Friday, August 25, 2006

Joe's Astronomy Blog

I am determined to keep this blog focussed on politics, so I will link the demotion of Pluto to politics, at the end of this piece.

Lots of bloggers are coming out wrongly in favour of Pluto's planetary status:

John Hemming
Peter Black
Alex Wilcock
Millennium Dome even carries a link- Pluto demoted: BLOGOSPHERE AGHAST

What is going on here? Listen. This is how the solar system is. There is a sun, 4 rocky planets, 4 giants, and some dust. We've given names to some of the bigger bits of dust like the Moon. And even some of the smaller bits, like Pluto.

Pluto, on the basis of size doesn't qualify as a 9th planet, more like a 16th planet. 7 moons and 2003UB313 come before it. Pluto on the basis of the circularity of its orbit doesn't qualify. The asteroids and Quaoar would come first.

It has a moon? (Double planet, pah!) So what! A lot of the dust is dusty. 2003EL61, 2003UB313, 243 Ida and all these asteroids, etc.

The real reason for this outrage? Conservatism! We think it is a planet. Ceres, the largest of the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter was also considered a planet when first discovered, for a few decades. When more asteroids were discovered Ceres was reclassified. That's all that is happening here.

Does this make NASA's trip to Pluto any less important or interesting? Of course not. Pluto is not any more or less interesting by virtue of the definition of the word planet. In fact it is probably much less interesting than Europa, Io, Titan and Triton, all moons. But we have hardly seen it yet so we don't know.

How does this relate to politics? Well as usual, it is red faces for all the reporters who write off the Lib Dems tell us there are going to be twelve planets, and are proved wrong at the ballot box.



Tristan said...

I agree, I've long considered Pluto to be a non-planetary object.
Most astronomers and astrophysicists I've known share that view (including one whose PhD was on solar system and planetary formation).

People just don't like being told what they thought is wrong...

Peter Black said...

My comments were meant to be neutral. The headline referred to Pluto the dog!