Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Planet X-ed

As I write this, the universe as we “understand” it is radically different than it was yesterday. Yesterday, there were nine planets in the family of our solar system and potentially four more. As of an hour ago, there are now eight. The International Astronomical Union voted that Pluto was no longer to be considered a “planet”, and that; instead, it is considered but a “dwarf planet”. What used to be known as PLANET X just became PLANET X-ed.

I just sat through two hours of the very IAU meeting in which this was decided - including the vote and discussion for this decision - by internet streaming from Prague. It was frustrating, to say the least to watch how history was changed and made – by committee.

To say not everyone was happy about that vote is an understatement. Here are some samples of the remarks by planetary astronomers worldwide:
“An embarrassment for Astronomy. The vote is a farce.” Alan Stern, NASA.
“Pluto is dead.” Caltech Astronomer Mike Brown
“Confusing and unfortunate.” Owen Gingerich, historian and astronomer emeritus at Harvard
Stern then added that it was "absurd" that only 424 astronomers were allowed to vote, out of some 10,000 professional astronomers around the globe.
Now that there is so much furor caused by booting out a long standing member of the Solar System’s family, a petition is now being organized among world astronomers to invite Pluto and Charon back as soon as possible… especially since we just sent a family greeting by robot emissary that won’t even get there until 2010.
As far as Pluto Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh is concerned – he passed away before he could get the word. But there must be some rumblings from the grave after today.
As far as what we’re going to do with every textbook on the planet – that’s a different story. And for heaven’s sake – don’t rewrite them. If the Astronomer’s posse is formed, it may be back the way it was by this time next year. I can bet any amount of money that the applications for membership in the IAU just increased by a factor of 10 or more.