July 30, 2005

Tenth Planet (?) Discovered
— Ace

In case you didn't know, there's a debate whether the ninth planet, Pluto, was ever discovered. There are a lot of small to mid-sized planetoids in a belt beyond Neptune, and Pluto's small size, plus the fact that it's not really a great deal bigger than a bunch of other icy rocks out there, has prompted some astronomers to strip Pluto of its deisgnation as the ninth planet. Instead, they want to lump Pluto in with what they call non-planet "Trans-Neptunian Objects." Pluto would just be the biggest of that non-planet bunch.

Obviously, this angers a lot of people, chiefly because, and I'm quite seriosus about this, we've done a dozen science dioramas featuring Pluto as a planet and we're not ready yet to call our entire childhoods a lie. Everything else in our childhoods turned out to be a lie, but not Pluto. Pluto we thought we could count on.

Now comes the discovery of a Pluto-like planet, or psuedoplanet, whichever you prefer. Except this one is apparently bigger than Pluto.

So, the discoverer points out, if Pluto's a planet, this one must be a planet.

But some astronomers say: But maybe Pluto's not a planet, so why are you bothering us with this nonsense? And then it gets weirder.

Astronomers have discovered an object in our solar system that is larger than Pluto. They are calling it the 10th planet, but already that claim is contested.

The new world's size is not at issue. But the very definition of planethood is.

It is the first time an object so big has been found in our solar system since the discovery of Pluto 75 years ago.

Just in case you thought nothing interesting was being discovered lately. Another possible planet was discovered the same day:

The announcement, made Friday by Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology, came just hours after another celestial object slightly smaller than Pluto was revealed, on a very confusing day for astronomers and the media.

The new object, temporarily named 2003 UB313, is about three times as far from the sun as is Pluto.

"It's definitely bigger than Pluto," said Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech. The object is round and could be up to twice as large as Pluto, Brown told reporters during a hastily called NASA-run teleconference Friday evening.

His best estimate is that it is 2,100 miles (3,360 kilometers) wide, about one and a half times the diameter of Pluto.

The object is inclined by a whopping 45 degrees to the main plane of the solar system, where most of the other planets orbit. That's why it eluded discovery: Nobody was looking there until now, Brown said.

Some astronomers view it as a Kuiper Belt object and not a planet. The Kuiper Belt is a region of frozen objects beyond Neptune.

Pluto itself is called a Kuiper Belt object by many astronomers. Brown himself has argued in the past for Pluto's demotion from planet status, because of its diminutive size and eccentric and inclined orbit.

But on Friday he struck a different note.

"Pluto has been a planet for so long that the world is comfortable with that," Brown said during the teleconference. "It seems to me a logical extension that anything bigger than Pluto and farther out is a planet."

Offering additional justification, Brown said 2003 UB313 appears to be surfaced with methane ice, as is Pluto. That's not the case with other large Kuiper Belt objects.

"This object is in a class very much like Pluto," he said.

NASA effectively endorsed the idea in an official statement that referred to 2003 UB313 as the 10th planet.

Yet in recent years, a bevy of objects roughly half to three-fourths the size of Pluto have been found.

Brian Marsden, who runs the Minor Planet Center where data on objects like this are collected, said that if Pluto is a planet, then other round objects nearly as large as Pluto ought to be called planets. By that logic, 2003 UB313 would perhaps be a planet, but it would have to get in line behind a handful of others that were discovered previously.

"I would not call it the 10th planet," Marsden told Space.com.

Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, called the discovery "a major step." But Boss would not call it a planet at all. Instead, he said Pluto and other small objects beyond Neptune should be called, at best, "Kuiper Belt planets."

"To just call them planets does an injustice to the big guys in the solar system," Boss said in a telephone interview.

We can't have that. Plus, imagine the size of the shoebox you'd need for a diorama containing dozens of mini-planets beyond Neptune.

This is interesting. 10,000 Plutos?

Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, the top scientist for NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, predicted in the early 1990s that there would be 1,000 Plutos out there. He has also contended, based on computer modeling, that there should be Mars-sized objects hidden in the far corners of our solar system and even possibly other worlds as large as Earth.

Thanks to BrewFan, or as My Favorite Nazi so wittily has dubbed him, "SpewFan."


I Question The Timing Update: Kaos muses...

IMHo, I think the new planet is the Death Star planted there by KKKarl Rove. Any day now we'll be seeing legions of clone warriors and tie fighters decending on earth with the intent to destroy the remains of the democrat party or maybe it's just a speck of dust on the hubble mirror.

Everything is a "distraction" from Rovamania.

Or, as Traffic Non-Santa might say, "There's an investigation on."

Plutonian Politics: Is there any way we can use the Planet (?) Pluto controversy as a wedge issue against the Democrats?

Can we bait Howard Dean into saying something derogatory about Pluto?

Because, if we could, it would really annoy a lot of nerdy liberal-leaning voters.

There must be some way to use this. We conservatives can argue on behalf of "tradition," and bait liberals into taking an anti-Pluto position by using over-the-top anti-intellectual arguments in favor of Pluto, perhaps attacking the "pusillanimous puling pencil-necked pointy-heads" with all their silly "facts" and "theories" and "arrayed radio telescopes."

The "reality-based community" will then, predictably and invetiably, be forced to mock the Plutophiles, perhaps denigrating Pluto as a "sub-planetoid Jeebus spacerock."

And then we just sit back and reap the political benefits.

All we need to do, really, is get President Bush to mention Pluto in connection with some passage of a book of the Bible. Isaiah, maybe. Isaiah always seems to set these people off.

Or -- just spit-balling here -- "plucky little Pluto, the period at the end of the solar sentence, a methane-ice covered David fighting the Goliath of post-modern relativism and scientific hubris..."

I know they'd fall for the bait. They just can't help themselves.

They're crazy.

Posted by: Ace at 09:16 AM | Comments (38)
Post contains 1168 words, total size 7 kb.

1 Astrologers have long believed there's a planet Vulcan waiting to be discoverd.

Posted by: erp at July 30, 2005 09:24 AM (bawh3)

2 Vulcan was supposed to be closer to the sun than Mercury, and was predicted to exist by astronomers on the basis of some apparent orbital irregularities of Mercury which went away when relativistic er.. stuff was taken into account, and by astrologers when Geminis didn't suck as much as they should have done.
I'm quite inspired by the thought of earth or Mars-sized icy rocks in the outer reaches of the solar system.

Posted by: Botec at July 30, 2005 09:29 AM (/HnHU)

3 IMHo, I think the new planet is the Death Star planted there by KKKarl Rove. Any day now we'll be seeing legions of clone warriors and tie fighters decending on earth with the intent to destroy the remains of the democrat party or maybe it's just a speck of dust on the hubble mirror.

Posted by: kaos at July 30, 2005 09:38 AM (fwmWr)

4 Bah! If it takes fancy-schmancy 21st century technology to detect it, it sure isn't going to make much of a dent on your horoscope.

Posted by: Guy T. at July 30, 2005 10:19 AM (g06wE)

5 Woot! My first tip-o-the-ol'-AoS-hat!

BTW, speaking of cedarford, do you know why he crossed the road? His dick was stuck in the chicken! Hey, I'm here all week! Don't forget to tip your host!

Posted by: BrewFan at July 30, 2005 10:31 AM (95UaF)

6 "That's no moon."

Posted by: Sean M. at July 30, 2005 10:52 AM (xO71b)

7 You have to admit, "SpewFan" has a certain ring to it. Even ACE seems to enjoy it. Perhaps because there is a hint of truth.

ACE can go with My Favorite Nazi - It reminds me of Ray Walston laying down the law on Spocoli and his Pizza.

I think of ACE as an Oscar Wilde who spoke of the Spewfan sort of "Love that dare not speak it's name" in the sense that ACE bespeaks for the "One Country That He Dare Not Criticize".

Forbidden love vs the Forbidden subject in the WoT.

Posted by: Cedarford at July 30, 2005 10:57 AM (M7kiy)

8 No, I don't think it has a "certain ring to it." I think it's childish and stupid. One of the stupidest aspects of on-line argument is the juvenile re-naming of posters.

Posted by: ace at July 30, 2005 11:03 AM (sYxc4)

9 Planet, schmanet. It was probably just Ted Kennedy wandering home after tieing one on.

Posted by: DWC at July 30, 2005 11:20 AM (xT77+)

10 Why would they attack the Democratic party? When the clones attack the earth they'll be the only one's who will understand the root causes behind their attack?

While still supporting our troops of coursae.

Posted by: Silk at July 30, 2005 11:24 AM (v/869)

11 ace wrote:
One of the stupidest aspects of on-line argument is the juvenile re-naming of posters.

Posted by: Sue Dohnim at July 30, 2005 11:46 AM (tnsUn)

12 Dude, what a year. First it turns out 666 isn't really the number of the beast, and now Pluto isn't a planet ??? Jeebis! My whole world is turning upside down.

Posted by: dave f at July 30, 2005 11:50 AM (SjZkv)

13 There's a simple solution to this problem - blow up Pluto. Any new wannabe planets will have to do a little more than tripping over that low hurdle to be considered for official status. And, we can scare the crap out of everyone. "Hey everyone, look what happened to Pluto, and it was just minding its own business. We're the USA, and we're friggin' crazy!"

Posted by: Tim Higgins at July 30, 2005 12:09 PM (6pS7K)

14 One of the stupidest aspects of on-line argument is the juvenile re-naming of posters.

I'm sorry, by stupidest, did you perhaps mean most deliciously burn-o-rific, Monsieur Ace of Gaywads?

Posted by: jack wilkie at July 30, 2005 12:10 PM (kUNrb)

15 Pluto is clearly a planet and so are all the other discoveries. Think of the negative impact that denying them planetary status will have on their self esteem and future development.

Nobody wants to go settle a KBO - they want to settle a planet.

Posted by: at July 30, 2005 01:11 PM (98ED/)

16 The way the word was originally used, any light that wandered the sky rather than moving in lockstep with the stars was a "planet." So Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were certainly planets, but so was the Moon--and the Sun! Earth, on the other hand, was not a planet.

Posted by: Edric at July 30, 2005 01:21 PM (rUBpL)

17 Man, loose shit astronomers. Just because you try to regale us with data on far off stars but haven't even managed to count the frigging planets in our own solar system you have to start ragging on Pluto. Shameful.

Posted by: Sortelli at July 30, 2005 01:49 PM (Bjdtq)

18 Geez, there's a lot of crap floating around out there.

Sounds like we need a vacuum cleaner. Har de har har.

Later,
bbeck

Posted by: bbeck at July 30, 2005 01:57 PM (qF8q3)

19 How about cedarford, bbeck? He certainly sucks in cosmic proportions!

Posted by: BrewFan at July 30, 2005 02:20 PM (95UaF)

20 Brew, you think he sucks? I think he blows.

Either way, I don't understand why he doesn't take a long walk on a short pier, preferably while wearing his good luck concrete.

Later,
bbeck

Posted by: bbeck at July 30, 2005 02:27 PM (qF8q3)

21 Brew and Bbeck...

And I think he swallows.

Posted by: Jack M. at July 30, 2005 02:53 PM (5hVbJ)

22 The "reality-based community" will then, predictably and invetiably, be forced to mock the Plutophiles, perhaps denigrating Pluto as a "sub-planetoid Jeebus spacerock."
And then we just sit back and reap the political benefits.


You're on to something.
Sorry, I meant, you're ON something.

Probably valu-rite discount vodka and Klonopin suppositories.
But I digress. Or regress. Whatever.

Do we know the political persuasion of these guys defining what is, and what is not a planet?
For all we know the planet-spoilers could be saying, "It's just a cluster of space-rocks!"

While OUR guys are going, "Heathen! If it has gravity, it's a PLANET." Or something.

Posted by: lauraw at July 30, 2005 05:47 PM (ywZa8)

23 I've long thought that Pluto shouldn't be considered a planet. There are just too many reasons why it doesn't make sense to consider it that way. It's not on the ecliptic, it's too small, there are too many objects like it in the Kuiper belt, and so on.

The problem is coming up with a rigorous definition of "planet"; there's really no way to do it. But if you include Pluto, why not also Ceres, the largest Asteroid, whose diameter is half that of Pluto?

There are six moons in the solar system which are larger than Pluto: Triton, Titan, Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Luna. The smallest planet, Mercury, has a diameter more than twice that of Pluto.

And once Charon (Pluto's moon) was discovered and its orbit characterized, it was possible to come up with a good estimate of Pluto's mass and a reasonable approximation of its density. It's an iceball; it isn't rock and metal like the inner planets, or a ball of gas like the outer planets.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at July 30, 2005 05:52 PM (CJBEv)

24 As long as were tossin out objects to de-planet, how bout Saturn?

God, I've always hated that gas bag. "Oooh, lookit me everybody! I've got rings." Yeah, we get it Saturn. You've got rings. Fine. I think it's time Ms. Stuck up 6th from the sun got her cumuppence.

Saturn is hereby no longer a planet. There bitch.

Posted by: Guy Dupree at July 30, 2005 06:23 PM (kUNrb)

25 "Isaiah always seems to set these people off."

Gee, I wonder why?

I just opened it completely at random, and here's what I found:

"But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the harlot." (57.3)

How great is that? "Seed of the adulterer and the harlot." I've got to update my Friendster profile ...

Posted by: Knemon at July 30, 2005 06:25 PM (QaHR7)

26 Okay, having been burned in a previous thread re: the name "Charon", I did some poking around this time before posting. I've come to the conclusion that we don't have enough planets named after Roman chick gods in this solar system. We've got Venus and that's about it ("Earth" doesn't have any connection with the Roman god naming convention). So I nominate the name "Minerva" (Greek - Athena) for the new one. As I recall she had a reputation for being somewhat cold & distant as Roman/Greek gods go. Also, I've done some quick searches and it seems that Minerva hasn't been associated with any local celestial bodies yet.

Posted by: Enas Yorl at July 30, 2005 06:26 PM (t5jXv)

27 I think this is the proper place and time for a couple of classic Pluto bits from the (sadly defunct) Brunching Shuttlecoks.

Posted by: PlacidPundit at July 30, 2005 06:31 PM (RPqz9)

28 Most of the Roman "chick gods" got asteroids named after them, including Minerva.

Me, I'm waiting for the next season of Sailor Moon...

Posted by: Pixy Misa at July 30, 2005 08:33 PM (4N+SC)

29 If Pluto can be a plant, why can't Australia be a continent? This is SO unfair!

Posted by: warty at July 31, 2005 05:19 AM (i9E45)

30 Well, I guess Pluto could be a plant, and a planet too. But Australia is STILL getting the short end of the stick, real estate-wise.

Posted by: warty at July 31, 2005 05:21 AM (i9E45)

31 I'm still reeling that Den Beste posted here.
He must have been faced.

Posted by: lauraw at July 31, 2005 08:47 AM (6krEN)

32 or a ball of gas like the outer planets.


Then Oliver Willis is a planet.

Posted by: Dave in Space at July 31, 2005 09:49 AM (TNA0Q)

33 Mental heavyweight and blog-god Steven Den Beste deigns to comment here and he is completely ignored. Geeze, Ace, you really ARE the only important one on this stage. Heh.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at July 31, 2005 03:48 PM (wBmK0)

34 I still think the ancient definition is admirable in its simplicity and obviousness: If you can see it and it's not one of "the fixed stars," that is, if it moves against the starry background, it's a "wanderer" or "planet."

--Edric

Posted by: Edric at July 31, 2005 11:34 PM (/C+88)

35 Den Beste is right, as usual. There are only eight planets in the Solar System. Pluto, Sedna and the rest are KBOs.

Posted by: Kingslasher at August 01, 2005 02:56 AM (SOfML)

36 I never quite understood why a planet can't be a KBO -- obviously, a gas giant is less like Earth than Pluto is and yet we consider Jupiter and Earth to both be planets.

I'd say a planet is anything that orbits a star that's Pluto-sized or bigger.

Posted by: John Nowak at August 01, 2005 06:44 PM (DTHaM)

37 The important question is "Did John Roberts ever express an opinion on the existance of a 10th planet?" I will not be satisfied until the Administration releases all of Roberts' extra-Plutonian opinions. I don't see how the scientific community can do their job on this subject until they have all the information.

Posted by: Lew Clark at August 03, 2005 03:31 PM (6Qx9l)

38 I think it's childish and stupid. One of the stupidest aspects of on-line argument is the juvenile re-naming of posters.jocuri cu masini

Posted by: Matt at June 12, 2012 01:02 AM (52E4K)

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