Science

Illinois Senate Legislates Status of Pluto; Who Will Claim Uranus?

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Never mind that I discovered Pluto while working in Arizona…

Idiot retards in the Illinois state Senate have decreed that Pluto, downsized from planetary status in 2006 after 66 years playing with the big boys, is still one of the Big Nine. Why? Its discoverer is from the Land of Lincoln:

Like some sort of rulers of the universe, state lawmakers are considering restoring little Pluto's planetary status, casting aside the scientific community's 2006 decision downgrading the distant ice ball.

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday unanimously supported planet Pluto and declaring March 13 "Pluto Day…" The push for a state decree on Pluto comes from state Sen. Gary Dahl, a Republican whose downstate district includes Streator, birthplace of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh. Dahl told colleagues Pluto is important to the local community, which considers the vote to downgrade Pluto to "dwarf" planet was unfair…

More here, courtesy of NRO's The Corner.

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  1. Democracy – an end unto itself

  2. Look! I discovered a rock in a pile of other rocks. I’m gonna call it a planet. It’s always gonna be a planet even when science comes along to refute me.

  3. An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday unanimously supported planet Pluto

    Because there’s nothing more pressing for the Illinois Senate to be paying attention to.

  4. Wait ’til they hear scientists have discovered “Dark rings around Uranus”.

  5. Who Will Claim Uranus?

    The Klingons are circling Uranus as we speak.

  6. Don’t worry, the Federal government’s got it’s eye on Uranus.

  7. Makes about as much sense as some folks trying to declare pi equal to 3 because “it’s in the Bible.” (Or even just to “make things easier for practical calculations.”) See link for debunking:

    http://www.uwgb.edu/DutchS/pseudosc/pibible.htm

    Can’t legislate scientific facts with any more success than legislating morals. Both doomed to fail.

  8. Fry: “Hey, as long as you don’t make me smell Uranus.” *laughs*
    Leela: “I don’t get it.”
    Professor: “I’m sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.”
    Fry: “Oh. What’s it called now?”
    Professor: “Urectum. Here, let me locate it for you.”

  9. Can’t we legislate that solar energy is cheaper than energy based on fosil fuels? This is a great idea!

  10. Pi is 3 (to 1 significant digit).

  11. this is fucking retarded. No need to sugarcoat it, Illinois is full of retards and socialists.

  12. To bad joe’s gone to defend this as well.

  13. ‘Too” – I’m an astronomer not a grammarian dammit.

  14. “Remarkable. A stench so foul it’s right off the funkometer. I dare say, Fry may have discovered the smelliest object in the known universe.”

  15. To be fair, Pluto’s not being a planet is a scientific fact quite unlike the scientific fact of the value of pi.

    pi really is what pi is. On the other hand, Pluto is not a planet because having it not be a planet makes the taxonomy of solar system bodies better than if it were a planet.

  16. From the source article:

    “I supported Senator Dahl’s effort even though I was kind of surprised that apparently Pluto was decommissioned as a planet by a vote of scientists. But he claimed the vote was a very small percentage of the scientists,” Cullerton said. “So he … chose to have us basically appoint Pluto to be a planet rather than have a special election among the scientists.”

    There wasn’t a vote on Pluto. There was a vote on the taxonomy of what constituted a “planet”. A planet it was decided, clears its orbit of objects larger than itself. Since Pluto’s orbit intersects that of Neptunes, Pluto no longer qualifies as a planet.

    If Pluto is a planet then so is Eris (also discovered by Americans) and the other suspected hundreds of other similarly sized bodies in the Kuiper belt.

  17. Pi is 3 (to 1 significant digit).

    Yep, and for most of us, that’s close enough. The can of paint never stretches as far as the label suggests anyway. Calculate with “3”, and buy another can. That’s my rule anyway. They love me over at the home store…

    (I never return stuff. If anyone needs one roll of wallpaper, one sheet of paneling, or one can of mauve paint from 1989, let ne know)

  18. “Pi is 3 (to 1 significant digit).”

    Lol. True. But I wouldn’t want to drive on any bridge designed by engineers who round down everything to 1 significant digit.

  19. Don’t worry, the Federal government’s got it’s eye on Uranus.

    FTW

  20. “To be fair, Pluto’s not being a planet is a scientific fact quite unlike the scientific fact of the value of pi.”

    True. But trying to legislate scientific consensus still stinks to me. Probably because I majored in physics. *grin*

  21. But I wouldn’t want to drive on any bridge designed by engineers who round down everything to 1 significant digit.

    Of course not. Everyone knows you’re supposed to round every seventh use of pi up to 4 in order to make the average work out.

  22. In what better piece of legislation would you have your state legislature engaged? I wish my state legislature would spend all of its time pondering the orbits of the stars and planets.

  23. Dont drive on a bridge designed by an astronomer or plasma physicist then. 🙂

    put the +- on the exponent – things like 1E10+-2

    yeah, anywhere from 1e8 to 1e12. Close enough.

  24. “Of course not. Everyone knows you’re supposed to round every seventh use of pi up to 4 in order to make the average work out.”

    Funny. 🙂

  25. Since Pluto’s orbit intersects that of Neptunes, Pluto no longer qualifies as a planet.

    Their orbits do not intersect, but Pluto is orbits in a resonance dominated by Neptune.

    Pluto fails the “clearing its orbit” criterion because of all the other iceballs that are near it that it hasn’t cleared.

  26. “Dont drive on a bridge designed by an astronomer or plasma physicist then. :)”

    Lol, I worked with high energy physicists in grad school. Great guys – lots of fun at parties – but there’s good reasons why none of them were engineers. 🙂

  27. Lol. True. But I wouldn’t want to drive on any bridge designed by engineers who round down everything to 1 significant digit.

    Seriously though, 3.14 is probably good enough for a civil, and that isnt the value of pi either.

  28. Professor: “I’m sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all.”

    I guess that was after the attempt to change the pronunciation to “urine-us” ran into problems?

  29. Good to hear. I asked Clyde Tombaugh to autograph my copy of Peterson’s Guide to the Stars, which he did. Now it retains its value… at least in Illinois.

  30. Lol, I worked with high energy physicists in grad school. Great guys – lots of fun at parties – but there’s good reasons why none of them were engineers.

    I know a bunch who are both. I have an engineering undergrad and was once pursuing a PhD in plasma physics and I know plenty who actually finished. 🙂

  31. They don’t like being called “Dwarf Planets” by the way. The PC term is “Little Planets”.

  32. “Seriously though, 3.14 is probably good enough for a civil, and that isnt the value of pi either.”

    It’s closer. 3 significant digits have less error than one. Of course, these days everyone’s calculator/computer has pi programmed in to many more significant digits, so it’s probably moot, anyway. But it’s too early in the day for me to think of a better joke.

  33. Lol, I worked with high energy physicists in grad school. Great guys – lots of fun at parties – but there’s good reasons why none of them were engineers. 🙂

    All thumbs?

  34. “I know a bunch who are both. I have an engineering undergrad and was once pursuing a PhD in plasma physics and I know plenty who actually finished. :)”

    Cool. I dropped out of my master’s program and found a paying job after the grant got pulled on the project my thesis was to be part of. I got my undergrad in physics, but originally started out in electrical engineering. Sometimes wish I hadn’t changed. But I work with engineers, so I don’t wish it too often. 🙂

  35. Actually, I’d rather drive on a bridge built by a guy who used pi = 3 to estimate how strong it would need to be, and then multiplied by 10 just to be safe.

    Does anybody want to drive on a bridge where it’s just strong enough that the forces balance to 4 decimal places but it all goes to hell if it’s a hair over?

    Yeah, yeah, a lot of that is an over-simplification, but the point is that robust designs probably involve rounding up and over-compensation at least as often as they involve precision.

  36. Idiot retards in the Illinois state Senate

    But you repeat yourself.

  37. “All thumbs?”

    Actually, more like robc suggested. “Oh, we’re only off by a factor of two (or an order of magnitude, etc.). Looks great!” That, and they tended to be hung up on getting federal grants. (‘Course, to be fair, there’s not many privately-funded cyclotrons around.)

  38. Seriously, though, perhaps the Illinois senate should celebrate that their homestate hero Clyde Tombaugh discovered not merely another planet, but the first member of a whole new category of heavenly bodies — the plutoids.

  39. God damn you guys are dorks. And this is coming from a software engineer. I say this with love, not anger, of course.

  40. “Actually, I’d rather drive on a bridge built by a guy who used pi = 3 to estimate how strong it would need to be, and then multiplied by 10 just to be safe.”

    Me, too, actually. It was just the only thing I thought of at the time.

  41. “Lol. True. But I wouldn’t want to drive on any bridge designed by engineers who round down everything to 1 significant digit.”

    But I’m 1 significant digit, no?

  42. Hey, Episiarch, no offense intended in any of my comments. If I didn’t like engineers, I wouldn’t have spent the last 14 years working for them. But I don’t really envy them their jobs.

  43. “Hormonal Redhead”

    Is there any other kind?

  44. Eris to be a planet too IMO.

  45. Does Bronze hair count as red?

  46. “Is there any other kind?”

    I once knew a 6-foot-tall, Irish-Cajun, redheaded Aries witch. Not a gal to piss off. 🙂

    Me, I’m just a little imbalanced, lol.

  47. Hey, Episiarch, no offense intended in any of my comments.

    Dude, I was just kidding. I’m not sure what it would take to offend me, but it would have to be on the scale of claiming Picard is cooler than Kirk or something like that.

  48. “You’re THAT Bubblegum Tate?”

  49. “Dude, I was just kidding. I’m not sure what it would take to offend me, but it would have to be on the scale of claiming Picard is cooler than Kirk or something like that.”

    Cool. Better safe than sorry, I figured. And I’d never claim Picard was cooler than Kirk. The only characted I liked much in Next Generation got killed early in the series.

  50. Dont drive on a bridge designed by an astronomer or plasma physicist then. 🙂

    put the +- on the exponent – things like 1E10+-2

    yeah, anywhere from 1e8 to 1e12. Close enough.

    Not so much anymore. We’ve entered the “era of precision cosmology”

  51. The only characted I liked much in Next Generation got killed early in the series.

    If you liked Tasha Yar, you have amazingly managed to offend me. The episode where she gets killed by the oil slick monster is my favorite.

  52. Actually, I’d rather drive on a bridge built by a guy who used pi = 3 to estimate how strong it would need to be, and then multiplied by 10 just to be safe.

    We used 1.5-1.8 factors of safety to design planes. Scary. Some stuff went down to 1.3. That was in school – I think actual military stuff goes even lower.

    I once knew a 6-foot-tall, Irish-Cajun, redheaded Aries witch. Not a gal to piss off.

    Introductions must be made…

  53. The only characted I liked much in Next Generation got killed early in the series.

    You mean Tasha? Her “death” was the market, because they just wrote her off with no fanfare. No great moment of heroism, no deep meaning to her death, just poof, whoops. But then they had to piss all over it by bringing her back again and again.

  54. “If you liked Tasha Yar, you have amazingly managed to offend me. The episode where she gets killed by the oil slick monster is my favorite.”

    What can I say? I was a young stupid girl nerd in desperate need of a strong female role model, and thought she fit the bill. It *was* one of the better episodes of the show.

    Though I do have to admit, John DeLancie as “Q” grew on me, and I did like Geordie, and Data, and some of the others. But I was never much on Ryker or Picard.

  55. “Introductions must be made…”

    Sorry, domo. She’s married to a huge biker.

  56. I love how people think the government can just legislate things contrary to scientific consensus. I say “scientific consensus” in this particular case, because whether or not Pluto is a “planet” is more of a semantic distinction than an objective fact, but it’s still repulsive.

    It’s like people who want the government to “define that life begins at conception”. Well, okay, but what’s to stop the government from changing that definition down the line? Maybe they’ll pass a law that says life begins at five years. Maybe they’ll pass a law that says life never begins at all for Moslems. How can a majority vote in a legislature even CLAIM to authoritatively decide when life begins?

    It’s just appalling to me that people actually seem to think that a vote in Congress can actually make something be something other than it is. Maybe we should vote on whether or not evolution occurred. Or whether the earth is flat. Maybe, rather than trying to ban cigarettes, we should just pass a law that says they’re healthy for us? I can come up with a whole slew things Congress can decide!

  57. “You mean Tasha? Her “death” was the market, because they just wrote her off with no fanfare. No great moment of heroism, no deep meaning to her death, just poof, whoops. But then they had to piss all over it by bringing her back again and again.”

    I thought they should’ve left her dead – was really annoyed by how they brought her back as her own half-Romulan daughter. But a lot in the later (read: non-original) Trek series (serieses?) annoyed me.

  58. Deja Q is my favorite TNG episode. So many great lines.

    “Please don’t feel compelled to tell me the story of the boy who cried Worf”

    “It’s difficult to work in groups when you’re omnipotent”

    Whatever her shortcomings, Tasha humped Data. For that alone, she can be forgiven much.

  59. That Pluto is not a planet is in no way a scientific fact. The definition of a planet has no independent meaning apart from the human created definition of “planet”. It is an arbitrary way for humans to categorize the range of things that orbit the sun. Earth arguably has as much in common with Pluto as with Jupiter, yet Jupiter and Earth are both planets while Pluto is not.

    So is the Illinois Senate silly for doing this? Yes. Does this matter in the big scheme of things? No. Streator probably has little else going for it, so lets throw them a bone here.

  60. “It’s just appalling to me that people actually seem to think that a vote in Congress can actually make something be something other than it is.”

    Exactly.

  61. Episiarch,

    My favorite moment was the episode where Riker got Q powers and Wesley got bayoneted in the back. If the episode had involved everything getting reversed but that (hey, can’t go killing Worf), I’d have been happy.

  62. “But I was never much on Ryker or Picard.”

    Counselor Troi. Hubba hubba!

  63. Sorry, domo. She’s married to a huge biker.

    Damn, the redheads always get snapped up quick…

  64. I thought they should’ve left her dead – was really annoyed by how they brought her back as her own half-Romulan daughter.

    Look, Denise Crosby needed the work. I mean, when your most stellar credits are Tasha Yar and the mom in Pet Semetary, going begging to Brannon Braga for work seems sensible.

  65. Though I do have to admit, John DeLancie as “Q” grew on me, and I did like Geordie, and Data, and some of the others. But I was never much on Ryker or Picard.

    I’m rewatching TNG from start to finish at the moment – Reiker is such a cheesy motherf*cker. Complete douche. The post season 1 reduction in smugness/preachyness made for quite an improvement. Getting rid of Yar, also an improvement. Troy – worst/most superfluous main character in star trek, constantly reminds me of Galaxy Quest.

  66. Say, does this mean that the word “planet” is now defined differently in Illinois? Should our dictionaries reflect that? Will Pluto now be listed as a planet in any science textbooks used in Illinois public schools?

  67. “That Pluto is not a planet is in no way a scientific fact. The definition of a planet has no independent meaning apart from the human created definition of “planet”.”

    But it is the scientific consensus, for the moment, anyway. Personally, I think anything with sufficient mass to pull itself into a spherical shape that orbits a star ought to be considered a planet. Would simplify things immensely. But I’m not a scientist (and I don’t play one on TV).

  68. Whatever her shortcomings, Tasha humped Data. For that alone, she can be forgiven much.

    She really should have done a threesome with Data and Lore. That would be pretty fucked up.

    My favorite moment was the episode where Riker got Q powers and Wesley got bayoneted in the back.

    Remember the one where Wesley breaks the flowers and that planet’s laws have it so that if you commit any infraction, no matter what, you get death? I was so rooting for Picard to actually follow the prime directive in that one. Seeing Wesley hung from a lamppost would have made my day. Ooh, or maybe a firing squad!

  69. They finally read my letters!

    Long live Planet Pluto! Fight the Power!

  70. “Look, Denise Crosby needed the work. I mean, when your most stellar credits are Tasha Yar and the mom in Pet Semetary, going begging to Brannon Braga for work seems sensible.”

    I like Denise Crosby – she’s cute. Just didn’t like the character they had her return as. Probably these days, if I were to go back and watch season 1 of TNG again, I might form a different opinion of Tasha Yar. But I don’t get to watch much besides kid shows, Clone Wars, and Robot Chicken these days. (Must introduce my son to Star Trek soon, I think.)

  71. “Remember the one where Wesley breaks the flowers and that planet’s laws have it so that if you commit any infraction, no matter what, you get death? I was so rooting for Picard to actually follow the prime directive in that one. Seeing Wesley hung from a lamppost would have made my day. Ooh, or maybe a firing squad!”

    Lol, gotta agree with you on that one. Talk about useless, annoying characters. I’d forgotten about Wesley.

  72. Pluto fails the “clearing its orbit” criterion because of all the other iceballs that are near it that it hasn’t cleared.

    And if Earth were that far out, it couldn’t clear its orbit either, making Earth not a planet.

  73. But it is the scientific consensus, for the moment, anyway.

    Exactly and what the Illinois State Senate is doing here will have absolutely no impact on that consensus. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is really stupid. But it’s harmless stupid.

  74. I like Denise Crosby – she’s cute.

    No, she’s not. Take my word for it. TNG was the worst casting of female characters, EVAR. When Marina Sirtis is your looker, you have a serious fucking problem.

  75. Good to hear. I asked Clyde Tombaugh to autograph my copy of Peterson’s Guide to the Stars, which he did. Now it retains its value… at least in Illinois.

    I got to chat with him about a year before he dies. Nice guy. He told me at that time that the Smithsonian had asked for the scope in the picture (the one he used to find Pluto; hand made down to grinding the lenses), and he told them they’d have to wait until he was done with it…

  76. “When Marina Sirtis is your looker, you have a serious fucking problem.”

    http://www.jimwcoleman.com/photoblog/120199%20Jim%20with%20Marina%20Sirtis.jpg.jpg

  77. “No, she’s not. Take my word for it. TNG was the worst casting of female characters, EVAR. When Marina Sirtis is your looker, you have a serious fucking problem.”

    Well, there aren’t a lot of modern actresses I like much, anyway. But I’m weird like that.

    Gotta get lunch. Y’all be good. 😉

  78. and there she goes… damn.

    Don’t worry, guys, there will be another one. Someday.

  79. “No, she’s not. Take my word for it. TNG was the worst casting of female characters, EVAR. When Marina Sirtis is your looker, you have a serious fucking problem.”

    What, no Gates McFadden love? C’mon man! Shit, I’d vote for Obama if I could hit it with her. Maybe not today her but last episode, hair up her.

    :Homer drool:

  80. Episiarch,

    Ooh, I forgot that one. Yes, much better to have a long, drawn out episode where Picard “sadly” has to allow Wesley to die, for the greater good of the Federation.

    For the record, here’s my STNG character opinions in a nutshell: Of the major characters, I didn’t like Riker, Tasha Yar, or Wesley (kids in science fiction very rarely are a good idea). I’m neutral on Troi, Geordi, and Beverly Crusher. I liked Picard, Data, and Worf.

  81. When Marina Sirtis is your looker, you have a serious fucking problem.

    Excuse me? Marina was for the pre-teen pud pullers. I believe Gates McFadden was the looker. (Seriously dude, the Red Mane!)

  82. Dr. Cameltoe was pretty hot. I had to get a little older to realize that.

  83. For the record, here’s my STNG character opinions in a nutshell: Of the major characters, I didn’t like Riker, Tasha Yar, or Wesley (kids in science fiction very rarely are a good idea). I’m neutral on Troi, Geordi, and Beverly Crusher. I liked Picard, Data, and Worf.

    What about Guinan! Guinan was the market!

  84. Dr. Cameltoe was pretty hot. I had to get a little older to realize that.

    I must admit to having a few carnal thoughts about her. In the vintage get up in that “Dixon Hill” holodeck episode, for example.

  85. Guinan wasn’t a major character. However, putting that aside, she’s really just a weird cameo.

  86. BTW you guys know Wil Wheaton has recapped all the TNGs he was in with extensive synopsis, quotes, behind the scenes, and retro looking analysis. It’s really quite good. He totally gets what a dweeb Wesley was.

  87. The star trek stuff is just a bad cliche. Kill yourselves.

  88. Warren,

    I have no problems with Wil Wheaton.

  89. Guinan wasn’t a major character. However, putting that aside, she’s really just a weird cameo.

    I don’t know how you figure that. She was a reoccurring character who was central to the plot of several episodes.

  90. HEAD! MOVE!

  91. The star trek stuff is just a bad cliche. Kill yourselves.

    Is the Hegh’bat an approved method?

  92. Warren,

    The show had a bundle of recurring characters and short timers. She’s one of those, not Worf.

  93. The star trek stuff is just a bad cliche. Kill yourselves.

    Or maybe we’ll just kill you… With a phasor! Oh yeah, I totally went there. Heh, just kidding. We wouldn’t kill you, it’s set to “stun”.

  94. My kid just got done with an astronomy unit in kindergarten. The one thing she seems to have taken away from that is that Pluto used to be a planet, but it isn’t anymore.

    And completely unrelated to that…
    Troi == total skank and not the good kind either.
    Dr. Crusher == total milf

  95. dbcooper | February 24, 2009, 1:06pm | #

    The star trek stuff is just a bad cliche. Kill yourselves.

    Is the Hegh’bat an approved method?

    ARRGH – I will take whatever I can get. What would Urkobold tell you trekkies about your chances of ever getting laid?

  96. ARRGH – I will take whatever I can get. What would Urkobold tell you trekkies about your chances of ever getting laid?

    Well if you mean having sex with a green three breasted Tallesian while on Risa, I’d say pretty damn good!

  97. THE URKOBOLD USED TO ATTEND STAR TREK CONVENTIONS AND BANG ACTRESSES AND TREK GROUPIES REGULARLY.

    AND DON’T LET THE URKOBOLD START TALKING ABOUT THE TREKKIES DRESSED AS ORION SLAVE GIRLS. IT’S A FETISH BUT A FUNCTIONAL ONE.

  98. dear me. I give up.

  99. Warren,

    We set phasers to shun last week because of some offense or other that Naga committed. It’s okay–the effects of the shunning wore off.

  100. Head clearly doesn’t understand the difference between being a Trekkie and having watched and enjoyed Star Trek but not obsessing about it. Or not enjoyed, in the case of Wesley.

    Now, the Adam West Batman; that’s something to obsess about.

  101. I watched and enjoyed it as a kid – but there is no way i could recite all that stuff 20 years later. dorks.

  102. Crap, I can’t forget anything prior to 25 or so. Since then, it’s a different story. Who is the president again?

  103. Well, it seems we have better memories than you, Head. Remember the one where Wesley rapes Beverly and then crushes her head with an ashtray before being shot down by Worf? No? Unfortunately, neither do I.

  104. Leave it to Reason readers to turn a thread about an Illinois State Senator currying favor for his constituency to a milfs of Star Trek debate.

  105. Well, the transition was a natural one. Jeri Ryan was married to Jack Ryan, who was a candidate for the (federal) Senate seat in Illinois.

  106. The Illinois Senate has way more sense than the International Astronomical Union has shown in two-and-a-half years. It’s the IAU who have acted like idiots, with one tiny group forcing a nonsensical planet definition on everyone. The truth is there is NO scientific consensus that Pluto is not a planet. The criterion requiring that a planet “clear the neighborhood of its orbit” is not only controversial; it’s so vague as to be meaningless. Only four percent of the IAU even voted on this, and the vote was driven by internal politics. A small group, most of whom are not planetary scientists, wanted to arbitrarily limit the number of planets to only the largest bodies in the solar system. They held their vote on the last day of a two-week conference with no absentee voting allowed. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto.

    Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader definition of planet that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is key because when objects become large enough, they are shaped by gravity, which pulls them into a round shape, rather than by chemical bonds. This is true of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and comets. And yes, it does make Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake planets as well, for a total of 13 planets in our solar system.

    Even now, many astronomers and lay people are working to overturn the IAU demotion or are ignoring it altogether. Kudos to the Illinois Senate for standing up to this closed, out of touch organization whose leadership thinks they can just issue a decree and change reality.

  107. Free Pluto!

  108. I have to agree that the IAU’s decision was incredibly stupid. I can understand them wanting a more rigorous and useful definition than was in place before, but the word “planet” predates the IAU’s existence (and indeed astronomy itself) and has entered into the non-technical language of the broader culture. I don’t see how they get off claiming the authority to change its meaning unilaterally.

    The intelligent course of action would have been to invent a new word, or identify an existing but obscure word, and assign a rigorous definition to that. This would have avoided this whole mess (and prevented schools and museum shops from having to throw out and replace all their astronomy books and posters).

  109. I actually thought the Pluto mess at the IAU was silly. But that doesn’t make the Illinois legislature correct, either.

  110. Pluto is a planet. No matter what some lousy astronomical society has to say about it.

    “Planet” is completely arbitrary. What it boils down to is a rock or ball of gas in orbit around the sun. “How big does it have to be?” “What kind of orbit does it have to have?” Arbitrary.

    So, Pluto was a planet once and still is a planet for historical reasons. What if one day they decided to demote Mercury for arbitrary reasons? That planet was a planet from ancient times. I wouldn’t care what astronomical society said.

  111. Laurel, the Illinois Senate is also not using any scientific consensus in their decision. So they are making the same mistake you say the IAU made. They are defining Pluto as a planet when clearly a scientific consensus of the definition is still in doubt. Now, if they called for a more comprehensive discussion about the whole thing, that would make some sense, but they are not doing that.

  112. Is the moon a planet or is the moon the moon?

  113. She was a reoccurring character who was central to the plot of several episodes.

    By that standard, Reg Barclay, Ro Laren, and Q were major characters. Which is just wrong.

    I’ll take SugarFree’s advice and give Bev another look in “The Big Goodbye”. I recorded it last week off WGN America….

  114. Books in Illinois will have a sidebar explaining to the children Pluto’s planet status is only one theory. In class, instructors will tell the children to ask their parents what to believe.

  115. Wow, two girls brought to H&R in one day – on the same thread, to discuss Star Trek, and the definition of Pluto. The girls I usually end up with can’t spell pluto or star trek – WTF!

  116. But I will note that the second funniest moment from ST:TNG was when Dr. Crusher was yelling at Q in the episode “True Q”, and he turned her into a barking Irish Setter. I can’t believe Gates McFadden approved that script.

    The first funniest has to be Picard carving a smiley face into a frozen-in-time cloud of coolant leaking from the warp core in “Timescape”.

  117. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader definition of planet that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is key because when objects become large enough, they are shaped by gravity, which pulls them into a round shape, rather than by chemical bonds. This is true of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and comets.

    How small must a body mostly made of mostly depleted uranium be to be a sphere? I’m guessing on the order of a couple miles.

    That would be a planet?

  118. What does the Bible say about Pluto’s status?

  119. How small must a body mostly made of mostly depleted uranium be to be a sphere? I’m guessing on the order of a couple miles.

    That would be a planet?

    strawman, of course. Anyway, using a ratio of densities of appx 5.7 which I derived using 18900 kg/m^3 over 3340 kg/m^3 (the density of the moon) the radius of Uraniumus is still 56% of that of any similarly dense planetary body. Hardly a couple miles.

  120. Pro Lib,
    The Bible recognizes that Pluto is a dog and humans have dominion over him. ???

  121. The earth is denser – so a Uraniumus having an earth mass would be even closer to earth size – about 66%. Earth is mostly metal.

    To pack a pluto mass into 2 km radius, you would need a density on the order of 1.5 x 10^12 kg/m^3 – which is closer in magnitude to the density of a neutron star (E17) than it is to planetary densities (E3).

  122. domoarrigato, strawman to be sure, but I’m not sure about your analysis. BOTEwise I get:

    < physics >

    Deviation from spherical shape will be flattened if the pressure under column exceed the inverse of one of the elastic moduli (damn if I can remember which one…)

    Gravity goes by m(r)/r^2 ~= rho * r, and the pressure under a column goes by g(r)*rho*dr integrated in r to get something proportional to rho^2 * r^2.

    So assuming the same elastic moduli your looking at less than 20% the radius.

    And I figure that uranium is more ductile than rock.

    < /physics >

  123. Hell.

    your or you’re, what’s the difference?

  124. I agree, too, that the IAU decision to “demote” Pluto was nonsense, and should be addressed within the scientific community. But passing a law to redefine Pluto as a planet within the state of Illinois is at best a meaningless waste of time that accomplishes nothing but making the statement, “We don’t agree with the IAU.” It doesn’t really harm anyone – except maybe confusing kids in science class, but the IAU decision accomplished that, too. But when politicians poke their noses into science, it can have a large impact on people’s lives. Our Presidents have shown that time and again.

  125. I took it by r^3. Just to compare the relative size of planetary (or moon) masses based on the relative densities. I think you are showing that my larger uranium mass would fly apart or not be able to coalesce or something? then we’d have to talk about temp and make a lot of assumptions. I’d guess cold uranium is a lot less ductile than liquid rock.

  126. domoarrigato:

    The r^3 calculation does tell you how big a fixed mass would be. Your work is spot on there. But if the question is “What’s the smallest object that self-gravitates to form a sphere?” the answer is controlled by column pressures and the Young’s modulus (I think…)

    So pick the smallest “rocky” body that you feel is close enough, and divide its radius by 5.7 to radius of the smallest all uranium self gravitating body. Which will be pretty small…

    But it is a contrived example.

  127. And sometimes a telescope is just a telescope.

  128. I’ll trust your physics, Big Muddy – in that case a uranium pluto would be over 630 km across – small, but still a lot bigger than MikeP suggested. Lots of fun. My high school physics teacher used to give exam questions like that – with no supporting data to calculate from. For example, we’d have to assume density of earth/moon/uranium/pluto and back it up with reasoning to get full credit – as well as do the physics right. what a great class that was.

  129. I picked mostly depleted uranium because it would be extra ductile due to its fission-induced warmth.

    If it were liquid, I think we could agree that any size would be a sphere. If it is barely solid, or has a solid crust, then easily an object a couple miles across would be sphere.

    So what if it is contrived. It shows the proposed hydrostatic definition of a planet to be a poor one since that definition relies strongly on what the purported planet is made of.

  130. Did you know that the word “planet” is derived from the Greek word for wanderer?

  131. Jack,

    Do you mean ?????????

    Some people hustle cars; you hustle stars!

  132. MikeP: I’m not sure that you get to disqualify a proposed catagorizer for naturally occurring objects on the basis of a presumed counter-example that sounds like evidence of ETs to me.

    Stuff heavier than iron is relatively rare in this epoch and neighborhood.

    I mean, you wouldn’t know it looking out the window and all, but that is because you’re sitting on the largest concentration of accessible heavy elements for quite a piece.

    I am reluctant to make a stronger statement until the extra-solar planets people come back with a hell of a lot more data…

    domoarrigato: Pluto and Charon (which is also self-gravitationally round) are both pretty low density objects. Nor are they the smallest such critters around. The moons of mars are only moderately lumpy.

    As for the IAU internal politics: I’m a particle physicist, those are a spectator sport for me. Go Team Plutoid! Rah, rah, ree! Kick ’em in the knee! Rah, rah, ras! …

  133. By the way, I think Pluto should not qualify as a planet for one simple reason: It is merely the first discovered example of thousands of roughly the same thing.

    I agree that the “clearing the orbit” definition isn’t spectacular and that it would disqualify an Earth at Pluto’s orbit. But I think that an Earth at Pluto’s orbit would likely also be but one example of a bunch of other things that shouldn’t be called planets, so I don’t have a big problem with that.

    On the other hand, if Pluto were in the Earth’s orbit, it would have a tail.

    Nonetheless, I do think that the “clearing the orbit” definition (I prefer “dominating the orbit” — after all, the Earth hasn’t cleared the Moon, nor has Jupiter cleared the Trojans) is way, way better than the “it’s round” definition.

  134. “It shows the proposed hydrostatic definition of a planet to be a poor one since that definition relies strongly on what the purported planet is made of.”

    Given that the puported planet is highly likely to be made of the same elements that known planets (around our star and others) are made of, I don’t think it’s that poor a definition. Uranium being much denser than iron (which stars can’t use for thermonuclear fusion), it is a relatively rare element and unlikely to be a primary constituent of any proto-planetary stellar disk.

  135. If it were liquid, I think we could agree that any size would be a sphere. If it is barely solid, or has a solid crust, then easily an object a couple miles across would be sphere.

    I think the idea is that smaller masses would not naturally coalesce in the first place, or would end up lumpy like asteroids.

  136. ‘Nonetheless, I do think that the “clearing the orbit” definition (I prefer “dominating the orbit” — after all, the Earth hasn’t cleared the Moon, nor has Jupiter cleared the Trojans) is way, way better than the “it’s round” definition.”

    An object at Pluto’s distance from the sun and in the plane of the ecliptic might clear its orbit. Of course, “clearing its orbit” could technically disqualify Jupiter, Neptune, and Mars as planets, as they share their orbits with groups of trojan asteroids at their Lagrangian points.

    I’d be willing to accept a disqualification of Pluto, though, based on its orbit not lying in the ecliptic.

  137. Pluto and Charon (which is also self-gravitationally round) are both pretty low density objects. Nor are they the smallest such critters around. The moons of mars are only moderately lumpy.

    plus

    Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader definition of planet that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star.

    So if I’m putting this together right, moons of mars wouldn’t qualify – only because their primary orbit is around another body which itself orbits a star – not because of any mass/lumpiness criteria? But where would that leave Pluto and Charon? They are substantially the same mass, and orbit each other.

  138. I submitted the question “Is Pluto still a planet?” to change.gov’s Open for Questions feature and it got 2 votes for (one mine) and 10 votes against. Seems like people have higher priorities, or don’t know that there’s a controversy. Still, the question was more popular than “What % chance do you think it is that humans are not causing global warming?” which got 3 votes for and 14 against. Maybe the people on change.gov were simply not very intellectually curious.

  139. When do we get Senator Steve Meier?

  140. domo, more precisely they both orbit the center of mass of the Pluto system, which is just outside of Pluto itself.

    (Indeed, it’s imprecise to say the moon orbits the Earth as well, since both Earth and moon orbit their common center of mass, which is some distance out from the geometric center of the Earth)

  141. Rabscuttle,

    Of course, you are correct – nitpicker. But can either be a planet even under the “broader” definition?

  142. It’s closer. 3 significant digits have less error than one. Of course, these days everyone’s calculator/computer has pi programmed in to many more significant digits, so it’s probably moot, anyway. But it’s too early in the day for me to think of a better joke.

    3.14159265358979323846 is more than sufficient for estimating the length of Earth’s orbit to the nearest quarter-inch.

  143. New Mexico passed a similar law a while back.
    And for what it is worth, they should pass a law refuting Illinois’ claim to Clyde. He lived and worked in New Mexico for most of his life (a couple of blocks from my old place, actually, super nice guy with one nice telescope in his back yard). He was more of a New Mexican than an Illinoisican.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_Tombaugh

  144. According to Wikipedia on Pluto, it was a New Mexico House of Representatives resolution, rather than a law, and it seemed a bit more lighthearted than what Illinois is doing.

    Interestingly, that same article notes that…

    the search for Planet X did not resume until 1929, when its director, Vesto Melvin Slipher, summarily handed the job of locating Planet X to Clyde Tombaugh, a 23-year-old Kansas man who had just arrived at the Lowell Observatory after Slipher had been impressed by a sample of his astronomical drawings.

    Illinois is not mentioned.

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