means "wanderer". They were called that because they didn't move with the stars as they (seemingly) rotated around the earth. In other words, they were defined in a way that was useful for human beings.

    Since then we've been discovering adding objects that aren't visible to the naked eye. This has taken the word out of the realm of normal folk and into the realm of science. But it's not science. It's a pretty much an arbitrary definition that really doesn't mean much to scientists one way or another - other than as a possible marketing opportunity for a pluto mission.

    With the new definition of 8 (and with the old of 9) school children learn that there are 8 (or 9) planets. Why? Because the teacher said so. Yet when they dig deeper to learn about the other objects and why they aren't planets what do they find? That basically we just made up an answer that sounded like it might sound scientific.

    In this day and age when science is trying to defend itself not only against the intelligent design crowd but also government funding agencies, it seems to me that this whole fiasco only makes things worse. Science claims to be the light, the truth, the way of trying not to fool ourselves. But I can't imagine this whole thing looks very "enlightened" to the general public. Probably looks more like the circus that it is.

    So I say we should do science a favor and give the word back to the sky watchers and the sidewalk astronomers. Someplace where the word can actually be useful.

    Devon
  • by FatherOfONe (515801) on Friday September 01, 2006 @09:39AM (#16023550)
    Ok, the only way to settle this thing once and for all is to have them fight it out in a steel cage. The last astronomer standing gets to decide.
  • by JustNiz (692889) on Friday September 01, 2006 @10:57AM (#16024059)
    Revenge of the Plutons: This Time it's Personal.

May the bluebird of happiness twiddle your bits.

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