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Science & Crypto : Plan boosts solar system to 12 planets
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From: MSN NicknameSmigChick  (Original Message)Sent: 8/16/2006 7:39 PM
Plan boosts solar system to 12 planets
 
Astronomers propose keeping Pluto in the club ?and adding three more
 
Image: 12 planets
 
This lineup shows the 12 proposed planets, with a wedge of the sun at far left. Ceres, Pluto, Charon and 2003 UB313 are barely visible. The planets are drawn to scale, but without correct relative distances.
 
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior science writer
Updated: 1 hour, 22 minutes ago
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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.

Eventually, there would be hundreds of planets, 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 formal 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, currently nicknamed Xena, 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.

Brown and another expert said the proposal, being put forth Wednesday at the IAU General Assembly meeting in Prague, is not logical. For example, Brown said, it does not make sense to consider Ceres and Charon planets and not call our moon (which is bigger than
both) a planet.

IAU members will vote on the proposal on Aug. 24. Its fate is far from clear.

The definition
The definition, which basically says round objects orbiting stars will be called planets, seems simple at first glance:

"A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet."

"Our goal was to find a scientific basis for a new definition of planet, and we chose gravity as the determining factor," said Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was part of a seven-member IAU committee that hashed out the proposal. "Nature decides whether or not an object is a planet."

"I think they did the right thing," said Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute and leader of NASA's New Horizons robotic mission to Pluto. Stern expects a consensus to form around the proposal.

"They chose a nice economical definition that a lot of us wanted to see," Stern told Space.com. "A lot of the other definitions had big problems. This is the only one that doesn't have big problems."

Gibor Basri, an astronomy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the committee "made the most rational and scientific choices; namely ones which are physically based and can be most readily verified by observations."

Basri made a similar proposal to the IAU in 2003, part of the long-running saga of failed attempts to define the word "planet."

More: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14364833/?GT1=8404

 

 
 


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From: MSN NicknameSal-hallaSent: 8/21/2006 10:44 PM
If they do this, I hope they change the name of 2003 UB313 to something more normal.