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View Poll Results: Is Pluto A Planet?

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Thread: Is Pluto A Planet?

  1. #1
    Barbarossa's Avatar mostly harmless
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    Regarding this article:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4737647.stm

    The discovery of a new planet in our Solar System could have an unintended consequence - the elimination of Pluto in the list of planets everyone has in their heads. Is it time to wave this distant, dark piece of rock farewell?

    To the casual observer, the announcement that scientists have identified a tenth planet orbiting the Sun is primarily of importance to few people other than science teachers and schoolchildren.

    But, on closer examination, the revelation may have more far-reaching consequences for the way in which we think about space.

    At around 3,000km across, 2003 UB313 - as it has been named - is the largest object found in our Solar System since the discovery of Neptune in 1846.

    And it is thought to be larger than Pluto, whose status as the furthest planet from the Sun has been enshrined in accepted thought since it was identified in 1930.

    But this could all change.

    Technological advances have enabled astronomers to find more minor planets, stars, asteroids and comets.

    And in the late 1960s scientists found that Pluto's size had been over-estimated.

    It was first thought to be around as large as Earth, whereas accepted thought now suggests that the planet's mass is only around a fifth of the moon's.

    "Today, the world knows that Pluto is not unique. There are other Plutos, just farther out in the Solar System where they are a little harder to find," says David Rabinowitz of Yale University, who was among the astronomers who discovered 2003 UB313 two years ago.

    His point is echoed by Professor Mark Bailey, director of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland.

    "Increasingly, objects are far away and there are objects which are of comparable size to Pluto, so if you think of Pluto as a planet then you should refer to those objects as planets," he says.

    He estimates that there could be tens of thousands of objects beyond Neptune in the Solar System region known as the Kuiper belt, many of which may be larger than Pluto.

    The discovery of 2003 UB313 comes soon after it was announced that 2003 EL61 had been found.

    And a number of distant objects around the same size of Pluto have been found in recent years, including Quaoar (found in 2002) and Sedna (detected in 2004).

    It is widely accepted that the struggle to provide an adequate definition of a planet is the crux of the problem.

    "Originally a planet was a wandering star. Then it was something that moved across the sky. Then it was something that revolved around the Sun. The criterion about when it should be called a planet is something that is changing over time," says Prof Bailey.

    "I'm sure we will continue to discover more and more objects of comparable size which will continue to challenge established thought about planets."

    'Size does matter'

    Dr Brian Marsden, director of the International Astronomy Union's minor planet centre, believes the simplest way to resolve the confusion is to reject Pluto's claim to being a planet on the grounds that "size does matter".

    Instead he says people should accept that "we have eight planets and only an object bigger than Mars could be considered to be a planet in the future".

    He argues that the disruption that would be caused to accepted thought would, ultimately, provide a more accurate understanding of space.

    "School text books concentrate too much on the idea that Pluto is the ninth planet. Teaching should stress that there are hundreds of thousands of much smaller objects. Knowing a mnemonic and naming the planets is not science."

    But not everyone believes science has the right, or influence to turn accepted thought on its head.

    "Our culture has fully embraced the idea that Pluto is a planet and scientists have for the most part not yet realised that the term planet no longer belongs to them," says Michael Brown, one of the astronomers who discovered 2003 UB313.

    His conclusion is simple: "From now on, everyone should ignore the distracting debates of the scientists. Planets in our solar system should be defined not by some attempt at forcing a scientific definition on a thousands-of-years-old cultural term, but by simply embracing culture. Pluto is a planet because culture says it is.

    "It is understandably hard for scientists to let go of a word that they think they use scientifically, but they need to."

    He considers 2003 UB313 to be a planet in a "cultural" and "historical" sense, adding: "I will not argue that it is a scientific planet because there is no good scientific definition which fits our solar system and our culture and I have decided to let culture win this one.

    "We scientists can continue our debates, but I hope we are generally ignored."
    My personal opinion is that Pluto should be reclassified as a Minor Planet, i.e. the same classification of object as the asteroids in the asteroid belt, along with all the other Kuiper belt objects, including the one just discovered.

    I wonder what the astrologers will make of all this? Do you think they saw this coming...

  2. Lounge   -   #2
    Snee's Avatar Error xɐʇuʎs BT Rep: +1
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    Can't be arsed to read that, but from what I know from before:

    It has its own orbit, kinda', and that orbit is roughly similar to that of the other planets. According to some definitions that makes it a planet.

    But it's too small, more like a planetoid really, and its orbit is asynchronous to the others (it isn't even always farthest out).

    And I don't think it was formed in the same accretion disc as the others, but I'm not sure.
    Last edited by Snee; 08-02-2005 at 02:27 PM.

  3. Lounge   -   #3
    manker's Avatar effendi
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    I read this article earlier. It's fairly obvious that astronomers have known for years that if Pluto is a true planet, then there are likely to be hundreds (if not hundreds of thousands) of other 'true planets' in our solar system. I mean, I knew this and I only infrequently read about this stuff.

    The thing that struck me about the article was that there are people arguing that we should keep on teaching kids that there are nine planets in our solar system.

    Why?

    There clearly aren't by any definition of a planet.

    I agree with Dr Brian Marsden.

    That other mentalist who believes that culture should dictate what is taught at centres of education clearly also believes that we should still be placing dead pigeons on folk's heads to cure them of cancer, instead of the, rather more effective, radio and chemotherapy.
    I plan on beating him to death with his kids. I'll use them as a bludgeon on his face. -

    --Good for them if they survive.

  4. Lounge   -   #4
    Barbarossa's Avatar mostly harmless
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    I like the fact that, as well as serious points in the discussion, the BBC editors are also including comments that are just alternative mnemonics for the planets...

  5. Lounge   -   #5
    manker's Avatar effendi
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    When I said 'that other mentalist' - I didn't mean SnnY

    I didn't notice SnnY's post before I posted. I meant the guy in the article who said mental stuff about teaching.
    Last edited by manker; 08-02-2005 at 02:46 PM.
    I plan on beating him to death with his kids. I'll use them as a bludgeon on his face. -

    --Good for them if they survive.

  6. Lounge   -   #6
    manker's Avatar effendi
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barbarossa
    I like the fact that, as well as serious points in the discussion, the BBC editors are also including comments that are just alternative mnemonics for the planets...



    There were no comments when I read the article early this morning. Looks like the Beeb are trying a little too hard to be balanced and representative of all view points
    I plan on beating him to death with his kids. I'll use them as a bludgeon on his face. -

    --Good for them if they survive.

  7. Lounge   -   #7
    not trying to go offtopica but
    does this have ill consequences to walt disney's pluto?


    Pluto whether a planet or not is a place just like earth as is the shop around the corner.
    Defintions change - concept does not

  8. Lounge   -   #8
    Rat Faced's Avatar Broken
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    Pluto isnt a planet, most scientists/astronomers agree that now.

    If you classified Pluto as a planet then what about Ceres? And all those other pieces of rock between Mars and Jupiter...


    Do we have two moons too?

    An It Harm None, Do What You Will

  9. Lounge   -   #9
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    What makes an orbiting body a planet?

    Does it have to be in the same disc as the other planets. Clearly, if Pluto were the size of Jupiter this question would not have arisen, so the plane of the orbit is clearly irrelevant.

    Does the orbit have to be almost circular? There are a number of comets which appear to be much larger than Pluto, and have never been considered planets, so it is clear that a near circular orbit is a requirement.

    So far, Pluto still makes it as a planet.

    The final question is that of size. Who decides how big a body has to be before being counted as a planet? Does the size matter at all? Well, obviously there has to be some minimum requirement otherwise we could classify specks of dust as planets, and the number would be astronomical.

    Even Dr Brian Marsden seems a little confused. "we have eight planets and only an object bigger than Mars could be considered to be a planet in the future". But Mercury is smaller than Mars, so surely that throws his theory out of the window already. Or perhaps he has plans to reduce the planet count to seven. Have we discovered the true identity of Ming the Merciless?

    Surely, since Pluto has already been accepted as a planet, then it is a planet. If we need to make distinctions about later discoveries then I would suggest that Pluto be taken as the benchmark.
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  10. Lounge   -   #10
    Barbarossa's Avatar mostly harmless
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    Quote Originally Posted by lynx
    Surely, since Pluto has already been accepted as a planet, then it is a planet. If we need to make distinctions about later discoveries then I would suggest that Pluto be taken as the benchmark.
    Hmm, isn't that sort of against the principles of scientific research?

    When more knowledge becomes available, a more informed decision can be made about things.

    Scientists shouldn't be scared to admit they get it wrong sometimes!

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