Die Pluto, Die!

This week: John Spencer
John Spencer is a staff scientist at Southwest Research Institute's Department of Space Studies in Boulder, Colorado and is a member of the New Horizons [1] and Cassini [2] science teams. His research interests include the moons of the outer planets, particularly the Galilean satellites of Jupiter and the icy moons of Saturn. When he's not staring at a computer screen, he loves exploring Colorado's mountains with his wife Jane and their dog Maggie.

John Spencer has the definitive post on the whole "What is a planet?" deal, over at the planetary society blog. Now let us all play the sit-down-and-be-quiet game, please?

Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission (and therefore presumably John Spencer's boss) has other ideas. The lastest news item currently on the New Horizons website is an attack on the IAU's decision and a call to arms. Stern's opinion, expressed more eloquently in this article published shortly after the discovery of 2003 UB313, is that while Pluto's planethood was once opposed because it was considered a misfit, it is now opposed because we are beginning to realise that Pluto is in fact an exemplar of the bodies that make up the vast majority of the solar system.

I think the only sensible way to settle this 'debate' is... PRO-WRESTLING. 2003 UB313 Vs Jupiter, no holds barred! Hit it with the chair, Jupiter! Hit it hard!


Disillusioned kid said...

I read that call to arms and there wasn't a single comment urging the IAU to get its head out of Uranus. I want my money back!

Pacian said...


Michelle said...

Hey, how do you think the astrologers are handling the demise of Pluto? Does this affect rising signs and all that?

Pacian said...

Ha! Oh man. Actually, given how this whole thing is really just about arbitrarily defining the definition of a word, quite a few sciency types have been having a poke at astrology regarding the matter. Phil Plait mentioned it in his first post on the topic. New Scientist has a section for amusing and/or relevant quotes each week, and it had quotes from two astrologers saying completely the opposite things about the decision.

But the fact is that Pluto is still there and still moving the same way, still boiling up a weak atmosphere when it's closer to the sun, still freezing it out when further away. What we *call* it doesn't change what it *is*, at least as far as any sensible person is concerned (astrologers on the other hand, assign each planet its astrological effect based largely on its name - so Venus, the most inhospitable rocky body in the solar system, is in charge of love). If Pluto had an astrological effect, it does now and it did before we even discovered it (strange, then, that astrologers never told us where it was or even that it existed).

Of course, if Pluto has an astrological effect, so do the thousands of other small and/or distant objects out there. The effects of the nine classical planets (if astrologers even take all of them into account) are drowned out by all the moons and asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects and meteoroids and comets. A great example of how the rules of astrology are inconsistent and self-contradictory.

(In case you haven't noticed, astrology is a pet peeve of mine.)

Michelle said...

I had also thought of the other chunks of things floating around out there, and how that was rationalized now that our microscopes are more powerful.

Funny point about Venus. I never thought about that.

You can probably tell I am not all that into astrology either...