Blogging Pluto

Yet another cloudy night, yet another night of not getting out and observing. So, while messing about on my computer, I happen to wander over to Google's blog search facility and see what's been said about Pluto at the moment. It's actually kind of fascinating to see what random people, often not involved in astronomy, have to say.

Some people seem to be annoyed that the discussion is even taking place at all, Shining City Atop a Hill has this to say:

Another question... why are we wasting resources on this discussion? In the end who really cares right?
It makes me wonder if the author thinks pretty much all of astronomy, hell, all forms of classification, are a waste of resources. And, of course, the final question is slightly ironic given that you've probably got to care a little to even write about it.

Over on this blog the author seems to ask a similar question, but in a slightly more forceful way:
F**k You. We're paying all these brilliant scientists gobs and gobs of cash to f**k around and decide whether something is important enough to be called "a planet"?
I'm guessing that's an example of someone who does care — with a passion.

Of course, if there's one thing worse than scientists wasting the vast sums of money they get paid, it's having mad scientists wasting vast sums of money:
For the next two weeks a group of mad scientists will be meeting in Prague. Their goal: to define just exactly what constitutes the legal definition of a planet. Like a denizen of congressional staffers, cloistered away deep within the bowels of the capitol building, these mad scientists may well legislate poor Pluto out of existence!
I can see it now, all those astronomers sat around, each stroking a long-haired cat, plotting the slow and overly-complex demise of poor Pluto. Does anyone have the phone number for Mike Myers? Imagine him playing the part of almost 3,000 evil astronomers!

An Astronomer — Earlier Today

That said, in the same blog, we then find the suggestion that the whole Pluto debate is actually an anti-US political stunt:
The spectre of international politics has raised its ugly head at the IAU convention. Pluto was originally discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, an American. (Pluto is the only planet to be discovered by an American.) Current anti-American feelings among these snooty Euro scientists (because of the Iraq war, among other things), may play a role in Pluto's chances to remain a planet. I suppose if Pluto is demoted from planet to a mere Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) or "ice dwarf" -- it will George W. Bush's fault (of course!)
I have to admit that that's a new one on me.

Some people seem to be concerned about the idea of history being erased:
do we erase the past 75 years of Astronomy teaching for the purpose of a technicality?
The same author goes on to wonder:
And if so, can we apply this to other sciences?
almost as if this sort of thing has never happened before in any science.

One thing that I did turn up was probably the most damning evidence against Pluto yet:
Apparently scientists have discovered a meteor that's even further from the sun than Pluto, and there's debate as to whether or not it can be considered to be the 10th planet of the solar system.
There's a meteor furhter from the Sun than Pluto? Well, there we go, what more needs to be said?

However, there is a very compelling argument in favour of Pluto retaining its current status and I found it on Sara Reinke's blog:
What makes me the most depressed about the Pluto debate, I guess, is that as things like that change, I feel really old. I can roll with the punches, learn new things, keep up with all the latest and greatest in science and technology, but that doesn't make it easy. I still watch "I Love the 80s" on VH-1 with a forlorn sort of fondness, yearning for those simpler times, the salad days when Miami Vice was a TV show, not a movie, and a Flock of Seagulls wasn't just something you'd find on the beach.
Put like that, and as a child of the 80s myself, I'm starting to wonder if my not really caring either way makes sense — might it be that it makes me a traitor to my generation?

But, thankfully, I've got the words of anneneil to drag my back to reality:
And I apologize to the nytimes and pluto for the above image.... it is actaully a solar eclipse but so much cooler than any picture I could find of pluto
I mean, really, who really wants non-photogenic planets?

But, wait a moment, then I see worrying news via Propaganda Pipeline:
Today the President for Life of Pluto and all its outlying provinces condemned recent Earthling scientific claims that Pluto is not truly a planet.

"For too long, you arrogant Earthlings have tried to dictate what constitutes a planet. No Earthman can tell we Plutonians whether our rock is a planet or not," President Glik stated in his speech. "Do we tell you how to run things on Earth? No. But perhaps it is time we should."
And just when I thought I'd finally made up my mind...

Finally taking my tongue out of my cheek, I think the last quote really should go to Dr Jim:
Science is about revision and correction, irrespective of people’s beliefs and historical relevance. Yes Pluto was a great discovery, with a great story. Yes it captured the public imagination with its tightly held secrets and unimaginable distance from the sun; but unless we intend on turning planetary science into a new religion, it needs to be treated according to the science, and a few old, stubborn scientists need a slap in the face and told to wake up.
No matter how you feel about the debate I'm guessing that those are words that anyone interested in astronomy, at any level, can agree with. Except... is the "retain the status" crowd really mostly populated with "a few old, stubborn scientists"?

File Under: Pluto, IAU.

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