Archives » August 24th, 2006

August 24, 2006

Nine Twelve Eight Planets

Poor Pluto; it can’t get a break. Last week I wrote about the International Astronomical Union and the new rules they had come up with for what is and what is not a planet. They had developed a category called “plutons” which encompassed all the Pluto-like bodies out there (of which there are quite a few), and said they were all planets. It was looking like these new definitions would hold up when they were voted on this week, and we’d end up with 12 planets, and the possiblity for hundreds more. Well, those rules got voted down, and completely different set of rules got voted in instead. All the plutons, including Pluto itself, were put into a category known as “dwarf planets” which is distincly separate from the other eight, “classical” planets. As usual, there’s plenty more from the Bad Astronomer, along with some frustration.

Let me once again reiterate that trying to define what a planet is is very, very silly. The very fact that all this is so bizarrely confusing is good evidence of this.

I’m really torn over this. Scientifically, this whole debate is a tempest in a teapot. It’s ridiculous, and serves no purpose. How is scientific knowledge furthered in any way by debating and resolving this?

On the other hand, it’s gotten a lot of interest by the public, and it’s been positive interest so far. People are talking about what it means to be a planet, and given the abysmal level of science education in the US, it’s great that folks are actually talking about astronomy. Maybe it’ll lead to some of them looking into it more, and that’s a good thing.

And now, finally, just maybe, we can actually get back to studying these objects instead of arguing about what to call them. There’s much to learn about them, real stuff, interesting stuff. The planets – however many you may think there are – are waiting. Let’s get going.