Thursday, August 17, 2006

"If Charon is a planet, I'm moving out of this solar system"

That was Bill's reaction upon being told that Pluto's largest satellite could soon be a classified as a pluton. I couldn't have put it better myself. And while we're at it, I'd like to throw Ceres, Orcus and Quaoar in that sentence as well. This whole fiasco, if you ask me, is a perfect example of what happens when good science goes bad bonkers. This, in fact, is what happens when astronomers make decisions to appease third-graders' sensitivities.

One of the reasons the IAU has come up with its convoluted definition is because they've received thousands of letters, mostly from elementary school students, to retain Pluto's status as a planet. The problem is that if they include Pluto, they have to let a number of other asteroids in as well. As a result, we end up with twelve planets on our hands. With possibly several more to follow.

I was going to launch into a lengthy diatribe here against the IAU and how they are screwing up the solar system. But then it occurred to me. Is it possible, that the IAU are not just trying to be nice and appease everyone? Could it be, that behind this decision to have a plethora of planets lies a spiteful ulterior motive? Think about it. Who would be most affected by increasing the number of planets? Not astronomers. Not astrophysicists, surely. Not your average Joe sitting behind his desk solving temporal logic equations. No, it'll be none other than those pesky little elementary school kids. I can almost picture it now -- hordes of third-graders going into a collective fit of convolutions trying to answer the innocuous looking question Name the twenty-two planets in the solar system. Well, serves them right.


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