when i'm supermassive yeah i'll be happy
September 6, 2023 1:41 PM   Subscribe

The pedant in me wants to note for the record that, technically, Pluto is extremely cool shit.
posted by Kattullus at 2:06 PM on September 6 [10 favorites]

Tom Cardy out there doing his best to be the new slightly profane Weird Al. (My wife and I have a very silly habit of singing HYCYBH at very odd and random moments)
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:18 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]

My wife and I have a very silly habit of singing HYCYBH at very odd and random moments

This is the one that shoves its way into my thoughts and speech at random and inappropriate times.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:22 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]

Christine Lavin's take (c.w.: folk music)
posted by mikelieman at 4:00 PM on September 6

Once in a while I'll pass a playground that has the names of the planets painted on it. At this point maybe one in eight still has Pluto, and they're fading fast.

Still: never underestimate how determined some people are to prove that something they learned in grade school is true forever.
posted by phooky at 4:35 PM on September 6 [4 favorites]

Pluto is a planet; a dwarf planet is *by definition* a planet.
posted by oddman at 5:16 PM on September 6 [7 favorites]

I always thought it was an interesting example of projection when the people who went to great lengths to find rather carefully-tailored conditions to exclude Pluto as a planet accused those who opposed the new definition of being motivated by mawkish nostalgia. Rather, I contend that those who wanted to demote Pluto from being a planet chose not to apply a much clearer definition because of their mawkish nostalgia for a short list of planets.

If the simplest and clearest definition which was proposed (a body which is in orbit around a star or unbound in any orbit which has sufficient mass to overcome hystrostatic equilibrium and become spheroidal in shape) had been adopted, they objected on the grounds that we'd have too many planets -- around 20 by my best guess, and more all the time. Good heavens, too many!

They'll be rather shocked when we find a very large body way out deep in the Kuiper belt with an orbital inclination above 45 degrees that is more massive than Neptune but hasn't "cleared its orbital neighborhood." I think the chances of finding such a body in the Kuiper belt in the next 25 years is better than even.

Imagine if the IAU were in the place of the chemists and decided that elements without stable nuclei were not elements per se but a brand new, explicitly excluded category of "unstable elements" simply because otherwise we'd just have too darn many chemical elements to keep track of.

That's how ridiculous the IAU definition is.

Full disclosure: I have a bachelor's degree in Astrophysics so I have some basis to object to an arbitrarily and suspiciously motivated categorical definition especially when the discriminating criterion is so vague and imprecise as "cleared its orbital neighborhood of debris." Are bodies in resonance cleared? Are trojan asteroids, literally in the same orbit at the leading/trailing Lagrange points "cleared"? We would've been better served by a maximum deviation from spherical shape.
posted by tclark at 5:17 PM on September 6 [18 favorites]

Couldn't help cracking up at the Dr. Collier video when the first item in her numbered list was "people didn't have smartphones in 2006, you wouldn't just go and dial up your computer in the morning". Uh, that is EXACTLY what we did except we did have cable Internet by then, so we did not need to "dial up" or ride our horses to the general store to buy whale oil for our laptops.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 5:33 PM on September 6 [7 favorites]

Maybe YOU didn't buy whale oil for your laptop, Captain Privileged, but some of us are trapped in Moby Dick and have to make do.
posted by evilDoug at 8:54 PM on September 6 [8 favorites]

pluto is not a planet because holst didn't write a song about it

although acapella science did a tune for the flyby
posted by eustatic at 9:23 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]

Just dropping this song (ostensibly) about Pluto being demoted to minor-planet 134340.
posted by paperback version at 9:33 PM on September 6

Charon sings a song of consolation and defiance to Pluto. (YouTube link: Jonathan Coulton's "I'm Your Moon")
posted by straight at 9:50 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]

"Pluto is suing the International Astronomical Union for 3.3 million pounds following the allegation that it is a rubbish planet. The International Astronomical Union said that they were looking forward to working with some new planets. Pluto had had the contract for over 230,000 million years, but had to retire in the spring over a matter of principle. Scientists at NASA have called it 'a big rock'."

(Poison Popcorn - SIBC Revisited)
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 4:40 AM on September 7

The way I see it, astrophysicists have to choose one of two systems of categorization and stick to it. There are no other options.

Planetary Inclusionism: Every object in orbit around a star is a planet. Earth? Planet. Pluto? Planet. Every last speck of dust in the asteroid belt? Planet.

Planetary Exclusionism: The distinction is to be based on mass. The only planets in the Solar system are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Everything else is negligible debris.

Nothing else makes sense.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:26 AM on September 7

Planetary Inclusionism

Planetary nebula? You better believe that's a planet.

Edit: I believe I was thinking of the term protoplanetary disk. I didn't change it because neither joke that that funny despite the half hearted Simpsons reference.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:48 AM on September 7

I enjoyed the Dr. Collier video, and was pleased she asked (and received an answer to) why "Exiting vim is hard" is funny.
posted by MtDewd at 6:51 AM on September 7

Oh no Pluto again!

I have this principle: if things are different, they work by different mechanisms, or that they originate in different ways, then it is easier for us to refer to them differently. It's kind of a mental habit: different things are named differently, and similar things are named in a similar manner.

Therefore I have come to this conclusion: on the one hand there is a bunch of things that orbit the sun. Therefore they are similar. But on the other hand, the way they ended up orbiting the sun is different.

Maybe it is a good thing if we acknowledge and understand these two things, instead of doing internet meme shouting?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 7:01 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]

2 Skinnee J's covered this topic in song 25 years ago.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:48 AM on September 7

The explanation I’ve heard about Pluto’s demotion is that it kind of mirrors Ceres demotion: we found a big object and declared it a planet but then it turns out it’s in a region with a lot of bodies ranging in size from tiny to similar sizes. So is it a planet or one of these other bodies? If it’s a planet do we need to include a bunch of other bodies too? The consensus seemed to be to demote it to being a member of the smaller bodies in that region and not pull in a bunch of other bodies as planets. The main difference for lay people was how long Ceres vs Pluto remained a planet in elementary school education before it was demoted.

Is the definition of “planet” hokey, scientifically? Maybe? But I think for lay people, the point is probably just to have general knowledge about what major bodies are orbiting the sun…and in that case, “major” is going to be somewhat arbitrary anyway and will necessarily gloss over details.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 8:18 AM on September 7 [1 favorite]

I just dislike the pretension that the definition is "scientific", instead of retroengineered to try to keep the eight classical planets. Just admit that it's purely for tradition! It's especially bad because a lot of the eight-planet fetishists sneer at *other* people as unscientific.
posted by tavella at 9:36 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

Folks always forget that the vote was held on the last day of the conference after many folks had already gone home, and only 424 of IAU's 10,000 members participated:

The vote involved just 424 astronomers who remained for the last day of a meeting of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Prague.

"I'm embarassed for astronomy," said Alan Stern, leader of NASA's New Horizon's mission to Pluto and a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. "Less than 5 percent of the world's astronomers voted."

"This definition stinks, for technical reasons," Stern told SPACE.com. He expects the astronomy community to overturn the decision. Other astronomers criticized the definition as ambiguous...

Owen Gingerich, historian and astronomer emeritus at Harvard who led the committee that proposed the initial definition, called the new definition "confusing and unfortunate" and said he was "not at all pleased" with the language about clearing the neighborhood...

Gingerich added: "In the future one would hope the IAU could do electronic balloting."

That Space.com article is from the day of the vote and covers a ton of ground, with links at the bottom to good coverage of the proposals and debate leading up to it. The demotion of Pluto by a small handful of astronomers using a nonsensical definition remains a hilariously dumb stain on the IAU, and I thank Tom Cardy for reminding us all that Pluto still knows what Pluto is and Pluto knows that Pluto is HOT SHIT cuz fuck the IAU anyway.
posted by mediareport at 10:14 AM on September 7 [4 favorites]

Can we all agree that we just need to move to a system by which all roughly-spherical bodies orbiting a star may be considered "planets" but with a classification system applied to all of them so that we can easily understand aspects such as size, composition, and habitability? Maybe use a letter-system for simplicity? For instance, Earth could be the point of comparison, and the letter "M" is (essentially) the middle of the alphabet, so Earth and Earth-like planets could be "Class-M" and we move outward from there with the letters depending on deviation from Earth-like qualities?

I think this could solve a lot of issues, personally. Surprised nobody's thought of it before.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:30 AM on September 7 [3 favorites]

Mike Brown's How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is a very good book and enjoyable for all.
posted by neuron at 10:12 PM on September 7

« Older Pick out a quiet town and tie it down   |   In order to succeed in a hypercapitalist society... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments