Thursday, August 24, 2006
Defining The Universe Down
Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.
After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is — and isn't — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists
who have labored since Copernicus without one.
Although astronomers applauded after the vote, Jocelyn Bell Burnell — a specialist in neutron stars from Northern Ireland who oversaw the proceedings — urged those who might be "quite
disappointed" to look on the bright side.
"It could be argued that we are creating an umbrella called 'planet' under which the dwarf planets exist," she said, drawing laughter by waving a stuffed Pluto of Walt Disney fame beneath a
Whatever happened to Leave No Planet Behind?
Alas, poor Pluto, I knew him well...If even the planets can be "downsized" out of jobs what chance do the rest of us have?
Now, in the world of ancient myth, Pluto was the god of the underworld. What does it say about modern conceits that we tempt fate by eliminating the symbolic heavenly body of the afterlife?
UPDATE: From the comments section, Jonathan Funke explores the broader dimensions:
"Robert, you have no idea just how sweeping and political are the implications of the Pluto debate. According to PBS commentators:
And, in fact, the plutons, and Ceres, and all these other bits of rubble, which are fascinating objects, are nothing but aborted planets. And the real planets of the Solar System are the ones that managed to sweep up all of the objects in their own neighborhood to become complete planets....The leftover debris, things like Ceres, we consider to be essentially aborted planets -- aborted fetuses, if you will -- things that didn't make it to the final stage of planethood.
"'Leave No Planet Behind' is merely collateral damage. Space is truly the final frontier...where W. and NARAL will have their High Noon."
I would disagree with the astronomers quoted by PBS to the extent that since these formations are naturaly occurring it is more appropriate to call them "miscarried" or "stillborn" planets, rather than "aborted."