Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A planet by any other name...

I just read an interesting essay in the NY Times about the problem astronomers are having with deciding what is and isn't a planet. There is much debate about what newly discovered objects qualify as planets and what to call them. Some suggest that Pluto shouldn't be called a true planet, and others suggest dropping the word 'planet' all together because they are having to add adjectives to distinguish 'major planets' from 'minor planets.' What's wrong with adjectives?

My favorite quote from the essay is, "Basically physicists are too undisciplined to let anyone else tell us what to name something," said Gordon Kane of the University of Michigan. I wonder if 'undisciplined' is a good choice of words there. The point being made was that physicists have no problem inventing terms for their newly discovered particles, as opposed to the hoopla that astronomers are making over the term 'planet.' Some fun names of particles are 'charm', 'strangeness', and 'quarks.' It seems at least the physicists have some sense of humor.

Last Friday night we bought a telescope. The guy who sold it told us that we would be able to see all 13 planets. I always thought there were 9, but I have been aware of newly discovered objects that could be considered planets. I didn't say anything because the guy was pretty long-winded and had a tendency to talk down to us as if we didn't know anything. (Yes, I know what Messier Objects are {galaxies, nebulas, etc.}. Yes, I'm aware that new planet-like objects have been discovered. Yes, I know what constellations are. Just sell me the damned telescope.) I am surprised that our 9 year old didn't correct him and tell him that there are 9 planets, but he wasn't really listening to the lecture.

I certainly hope they don't decide to completely drop the word 'planet.' Do we drop the word 'apple' just because there are many varieties of apples?

4 comments:

DHammett said...

Maybe we should start calling planets apples. Then, Mars could be red delicious, Earth could be granny smith, and so on. Maybe we should even call the sun golden delicious. That would really confuse the physicists.

I'm glad you confirmed there are still only 9 planets (if we continue to count Pluto). I thought I'd slept through the last 4. BTW, astronomers must have a sense of humor. Otherwise, why would they name a planet after Mickey Mouse's dog?

Rae Ann said...

dh, I love your apple planet idea! Venus could be Fuji (my favorite) and Jupiter could be whatever ones are really big.

eatmisery said...

If I could name the next planet, I'd name it Fukkit. I think it would be funny to say and hear all the time.

madman said...

LOL-! Just--FUKKIT-an UR-ANUS --Eatmisery would get some laughs teaching that!