36 thoughts on “A Special Message From Scott “Pluto Hayta” Westerfeld

  1. Cross-posted from westerblog

    Pro: According to Google via Wikipedia, a planet (from the Greek πλανήτης, planētēs which means “wanderer” or more forcefully “vagrant, tramp”) is an object in orbit around a star that is not a star in its own right. Much like “continent,” “planet” is a word without a precise definition, with history and culture playing as much of a role as geology and astrophysics.

    By this definition, Pluto can and should be called a planet (along with Vesta, Juno, Ceres, Pallas, et al).

    Con: According to Wikipedia, Luna (our moon) has a diameter 1.5 times that of Pluto. There are some who say Earth-Luna should be properly called a binary planet. But there really isn’t much support for this designation and I don’t see it happening any time soon.

    So if Pluto is smaller than other non-planets (Luna, 2003 UB313, etc), then why should we call it a planet?

  2. Well, for one thing, UB313 would clearly be a planet if Pluto is a planet.

    The center of gravity for the Earth-moon system is inside the sphere of the Earth, which for me suggests it’s formally a satellite, not a double planet (please note this is my own thing, not based on any other scientific precept).

  3. I think we should instead petition to get Uranus named back to Herschel.

    *giggles*

    Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Herschel…

  4. I’m with rhiannon_s, they’re all planets. That is, if it orbits the sun it is a planet (minor or otherwise). Is Ceres a planet? Yes, it is. Is Pluto a planet? Yes, it is, too. Are all those funny little things that that we can’t possibly remember the names of because they’re just random letters and numbers (I know they’re not don’t get all pedantic on me)? Yes, they are. Do we need to make a list of all of them, and only let an elite few in? No, we don’t. We do need to remember the eight biggies (no, Pluto is no on that list), but we are free to mention all the others for the simple fact that their discoveries are important: Ceres, first chunk of stuff found where there should be a plant but isn’t; Pluto, planet found by looking in the direction that theory told us something big existed, but sadly it’s not that thing. To sum up, if its discovery ushered in some new epoch in astronomy, or if you’re damn pushy and can get the IAU to do your bidding and honor your bud, a body gets a name and not a number.

    Sadly this argument is the one we were all so adept at in Kindergarten.

    “Is too.”

    “Is not.”

    “Is too.”

    “Is not.”

    “Is!”

    “Isn’t!”

  5. I totally agree Regan – Herschel is a way cooler planet name than Uranus. It’s way cooler period.

  6. Just to be difficult, let’s accept his claim that because Pluto is mostly ice, is isn’t a planet, but a comet. Then since Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are mostly gas, they must not be planets, but clouds. Makes sense to me.

  7. So how’s the deadline coming? Will I get to read TLC before the next election?

    Hey, look, you didn’t say you’d kill anyone on this thread now did you? Or was that threaat supposed to last all week?

    I feel the gentle tug of Herschel’s cold surface…

  8. Uh-oh, now you’ve done it Chang. Not only did you mention the dreaded D word, you also double-posted. I can only imagine what fate lies in store for you now…

  9. So how’s the deadline coming? Will I get to read TLC before the next election?

    Hey, look, you didn’t say you’d kill anyone on this thread now did you? Or was that threaat supposed to last all week?

    I feel the gentle tug of Herschel’s cold surface…

  10. Sorry! Oh, God now I’m screwed. I’ve pissed of Chtulu AND C’Scalzi. I got a weird error message or something and though I stopped Safari from triple-posting or even double-posting. in pennance I will go play dolls with my daughter.

    I only wish we had a Cthulu plush.

    No, i didn’t say Cthulu plushie. That’s just weird. Like a Cthulu furrie.

  11. The one argument that doesn’t wash with me is that Pluto is half made of ice.

    That’s it? That’s the argument? It’s not made of the right sort of stuff?

    Well, then, Saturn’s out, because Saturn, for all it’s bulk, has the density and consistency of a milk shake. And ladies and gentlemen, dat don’ cut it. If Pluto being a rock-encrusted ice cube is a ding against it being a planet, then we can’t have giant slushies as planets either. It’s just not right.

    Orbits: Comets come in REALLY close to the sun and grow tails. I’m sure Pluto may someday grow a tail (long after humanity has either moved or kicked the bucket. Either way, there won’t be an Earth to watch it from.) But it’s not. It’s (roughly) moon-sized. Now, were the Moon orbiting the sun, would it not also be a planet? Can you think of a similar-sized body that does that? I can. It’s called Mercury. And last I checked, it’s a planet.

    Well, what about that whacky in and outta Neptune orbit?

    What about it? Who says it has to match the other eight? Why? Give me one good explanation that does not hint at someone’s underwear drawer being organized by label, date purchased, and color. (Edible varieties and Victoria’s Secret items do not count for our purposes.) (Not that I have any of that stuff.) (No, really. I don’t.) (Stop looking at me like that.) (God, this thong chaffes.)

    Furthermore, Xena should be called a planet. And yes, keep the name. We’re almost out of Greek gods and goddesses. Xena goes around the sun and has a moon or two.

    And finally, speaking of moons, Pluto has four of them. Um… What are those things moons orbit? Wait a minute. It’s coming to me.

    Oh, yeah. Those are called planets.

    So take that, you Pluto Haytin biyatches!

    (I move we rename Xena “Cthulu” once this “not a planet” BS is done away with. In honor of all the Pluto haytas.)

  12. Sorry. My bad. Pluto has only THREE moons, one more than Mars, two more than Earth, and more than Venus or the moonish Mercury, which both have… um… None.

    Pthpthpthpthpth!

  13. oops – I’m the anonymous above. I was so exited about the coolness of Herschel (as opposed to Uranus) that I forgot to enter my name. Silly me.

  14. You know, if you only accept spherical objects made from the local accretion disk as planets, that would make the Red Star not a planet, and I’m not sure the dragons would agree with you.

  15. For those that might really care, it looks like that the “Great Pluto Debate” will begin next week, the second week of the 26th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union, IAU (or UAI for francophones). From a PDF of the 27 July version of the program book:

    “Planet Definition” Tuesday August 22 12:45 – 13:45
    “This session will allow a presentation of the Executive Committee Recommendation on Planet Definition”.

    Will “The Vote” be taken at that session? You can likely follow what happens at the IAU via http://www.astronomy2006.com

    George

  16. What about it? Who says it has to match the other eight? Why?

    Um, because “planet” is a category, and things in a category have to match. That’s what “category” means.

    Right now, we have two kind of planets: terrestrial and gas giants, four of each. Within those two categories, those eight planets match in very many ways. Pluto matches none of those eight, but does match tens of thousands of objects that we do not call planets–we call them Kuiper Belt Objects. So it’s not a planet; that’s how categories work.

    Why this is hard for some people, I don’t know.

    And finally, speaking of moons, Pluto has four of them. Um… What are those things moons orbit? Wait a minute. It’s coming to me. Oh, yeah. Those are called planets.

    This is a circular argument. Pluto’s satellites are defined as “moons” only by people who already think Pluto is a planet. Having a satellite doesn’t make you a planet.

    Stars have satellites, as do asteroids and pieces of space junk. That doesn’t make them planets.

    So you may sputter and say, “What IS Charon, then, if not a moon?”

    Why, it’s the satellite of a Kuiper Belt Object.

    Again, why is this hard?

  17. Right now, we have two kind of planets: terrestrial and gas giants, four of each. Within those two categories, those eight planets match in very many ways. Pluto matches none of those eight, but does match tens of thousands of objects that we do not call planets–we call them Kuiper Belt Objects. So it’s not a planet; that’s how categories work.

    [emphasis mine]

    By your own admission, “planet” is not a category, it’s two categories. Why not have a third type of planet, called “plutonian” planets, in addition to the terrestial and jovian planets?

  18. Since Pluto and Charon kind of orbit each other (unless I’m on crack, which is likely), can’t we just call them a binary planet? Together they’re the same size as our moon, and let’s face it: our moon? Kinda big. Especially in relation to us.

    Then we can all go back to the happy days of our youth when pluto was a planet and the rest of the kuiper belt just wasn’t cool enough to make the grade (and/or wasn’t discovered yet, but we all know that a thing’s coolness isn’t determined until it’s discovered. Like a Schrodinger’s Cat of sweet-factor). After that, we can pass a “must be at least binary-planet cool to be considered for planetude” standard and apply it to everything in the kuiper belt… kind of like A Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of planet definitions.

  19. I hate to say it but Westerfield’s post and his comments here make more sense than the Pluto-has-to-be-a-planet-because-I-learned-it-in-Kindergarten argument. In the interest of simpler categories, Pluto shouldn’t be a planet.

  20. “The one argument that doesn’t wash with me is that Pluto is half made of ice.”

    Same here. By that logic, every Coke I’ve ever bought at McDonalds is a moon.

  21. John,

    Here is an update on this issue of planet designation:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14364833/

    Voting will take place on Aug. 24. In the meantime, I saw a bumper sticker that is quite relevant to the current state of affairs on this planet.

    “EARTH FIRST – We will screw up the othe planets later”

  22. John,

    Here is an update on this issue of planet designation:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14364833/

    Voting will take place on Aug. 24. In the meantime, I saw a bumper sticker that is quite relevant to the current state of affairs on this planet.

    “EARTH FIRST – We will screw up the other planets later”

  23. Is it just me or is there something goofy going on with the server? I made a correction prior to posting and it double posted with the second post deleting my name.

    Anyway, here is another link that provides a very interesting perspective on relative sizes of objects in our universe.

    http://www.rense.com/general72/size.htm

    As you can see, the whole debate about Pluto and other “planets” become nothing but an academic exercise on terminology. In the whole scheme of the universe it amounts to “much ado about nothing”.

  24. So I’m confused now about the potential recocomendation… the article I read (http://www.cnn.com/2006/TECH/space/08/16/new.planets.ap/index.html) which says it could increase the number of planets from 9 to 12 seems to be missing something… Pluto would remain a planet and Ceres, UB313 (Xena’thulhu) and Charon would also be planets… now, the Charon thing kinda torques me, but I guess one could argue the binary planet angle rather than calling it a moon… but according to the article the definition doesn’t take into account whether the object orbits a larger (non-solar) mass. The definition its based on (so the article claims) is: “any round object larger than 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles) in diameter that orbits the sun and has a mass roughly one-12,000th that of Earth.”

    Um… ok… hold on…

    Earth’s Moon: Diameter ~3437 km – Mass ~ 0.0123 of Earth

    So why doesn’t it get to be a planet?

    As I type I’m now guessing its all in how you read the “that orbits the sun” phrase… I admittedly know less about the Pluto/Charon relationship… perhaps its easier to claim that Charon is orbiting the sun moreso than it orbits Pluto? I dunno… seems odd to me.

  25. OK… in refreshing my knowledge, I’m guessing the location of the barycenter is the deciding factor here… One just hope that the “official” definition, when agreed upon, is more exhaustive than that quoted in the article in order to make that clear…

  26. Damnit, Pluto CAN’T be redesignated as a KBO because…uhm….if it was or wasn’t, then the change would be….give me a minute, here….

    I don’t think it matters one way or the other. Why is it such a hot topic all of a sudden…and why did it get labelled as a planet in the first place, if it’s not? Poor science? Lack of good tools for information?

    By the same token, what great injustice arises by leaving it a planet. Will science get it’s feelings hurt? I mean, we still have people quoting the ‘we only use 10% of our brains’ figure, and science seems to have given up on that one…how will this ingrained 9-planet system be any different?

  27. I think we should instead petition to get Uranus named back to Herschel.

    I think we should change Uranus back to what William Herschel wanted to call it: George.

    (That was for his patron, King George III, of course.)

  28. Um, because “planet” is a category, and things in a category have to match. That’s what “category” means.

    Weak. Sounds like how I used to organize my tape collection, a habit my wife mercifully broke me of. (Of course, now I have to rip all my tapes to MP3 or buy new copies.)

    Unfortunately, your argument that Charon, et. al. are not moons but satellites of Kuiper Belt objects is a tad, as you yourself put it, circular. It’s large enough to pass for a terrestrial planet, affects the orbits of Neptune and Uranus (and I am all for renaming it Herschel as Uranus was a castrated god), and has a satellite system.

    Let’s see. What are some other objects in the solar system that match that criteria?

    Well, Xena, but then we haven’t agreed that’s it’s name, let alone a planet. Mercury’s too close to the sun, but I’ll bet it’d have one further out. Venus probably had one at some point. So potentially, they could have satellites. And then there’s Earth – 1 moon, Mars – 2 moons, and the gas giants, bunches of moons. What do we call those things?

    Oh, yeah.

    Planets.

    The orbit thing still doesn’t cut it with me. What happens if we find a gas giant out in the Kuiper belt? Or the Oort cloud? And it acts just like Jupiter or Saturn and could be Neptune’s big brother?

    Composition: We’ve got four slushies, four rocks, and under current definitions, an ice cube. None of these things is just like the other. ‘Cept maybe Mars and Earth, and just barely.

    Sorry, but the new proposal is dead on. Which means my junior high science teacher owes me an apology over Ceres.

    Mr. Heckle, for detention, you can fill out my TPS reports. Please remember to use the cover sheet.

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