Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto Voted Off The Solar System

Definitions are no longer constant any more, it seems.

Up is down, black is white, good is evil, and Pluto isn't a planet anymore:

Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto was 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 laboured since Copernicus without one.

The gathering in Prague has decided that Mars, Venus, Earth, Mercury, Jupiter, Uranus Saturn and Neptune remain planets, but Pluto becomes the first member of a new category, known as dwarf planets.

The historic vote officially shrinks Earth's neighbourhood from the traditional nine planets to eight. But the scientists made clear they're as sentimental as anyone about the ninth rock from the sun.


Much-maligned Pluto — named for the god of the underworld — doesn't make the grade under the new rules for a planet: “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.”

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of “dwarf planets,” similar to what long have been termed “minor planets.” The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun — “small solar system bodies,” a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites.

But fear not for Pluto: all it needs is someone to make a Charter challenge on its behalf and the courts will redefine it as a planet again.

In fact, there may already be an argument that calling it a "dwarf planet" is discriminatory, according to one perspicacious (if politically correct) Globe and Mail combox commentator:

keith stringer from Cincinnati, United States writes: Actually, the newly proposed terminology might be troubling from a social perspective. Under the new terminology, it is to be accepted in elementary school classrooms that 'dwarf planets' such as Pluto are not real planets. This terminology sets up the obvious possibility of childhood verbal cruelty, along the lines that a dwarf human is therefore not a real human. Dwarfism is a condition that impacts thousands of human families - perhaps after receiving those corrective opinions from geologists, the astronomers should have consulted pediatricians in their search for an appropriate term. There must be other terms besides 'dwarf' that could be used to describe small size.

You see? Just as the concept of "civil union" was considered derogatory to homosexual couples, so too the concept of "dwarf planet," with the bonus of being insulting to persons with human growth disabilities.

Pedants may point out that the Charter does not apply to celestial bodies, but our learned justices are capable of trying to shape the laws of nature to their ends as they do the laws of the land.

1 comment:

Mozart is Cool Too said...

don't worry pluto your still a planet to me