Friday, August 25, 2006


Science by committee. Ugh. The very nerve of it. Astrophysicists, quibbling over matters of definition like biologists!

Not that biologists do science by committee. No, that particular joy is reserved for matters of great importance, like: Which useless balls of rock get to be called planets?

So now Pluto's a "dwarf planet." Whatever that means. Along with Ceres, Xena, and a few other things I can't remember. Anything round is a dwarf planet, particularly. To be a proper planet, it's also got to clear it's own neighborhood, whatever that means, and be orbiting a star. (And only a star.) Check it out.

What I like particularly in this is this gem, from a Mr. Mike Brown:
"The analogy that I always like to use is the word "continent". You know, the word "continent" has no scientific definition ... they're just cultural definitions, and I think the geologists are wise to leave that one alone and not try to redefine things so that the word "continent" has a big, strict definition."
Great, great. Except that, guess what, they aren't discovering new continents!

We need some sort of a definition of planet, so we can keep the riff-raff out of the club, and so we know what to call the various extra-solar objects we might find in future examinations of the stars. Honestly, I don't think Pluto should have ever gotten into the club in the first place. It's strange, got a funky orbit, and although it seems to be a relatively interesting and important object, being one of the larger things in that part of the Kuiper Belt, it doesn't really muster up the way the other eight do.

But that's beside the point. There's just not a whole lot of use to having a big conference, like that's going to decide anything. This'll get worked out the same way everything in science gets worked out: arguing. Possibly with some name calling, and public vilification. (The world of science is nasty place.) Not with committees.

On the other hand, this will get the astrologists all frazzled, so it can't be that bad.

1 comment:

  1. What we need is a scale of planet classifications, so that we can label all the planets we want and still acknowledge that they aren't all the same.

    We could give them letter classifications, maybe relative to their sive. Earth would be in the middle of the scale, around 'M'.