Losing a planet to gain three more?

Several of my co-bloggers have mentioned this already. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has decided that Pluto — while still technically a planet in spite of its unique composition (ice) orbital plane (inclined 17 degrees) and orbital eccentricity (about 0.25) — now merits its own planetary subcategory, which the IAU has, aptly enough, dubbed “plutons” (although I would have preferred “plutelets”). A planet, according to the IAU, is “a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet”; plutons, meanwhile, are planets with “highly inclined orbits with large eccentricities and orbital periods in excess of 200 years.”


As a result of this new definition, three new planets have magically been “found” in our solar system: Ceres (the largest of the asteroids, which orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter); Charon (formerly considered a moon of Pluto); and UB313, a chunk of something-or-other even further out in the celestial boondocks than Pluto and dying for a more snappy handle.
Actually, now that we’re up to an even dozen, why not rename all of them? Let’s see…Optos, Ophthalmos, Oculomotos, Trochleus. Trigeminus, Abducus, Facius…nah, that won’t work. Okay, how about Peter, Andrew, James, the other James, Judas, the other Judas, Bartholomew…on second thought, let’s just go with what we have now.
Anyway, the inappropriately named Bad Astronomy Blog has the complete scoop.

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  1. #1 by Sam on August 16, 2006 - 5:55 pm

    I personally think that it is about time we began looking at planets differently from what we are used to. The difition of a planet is just too rigid. As far as I am concerned, it does not matter whether or not text books will have to be re-written. In fact, this may be a good thing. We need to start being more flexible, and open up to the idea that small asteroid sized bodies may be qualified as planets as well.

  2. #2 by Bill from Dover on August 16, 2006 - 6:06 pm

    I think one of the biggest disappointments in my life was when I first found out that Pluto might not be a planet. I could always name all nine of them – from inside out – and somehow felt cheated. Hell, now I don’t even know how many there are. I guess science also has some downsides.

  3. #3 by Christopher Gwyn on August 17, 2006 - 1:55 am

    I just heard a BBC broadcast in which an astrologer claimed that the recent discoveries and the changing classification of planets would enable astrology to make more accurate predictions than ever. (Since their success is no greater than random doubling it would still be random – just with wider fluctuations…but he said it like he expected it to be a measurable improvement, at least astorlogically measurable.)

  4. #4 by s. zeilenga on August 17, 2006 - 9:50 am

    – I say we name one of the planets Vulcan
    z.

  5. #5 by JKB on August 17, 2006 - 10:59 am

    I say we name one of the planets Vulcan

    After a Roman god? Mythology still carries on?
    I suggest the Planet Bacon after Homer’s favorite breakfast food.
    Or the gay philosopher lawyer, pederast, clerk to the Star Chamber, that believed religion and science can coexist on separate planes. It’s got universal appeal.
    If a moon shows up it could be named Verulam, sounding sufficiently Babylon-5-esque

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