Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Pluto: Back by Popular Demand?
How on earth did I miss this particular news item? Apparently, on September 18 (with Pluto stationing direct and the Sun within a degree of my natal Pluto), the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics brought in three experts to debate the status of Pluto, which had been demoted as a planet by the International Astronomers Union in 2006 (but not by astrologers, many of whom felt, as I did, that dissing the likes of Pluto was not the wisest of ideas, akin to attempting to put the genie back in the bottle or locking a problem child in a closet). The event, entitled "What Is a Planet?," was webcast. One expert, Gareth Williams, stuck with the IAU definition that booted Pluto out of planetdom (as it shares the far-off Kuiper Belt with other orbiting objects), while a second expert, Owen Gingerich, defined the term as continually shifting, one o' dem cultural constructs, which implies that Pluto at the very least should be put on planetary probation if not fully reinstated. But it was third expert Dimitar Sasselov's definition of planet that was voted by the vast majority of the audience in the auditorium as the way to go: "the smallest spherical lump of matter that formed around stars or stellar remnants." Naturally, this most popular definition could open the planetary floodgates, as it is not limited to our our solar system. The Milky Way alone could account for a mind-boggling number of planets. But far better to invite more celestial bodies to the planet party than ban Pluto. After all, any gathering that lacks a major-league badass is no party at all.