Well NASA has been in the news recently with its announcement about all the new planets it has found about 40 light years from Earth. This is very exciting, because at least three of these planets are in the “temperate zone,” which means they’re more hospitable to life than Ft. Lauderdale in July.
For instance, do you remember about a decade ago when residents of the then-planet Pluto received this disheartening message:
We regret to inform you that Earth no longer regards you as a full-fledged planet. You are now a dwarf planet, and we may even consider changing your name to Grumpy. Please do not react to this news in a violent fashion. Thank you.
Well, apparently NASA is having second thoughts about its anti-Plutonian bias. Because it has petitioned the International Astronomical Union to change the definition of what a planet is.
I visited the International Astronomical Union website and was surprised to learn that it is not an organization that negotiates contracts on behalf of astronomers. This is a good thing, because it would be terribly inconvenient if all the astronomers went out on strike.
One of the IAU’s main functions seems to be holding contests to allow the public to name things in space. For instance, the winner of the “Name Minor Planet (6117) 1985 CZ1″ contest was the Brevard Astronomical Society from Florida, which submitted the name Brevardastro, which, I think, shows undue bravado for Brevard, an organization with “10-49 members.” My favorite contest winner was some student society at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, which named minor planet (6138) 1991 JH1. They named it, I kid you not, “Miguelhernández.” This came as quite a shock to the residents of (6138) 1991 JH1, who had thought their planet’s name was Iraweinstein. And let me tell you, those Iraweinstinians were really pissed to learn they were suddenly Miguelhernándesians.
But I digress.
Evidently, the IAU has things to do other than forcing faraway planets to change their stationery. It is also in charge of classifying celestial objects. So it is the go-to organization when you want to bestow full planetdom on a previously de-planetized dwarf planet. Or should that be “little planet?”
Anyway, NASA has proposed that the IAU change its definition of “planet” to “anything round that is smaller than a star.” I believe they’re going to have to refine that a bit, so that I don’t have to tell my dog to go fetch his planet. Also, NASA’s definition would spell trouble for Bizarros.
NASA made its suggestion, which would add 110 planets to our Solar System and really screw up “My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nachos,” because it thinks that the public views anything not labeled a planet as not interesting or not deserving of scientific research.
The public’s view, however, will probably change the next time an asteroid comes hurtling at Earth. We’ll see who’s interested in non-planetary objects then.
See you soon.