Monday, August 21, 2006

Planet doesn't need a scientific definition

Michael E. Brown, a Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology disagrees with the International Astronomical Union's proposal that will eventually add hundreds of planets to the solar system. He feels that the public and our culture will be the ones that are most affected with any new proposal. Brown is the discoverer of 2003UB313, the "tenth" planet. From Michael Brown:
Is there a way out? Perhaps. There is one other reasonable option available to astronomers, and that is to realize that the word "planet" need not have a scientific definition. Consider it this way: if the word planet is suddenly redefined to mean either 8 or 53, how will it affect astronomy? Not one tiny bit whatsoever. Astronomers like me will continue to go to telescopes and study these objects to learn where they came from and what they are made out of whether they are called "planets", "Kuiper belt objects", or "batholiths." For astronomers, this argument is purely semantic. Who is affected, then? I would argue that it is the public, it is our culture, that would be affected, and, in fact, this is why this is the one astronomical argument, out of the many many many that are out there, that anyone actually seems to care about. In light of this realization, perhaps it makes sense to have a cultural definition of the word planet, rather than a scientific definition.
Pluto may yet lose planet status
IAU planet definition Q&A sheet
And soon, there will be twelve planets

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