Thursday, August 24, 2006

How Many Planets Do We Have?

Last week I heard that scientists were planning to reclassify the qualifications of being a planet. They were doing it with the eye towards adding new planets to our traditional nine. And there were three specific objects that they planned to give planet-status: Ceres (between Mars and Jupiter), UB313 (nicknamed Xena) and Charon (Pluto's moon).

I thought that was a great idea. As we learn more about the solar system, it seems logical that our traditional definition of what a planet is will grow and expand.

But then I checked Google News this morning and discovered that not only was that proposal rejected, but Pluto has now been downgraded and is no longer a planet. What the heck happened? How did we go backwards? Their main objection seems to be that the proposed definition would allow to many objects to be classified as planets and we could have up to 200 planets. So what? That's progress.

For as long as I've been alive, Pluto has always been a planet. Now the 76 year history of the planet Pluto is just swept under the rug as if making it a planet had been a mistake. That's crap. I don't want to sound like a religious conservative, but I'm just going to stick fingers in my ears and say "I'm not listening" to those scientists.

Professor Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology brought some common sense to the discussion in a radio interview:
"The analogy that I always like to use is the word 'continent'. You know, the word 'continent' has no scientific definition ... they're just cultural definitions, and I think the geologists are wise to leave that one alone and not try to redefine things so that the word 'continent' has a big, strict definition."
That works for me. Just as there are seven continents, there are nine planets.

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