Monday, August 28, 2006

Poor Ol' Pluto

Planetary demotion. That's a term I never thought I'd hear. Pluto has lost its status as a planet, after seventy-six years, and now finds itself within a new classification: dwarf planets. The question I keep asking is: "How can one come to this decision, when no clearly defined criteria for planethood exist?"

But the lead scientist on Nasa's robotic mission to Pluto has lambasted the ruling, calling it "embarrassing".

The vote took place at the International Astronomical Union's (IAU) 10-day General Assembly in Prague. The IAU has been the official naming body for astronomy since 1919.

Professor Gingerich, who had to return home to the US and therefore could not vote himself, said he would like to see electronic ballots introduced in future.

Alan Stern agreed: "I was not allowed to vote because I was not in a room in Prague on Thursday 24th. Of 10,000 astronomers, 4% were in that room - you can't even claim consensus.

"If everyone had to travel to Washington DC every time we wanted to vote for President, we would have very different results because no one would vote. In today's world that is idiotic. I have nothing but ridicule for this decision."

So the majority of those with the credentials to vote on the issue weren't even present. Makes perfect sense to me.

Ever notice how scientists needlessly complicate things? Why not, for example, use Pluto as the demarcation line between planet and non-planet status? Anything equal to or greater than Pluto in size is a planet, and anything smaller is a midget planetoid, or some such thing. That's the first criterion. The second, that the celestial body in question has its own unique orbit around the sun. Nope, that's far too simple. Having an arbitrary, shifting definition that changes depending upon who is doing the talking is much more logical.

Get a load of this brilliant expose of the scientific method in making these determinations:

But other astronomers were happy to see Pluto cast from the official roster of planets. Professor Iwan Williams, the IAU's president of planetary systems science, commented: "Pluto has lots and lots of friends; we're not so keen to have Pluto and all his friends in the club because it gets crowded.

"By the end of the decade, we would have had 100 planets, and I think people would have said 'my goodness, what a mess they made back in 2006'."

Someone should tell this guy that Pluto is a planet and not a spacefaring Disney character. It "gets crowded"? Really? Is he speaking on a galactic scale, or universally? What in the worlds is wrong with having one hundred or more planets in our solar system? I suppose this purely emotional bilge exhibits an incapacitating case of claustrophobia.

It's kinda fun seeing the typical hubris of the scientific community in full swing. What's even more amusing is that so many grovel at its feet in abject worship, hanging on every pronouncement as if it were straight from the lips of God.

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