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Pluto on the chopping block

by Mark5019 / August 14, 2006 1:49 AM PDT

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Nearly 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries gathered in Prague Monday to come up with a universal definition of what qualifies as a planet and possibly decide whether Pluto should keep its planet status.

For decades, the solar system has consisted of nine planets, even as scientists debated whether Pluto really belonged. Then the recent discovery of an object larger and farther away than Pluto threatened to throw this slice of the cosmos into chaos.

Among the possibilities at the 12-day meeting of the International Astronomical Union in the Czech Republic capital: Subtract Pluto or christen one more planet, and possibly dozens more.

But the decision won't be an easy one. Scientists attending the conference are split over whether Pluto should be excluded from the list of planets, Pavel Suchan of the meeting's local organization committee said.

tell me this isnt so:)


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Couldn't they "grand father" Pluto into the line up?
by grimgraphix / August 14, 2006 3:11 AM PDT

If Walt Disney was alive this would never happen!


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That's essentially what they've done 'til now, BUT

Problem is, the one recently discovered even further out is larger than Pluto... Here's the (July 2005) discovery that led to the problem: Object Bigger than Pluto Discovered, Called 10th Planet.

>> Astronomers have discovered an object in our solar system that is larger than Pluto. They are calling it the 10th planet, but already that claim is contested.

The new world's size is not at issue. But the very definition of planethood is. It is the first time an object so big has been found in our solar system since the discovery of Pluto 75 years ago.

The announcement, made today by Mike Brown of Caltech, came just hours after another newfound object, one slightly smaller than Pluto, was revealed in a very confusing day for astronomers and the media. The new object, temporarily named 2003 UB313, is about three times as far from the Sun as is Pluto.

"It's definitely bigger than Pluto," said Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy. The object is round and could be up to twice as large as Pluto, Brown told reporters in a hastily called NASA-run teleconference Friday evening. <<

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Seems to me ...
by Evie / August 14, 2006 4:05 AM PDT

... a planet in a solar system, as WE have defined such, is something that orbits the sun in some sort of largely reproducable manner/path. If they have to christen 100 more planets, so be it. Moons are objects that orbit planets. Who really knows how various moons came to be so. If a piece of "space debris" large enough to be captured by Earth's gravitational field thus held in orbit were to come around, then just because we've had one moon all these eons, shouldn't stop us from acknowledging we would now have two!

Evie Happy

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Your definition is way too simple, Evie.
by Dave Konkel [Moderator] / August 14, 2006 5:40 AM PDT
In reply to: Seems to me ...

It also would include asteroids and comets, as well as the "Kuiper belt objects." Clearly size is an important aspect of the definition -- the problem is, where to draw the line...

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The opinions expressed above are my own,
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(NT) (NT) Sometimes simple works.
by Evie / August 14, 2006 5:50 AM PDT
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Here's the compromise they reached, Evie.
by Dave Konkel [Moderator] / August 15, 2006 11:35 PM PDT
Nine Planets Become 12 with Controversial New Definition.

>> The tally of planets in our solar system would jump instantly to a dozen under a highly controversial new definition proposed by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Eventually there could be hundreds as more round objects are found beyond Neptune.

The proposal, which sources tell SPACE.com is gaining broad support, tries to plug a big gap in astronomy textbooks, which have never had a definition for the word ''planet.'' It addresses discoveries of Pluto-sized worlds that have in recent years pitched astronomers into heated debates over terminology.

* The asteroid Ceres, which is round, would be recast as a dwarf planet in the new scheme.

* Pluto would remain a planet and its moon Charon would be reclassified as a planet. Both would be called ''plutons,'' however, to distinguish them from the eight ''classical'' planets.

* A far-out Pluto-sized object known as 2003 UB313 would also be called a pluton.

That would make Caltech researcher Mike Brown, who found 2003 UB313, formally the discoverer of the 12th planet. But he thinks it's a lousy idea.

''It's flattering to be considered discoverer of the 12th planet,'' Brown said in a telephone interview. He applauded the committee's efforts but said the overall proposal is ''a complete mess.'' By his count, the definition means there are already 53 known planets in our solar system with countless more to be discovered. <<

Personally, I'd exclude bodies located in the asteroid belt, so Ceres would stay the largest asteroid, rtaher than being a dwarf planet. The key is sufficient size to have a round shape:
Pluto's New Place in Space Could Be as a 'Pluton'
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-- Dave K, Speakeasy Moderator
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The opinions expressed above are my own,
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Sounds like they are making it too complicated.
by Evie / August 16, 2006 2:43 AM PDT

I'm not an astronomer, and I don't play one on TV. "Planet" may not have ever been fully defined by atronomers, but the Average Joe has held my definition for a long time now, so why not go with that?

Does Pluto's moon orbit Pluto? Then it is a moon, I don't get making it a planet! Our own moon is larger than Pluto, so why don't we reclassify IT as a pluton? I think there's enough different about the asteroids that by size alone makes them unworthy of being termed planets.

If something much much further out from Pluto but much much larger is found, why does that have to change Pluto's status? That's almost like saying that if we couldn't previously see Jupiter, that when it was discovered, Earth is no longer a planet.

What's the difference between a dwarf planet and a pluton? Pluto is more than twice the size and mass of Ceres. Poor little Pluto!

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Apparently Pluto/Charon is a "binary system," Evie.
by Dave Konkel [Moderator] / August 16, 2006 3:34 AM PDT

Rather than Charon orbiting Pluto or vice versa, they're both orbiting some point between them, which in turn is orbiting the sun. That's essentially because their relative masses aren't sufficiently different for Charon to orbit Pluto directly, so they have a "mutual influence" on one another's orbits around the sun.

-- Dave K, Speakeasy Moderator
click here to email semods4@yahoo.com

The opinions expressed above are my own,
and do not necessarily reflect those of CNET!

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Size matters?
by grimgraphix / August 14, 2006 5:16 AM PDT


Main Entry: plan

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You could.
by Dan McC / August 14, 2006 6:03 AM PDT
In reply to: Size matters?

But you'd still have to define the characteristics that differentiate asteroid, planetoid, and planet.


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The age old question...
by EdH / August 14, 2006 5:34 AM PDT

If Mickey's a mouse,
and Donald's a duck,
and Goofy's a dog,
What's PLUTO?

Not a planet, apparently.

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(NT) (NT) Clyde Tombaugh is spinning! :-)
by drpruner / August 14, 2006 6:41 AM PDT
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