Friday, August 18, 2006
Who are the planets in your neighborhood...in your neighborhood....
Next week, the International Astronomical Union (the godfather of planets) is voting to see if hyped-up Pluto should remain a planet, and if 2003 UB313, the farthest-known object in the solar system and nicknamed Xena; Pluto's largest moon, Charon; and the asteroid Ceres, which was a planet in the 1800s before it was demoted; should be bumped back up.
They're taking a vote on August 24, my birthday, so I feel very tied into this event. It's not often that our universe expands like this. Oh wait...our universe is expanding all the time. Damn my physics education! It makes a mockery of non-universal events like this.
Right now, in Prague...the union is hammering out a definition of a planet...that's expected to take a until next week. then there's also a discussion of a new category: "plutons," referring to Pluto-like objects that reside in the Kuiper Belt, a mysterious, disc-shaped zone beyond Neptune containing thousands of comets and planetary objects. Pluto itself and two of the potential newcomers -- Charon and 2003 UB313 -- would be plutons under this scenario.
If the resolution is approved, and all are classified planets: the 12 planets in our solar system listed in order of their proximity to the sun would be Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon, and the provisionally named 2003 UB313. Per CNN, "Its discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, nicknamed it Xena after the warrior princess of TV fame, but it likely would be re-christened something else later, the panel said." Really, I don't see why Xena: Warrior planet is a terrible name. It's gay, but not too bad. She's not a wuss. And symbolic as the first lesbian planet in space. Aren't we progressive enough for that? Who says astronomers have no sense of humor?
Mike Brown (discoverer) actually opposes the new definition—even though it would make his discovery officially a planet. He calls the proposed definition "leave no ice ball behind," an approach that's flawed, he said, because it will include far too many objects—53 and counting, he figures. "I'd be sad to miss the chance to have discovered the tenth planet," Brown wrote in a statement. "But I'd get over it." A lovely sentiment by a true warrior prince.
In my old age I don't think I'll be able to remember the new planets. Maybe...Xena is hard to forget, Ceres is juice, and Charon is my mom...so perhaps I can make this work. I don't know what the hell the rest of you are going to do to remember it. But all in all, I'd prefer we don't change them. I spent a lot of time on that styrofoam mobile of the solar system, and if I have to paint 3 more balls, I'm going to be mighty pissed. Even if I get to glue photos of Lucy Lawless to one.
When we find the next planet, I propose we name it Jean-Luc Picard. Someone's got to keep Xena in check.