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August 26, 2006

Hallucinating Pluto

IAU, 16 August: "The world's astronomers... have concluded two years of work defining the difference between 'planets' and the smaller 'solar system bodies' such as comets and asteroids. If the definition is approved... our Solar System will include 12 planets, with more to come: eight classical planets that dominate the system, three planets in a new and growing category of 'plutons' - Pluto-like objects - and Ceres. Pluto remains a planet and is the prototype for the new category of 'plutons.'"

But wait!

BBC News, 24 August: "Astronomers have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet... The International Astronomical Union's (IAU) decision means textbooks will now have to describe a Solar System with just eight major planetary bodies. Pluto, which was discovered in 1930 by the American Clyde Tombaugh, will be referred to as a 'dwarf planet'."

But wait still more!

25 August: "Owen Gingerich... blamed the outcome in large part on a 'revolt' by dynamicists - astronomers who study the motion and gravitational effects of celestial objects. 'In our initial proposal we took the definition of a planet that the planetary geologists would like. The dynamicists felt terribly insulted that we had not consulted with them to get their views. Somehow, there were enough of them to raise a big hue and cry.'"

Those dastardly dynamicists!

Brilliantly, Pluto's defenders are now selling bumper stickers inviting motorists to "Honk if Pluto is still a planet."

Science hasn't been this much fun since Stephen Hawking punched Homer Simpson with a giant mechanical boxing glove.

August 26, 2006 in Science | Permalink

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Comments

Dynamicists? Rubbish!

It's a takeover by the musicians. Finally, Holst's suite has the right number of movements again. I can't easily express how happy I am about this.

PS Hi, Ivan.

Posted by: Tom Yates at Aug 26, 2006 6:45:16 PM

If Pluto wasn't the only 'planet' discovered by an American there wouldn't be such a fuss.

Posted by: Dave Clements at Aug 26, 2006 7:44:43 PM