Illinois plutocrats are frakkin' goofy

By Phil Plait | March 5, 2009 8:07 pm

[Update: Welcome Slashdotters! Thanks for dropping by.]

The government of Illinois, an an obvious attempt to distract America from Blagojevich’s hair, has declared that Pluto is a planet.

RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE OF THE NINETY-SIXTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies, that it be reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930.

Thank heavens — so to speak — Pluto doesn’t pass over any other states. That could propagate a Constitutional crisis.

So what would drive the government of a state to go out of its way to do such a ridiculous thing?

WHEREAS, Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet Pluto, was born on a farm near the Illinois community of Streator

Oh, right, misplaced local pride. They obviously didn’t planet that way. They should have nixed the whole idea.

But OK then, surely they wouldn’t say anything else that brazenly dumb in the resolution, right?

WHEREAS, Dr. Tombaugh is so far the only Illinoisan and only American to ever discover a planet; and

Uh, Illinois legislators. Psssst! Americans have discovered hundreds of planets.

Their confusion is obvious; they thought they were doling out justice, but they got confused because Pluto is just ice.

That’s OK though, Illinois congresscritters. I’m sure there’s nothing else for you to do with all your spare time. But y’know, I hear those pesky Hoosiers next door want to make π equal to 3! Hurry! You can still beat them to it!

[Update: Speaking of dumb state legislature resolutions…]

Tip o’ the dew shield to Larry Klaes.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Humor

Comments (227)

Links to this Post

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  5. The great state of Illinois weighs in on the Pluto debate | March 6, 2009
  6. Make No Laws » Blog Archive » Science and Legislatures Do Not Mix | March 6, 2009
  7. Illinois plutocrats are frakkin’ goofy | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine | Patrick James Fontillas's Blog | March 6, 2009
  8. March 5, a Great day for US Legislature | Scriptionary Blog | March 6, 2009
  9. Illinois Senate “Reinstates” Pluto As A Planet | FortySouth | March 6, 2009
  10. Stoopid in Stereo « Bipedalia | March 6, 2009
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  20. Twitter Updates for 2009-03-06 : Arun’s Blog | March 6, 2009
  21. The Geology News Blog · Pluto is a Planet - If You’re From Illinois | March 6, 2009
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  1. Michelle

    Pluto is a big chunk of stuff orbiting far away from our star. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t care if we call it a planet or not…

    OR DOES IT?!

    *Puts on her Pluto shirt*
    http://www.snorgtees.com/itsokaypluto-p-461.html

  2. While I’d prefer that Pluto be classified as a planet, this is really just too much. It could almost be used verbatim as a comedy skit.

  3. Hmmm…in the immortal words of George Carlin, “…that should give you an idea of how much s**t they got on the shelf.”

  4. Bastard Sheep

    He stole my idea! Why just the other week I officially declared that when ever Pluto passes overhead of my home, it is officially a 1968 model VolksWagon Beetle!

    Of course, a few days later the person who lives in the unit below me decreed that when ever Pluto passes overhead of his home, it is officially a plankton. We’re still trying to sort this one out.

  5. thinkdaddy

    @doranb: Why do you prefer that Pluto be classified as a planet?

  6. defectiverobot

    For the record, that explains why many of us Chicagoans have palm-shaped red spots on our foreheads. Of course, I’m still wondering how our legislators even know what and/or where Pluto is, what with our only instrument for planetary knowledge being a 50-year-old overhead slide projector…

  7. Chip

    “…didn’t planet that way.” nyuk nyuk nyuk…that’s a chuckle! :D [Rimshot]Baboom[/rimshot]

    But wait, there may be some hidden genius to this plan: if you’ve ever been to Chicago in the Winter – you know it feels at least as cold as Pluto. This is a long-term plan to recruit future Plutonian colonists from hardy acclimatized Chicagoans!

  8. In a few generations, historians will look back on this period with great puzzlement.

  9. anti-punster

    Puns make baby Jesus cry. So I’ve heard, anyways.

  10. Considering that the Oklahoma legislature is trying to ban Richard Dawkins from that state while others are passing legislation to curb gay rights, the Illinois legislature doesn’t seem so bad for some reason. If this is the only crazy thing they can think of doing then I say FSM bless them.

  11. KC

    >Thank heavens — so to speak — Pluto doesn’t pass over any other states. That could propagate >a Constitutional crisis.

    If they get 38 states to declare Pluto a planet does it become the 28th Amendment?? ;-)

  12. Brian

    Illinois … “plutocrats”…?

    No, Phil: you’re the one who’s Goofy!

  13. @thinkdaddy If it were up to me, I’d define a planet as an object big enough to collapse under its own gravity, which is orbiting a star. But since the scientific community has decided Pluto isn’t a planet, I’ll go along with it, I suppose. :)

    One thing I’m certain of is that it’s not up to politicians to decide.

  14. Mena

    Actually they are doing something right. Today a civil unions bill made it out of committee and will be presented to the General Assembly. Let’s hope it passes.

  15. Davidlpf

    How much did Pluto have to pay?

  16. So… a political decision to override scientific accuracy and nomenclature. This reminds me of the attempts by the Soviet government to deny genetic inheritance and replace it with Lysenko’s theory.

  17. I’m so confused. Pluto looks like a cartoon dog to me. Am I missing something?

  18. Peter

    Okay Bastard Sheep published the greatest comment in the history of the interenet: Why just the other week I officially declared that when ever Pluto passes overhead of my home, it is officially a 1968 model VolksWagon Beetle!

  19. “They obviously didn’t planet that way. They should have nixed the whole idea.”

    I don’t know whether I should laugh because that’s really funny or cry about the fact that I actually get that…

  20. John

    That post is so dense with puns that it’s approaching singularity.

  21. Nemo

    See, this is what I’m talking about.

    Now what I want to know is, what was the vote on this nonsense?

  22. Ergo Sum

    The whole idea is so Mickey Mouse! Once global and solar system warming reaches Pluto it will just melt away.

  23. I guess McCain was right about wasting money on a planetarium in Illinois. (that’s a joke, son)

  24. I wrote about this earlier today, too, but in response to a listserv I read where this thing gets hashed to death every so often. When will common sense prevail?

  25. aurora billings

    the interesting thing is that this has (sort of) already been done before, in Arizona and California…

  26. I’m giggling so hard right now, I might not be able to face Pluto ever again.

    I can’t believe we are still having this Pluto debate, it’s really getting tiresome. The IAU had their reasons for the reclassification. Those reasons were justified and I agree with most of it, not all, but sometimes we just have to agree to disagree. It’s not an affront to astronomy, Tombaugh or Pluto that the planet is now a dwarf planet, it’s life. Sometimes planets get demoted.

    Besides, I doubt Pluto cares that much, it probably has no clue it’s now a Plutoid. In fact, I’d think Pluto would be quite happy that it now has a whole sub-class of rocky bodies bearing its name.

    I lol for Illinois.

    Cheers, Ian

  27. Daffy

    Hey, equal time for Goofy!

  28. Planet! Smanet! The term is totally arbitrary. If Illinoites want to call it a planet for one day out of the year, so be it. That doesn’t affect Pluto one bit. Pluto is still Pluto.

  29. Avi Steiner

    COTW: Bastard Sheep… oh wait, wrong blog. ;-) Maybe if Rebecca reads the comments here, she could award a cross-blog-ular COTW? Hmm?

  30. gopher65

    None of this would be happening if the MORONS at the IAU hadn’t used a flat definition. They should have used a branching continuum definition instead. From a single proton all the way up to a red giant and a white dwarf, they are all part of the same line of objects.

    Dust – chunk – ball – gas ball – giant gas ball (a gas giant is a gaseous planet that has reached or almost reached the maximum diameter that such a ball can have) – brown dwarf – star – post-star

    *That* (or a variation of that) is the definition that they should have used. Subcategories would be placed as branches (ice ball? Waterball? Silicon ball? Carbon ball?). But are they intelligent enough to have thought of that? No. *points to the “morons” statement above*

  31. keith

    Serious question: *does* Pluto pass over Illinois? If you drew a line between the center of the Earth and the center of Pluto, does it ever intersect Illinois? How often does this happen? When will it happen next?

  32. LukeL

    With all the corruption in Chicago and Illinois politics I am surprised they could agree on anything. Thank goodness they have solved that pesky budget problem along with the soaring murder rate in Chicago that they can finally get down to the important stuff and name a binary system with an highly eccentric and elliptical orbit a planet.

  33. Hasan

    Every time Pluto comes up I always remember that “Magic School Bus” episode where Ms. Frizzle takes the kids to all of the planets. I remember when they got to Pluto and Arnold took off his helmet and froze, but later they defrosted him and all he had was a cold. Despite being in elementary school I still remembering thinking “Bull shit!” but they later clarified that normally anyone who would do that would be a goner.

    I really miss that show, it seems that nothing today is on par in terms of science shows for kids as they were in the 90s. I wouldn’t be so into science now if it weren’t for shows like MSB and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

  34. Robert E. Harris

    There is a small monument to Clyde Tombaugh in Burdett, Kansas. It is located in the middle of town in a very small [ark on the south side of Kansas highway 156. The family moved to a farm near Burdett when they left Illinois.

  35. Sounds like they have a serious case of Plutoids. They should really see a doctor about that. Say, isn’t Phil a doctor?

  36. Dax

    What can I say
    Thank you to all the comets,the stars for being so fab freaken far away. Haley for only showing up every, oh i don’t know.It’s less than a hundred years anyway. The asteroids Aunt Lucy’s moonlet. I’m just so humble err humbeled or something . Anyway thanks thanks and thanks .I have to go and moon somebody

  37. Thanny

    In all fairness to Illinois, the IAU did the same thing to delist Pluto as a planet. They collected votes from an exclusionary group of people, then rationalized the result with a distinctly non-scientific list of criteria for planethood.

  38. BJN

    The culture owns the word “planet”, and has for millennia. If you astronomers want to put a fine edge on it, do it with modifiers or invent your own damn words. Pluto was, is, and will be a planet culturally. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. Neil DeGrasse Tyson and you are both great, but you won’t win this one. Pluto’s an odd duck but then using the same word to describe both Mercury and Jupiter isn’t exactly precise scientific terminology. Hire a biologist to fix your vocabulary, you guys are just too sloppy to do it yourselves.

    Kudos to the Illinois legislature for having a sense of history and a sense of humor.

  39. Troy

    If you ask me the Illinois legislature has as much authority to pronounce judgement on Pluto as the IAU. When you consider than Michael Brown the discoverer of Eris (previously known as “Xena”) is not even a voting member.
    Dispite my feelings on that, however, the IAU essentially took the correct position and demoted Pluto. Springfield threw old Tombaugh a bone, that’s fine with me.

  40. Russ

    Clearly we should boycott any planetarium or other astronomy related funding to Illinois (and Chicago) immediately

  41. BJN, before you go off half-cocked, or at all, you should read my many prior posts on this topic. And I am making fun of goofy politicians here, not Pluto or the debate itself. Also, this was a chance to make lots of jokes.

    Talk about having a sense of humor…

  42. QUASAR

    You see that’s the problem with today’s politics! Any scumbrain can get a strong postion in the govrnment and really screw things up! We need properly educated leaders, and when I say ‘properly educated’ I mean with a proper scientific education!

  43. Adrian Lopez

    Bah. I’m still miffed that 2003 UB313 got to be called Eris instead of Rupert. I wonder if the Illinois legislature might be persuaded to do something about that.

  44. Erik J

    When it passes over my house I declare Pluto to be a galaxy.

  45. rumleech

    Pluto is made of ice? I did not know that. I guess the interenet is not just for porn after all.

  46. I just read a bunch of stuff on the economy. I was expecting the actual meaning of plutocrats. I was pleasantly surprised by the gratuitous puns.

    These junior Blago’s probably got the idea from Creationists encouraging religious debate in science classrooms.

  47. T_U_T

    The culture owns the word “planet”, and has for millennia. If you astronomers want to put a fine edge on it, do it with modifiers or invent your own damn words. Pluto was, is, and will be a planet culturally.

    there was a time when bats counted as birds in some cultures. Then came biologists ( called naturalists back then ) and put a fine edge on the word ‘bird’. And bats didn’t remain birds after that. Not even culturally.

    You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.

    Well. I did it several times already. Both metaphorically and physically.

  48. Darth Robo

    Surely this deserves a “Teh stupid! IT burns!!!” pic?

  49. When will common sense prevail?

    Never. Even outside Illinois.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    BJN said:

    The culture owns the word “planet”, and has for millennia. If you astronomers want to put a fine edge on it, do it with modifiers or invent your own damn words. Pluto was, is, and will be a planet culturally. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. Neil DeGrasse Tyson and you are both great, but you won’t win this one. Pluto’s an odd duck but then using the same word to describe both Mercury and Jupiter isn’t exactly precise scientific terminology. Hire a biologist to fix your vocabulary, you guys are just too sloppy to do it yourselves.

    Yeah, BJN, you tell it like it is! Right on!

    Mind you, if I lived in Illinois, I’d want my elected representatives to be spending their time on more important issues, y’know?

  51. holastefan

    Okay, so, if the Illinois government is now ruling on scientific issues, does that mean that scientists get to rule on some political issues? I mean, fair is fair, after all.

    Looking forward to your new laws, Phil. I’m guessing no speed limits for astronomers, for starters. Or that dew shields are tax-deductible.

  52. @ Troy

    That Brown is not an IAU voting member is his own doing. He never bothered to become a member. Plus he never bothered to follow standing rules for discovery announcement and namings of small solar system bodies.

    The IAU is recognised as the authority on astronomical issues worldwide, for a long time now. The Illinois government simply places itself outside the international community this way. And why? Obviously only because of an aspect of ‘national pride’.

    You know, all the crying about the Pluto demotion so far has been almost exclusively American. It clearly is fostered by an element of “national pride” (Pluto being the only US discovery of the objects in our solar system that pre-2006 were called “planets”). It is however not the US (people or government) who decide on this, but the international community, as formalised in the International Astronomical Union.

  53. Sure makes one proud to live in Illinois…..

  54. Metre

    Must be a slow news day in the blog-o-sphere, huh Phil? Lighten up. There are plenty of real things to get worked up about – this is not one of them.

  55. holastefan

    @Metre said: Lighten up. There are plenty of real things to get worked up about – this is not one of them.

    Uh, a government agency deciding the definition of a planet? Seems pretty pertinent to me. Are you aware that you are at the “Bad Astronomy” blog? I think this topic qualifies.

  56. holastefan

    And I realize that NASA is also a “government agency” too. You all know I meant the “State of Illinois senate”, which is not in the business of planet definitions, so no need to point out my slip.

  57. DanielM

    I live in Illinois…I’m now waiting for the state legislature to declare Illinois a planet…Planet strange.

  58. Pluto

    Thanks for the support, Illinois! I love you guys!

  59. Fly

    “as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies” – when exactly does Pluto pass over Illinois? And how long does this last? Pluto beeing a planet every now and again for a few seconds – that would be funny :-)

  60. Tim

    em>Uh, Illinois legislators. Psssst! Americans have discovered hundreds of planets.

    Actually, I think you might be wrong here. The IAU definition of a planet confines them to our Solar System. All the other “planets” discovered are exoplanets or Extrasolar planets and not just plain old planets.

    So Dr. Tombaugh could be said to be the only American to discover a planet by IAU defintions.

    (Discounting, of course, all those millions of unnamed people who “discovered” those planets visible to the naked eye!)

  61. Sean

    As a transplanted Hoosier I have to correct you on the pi bit. First off, they proposed that pi would equal 3.2. Secondly, that bill was proposed in 1897, http://www.agecon.purdue.edu/crd/Localgov/Second%20Level%20pages/indiana_pi_bill.htm, and the state senate tabled it. For the record, no state rep has condoned or advocated teaching intelligent design(or removing the term evolution from texts) in any county of Indiana since the 1987 Supreme Court ruling on creationism, like my current state of Georgia(or Pennsylvania, Alabama, Pennsylvania, California, Oklahoma, Ohio,Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, and Florida). We do have a law on the boats protecting river boat pilots from serving on jury duty however.

    Regardless, the Supreme Court also ruled that a tomato was a vegetable in 1893 if we’re going to ridicule territories based on legislation or court orders that died in the legislature more than 110 years ago. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=149&invol=304

    -SH.

  62. Dave W

    Why are you trying to pun-ish us?

  63. Gonzo

    Considering Pluto’s status is controversial even within the field I think it’s ok they did this. Anything that raises awareness of science, I realize your post was meant in jest, and it was quite funny. I think you know that when they said only American they meant that he was the only one to discover a “planet” in our system.

    That said, I live in Illinois and have been and always will be proud to say so. Despite our politicians (mind you, ours just get caught –which, depending on your point of view, could actually make us less corrupt than other states), our citizens love their country as much as anyone, and judging by the large number of Illinois natives that have sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don’t think anyone could successfully argue otherwise.

    And your post was funny Phil. I’m just tired of my state being a laughingstock — political corruption isn’t really funny.

  64. New Mexico and California have done this in prior years as well.

  65. DaveM

    While it does look kind of silly for a state to make such declarations in legislature, I applaud the sentiment.

    Pluto is indeed a planet. A large number of astronomers still consider it such. This whole “Pluto is not a planet” business was pushed through by a few stupid academicians who didn’t have the brains to publish serious science, and has since been taken over and repeated ad nauseum by TV shows on the Discovery Channel, and their panel of self-serving publicity-conscious mouthpieces.

    There was a simple definition of planet that people followed for a long time:

    – something that orbits directly around the Sun (i.e., not around another body that is orbiting around the Sun)

    – and which is large enough to assume a roughly spherical shape under its own gravity.

    There is nothing wrong with this definition. If this means that some of the larger asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects should also be considered planets, so be it. We are not infants unable to count beyond 9, we can handle a larger number of planets.

  66. Paul -Indiana
  67. Redx

    “planet that way”, Plutocrat…

    I thought this was bad astronomy blog.

  68. Andrew T from IL

    I for one support the Illinois legislature’s utterly useless and symbolic gesture which is, as Phil said, a complete waste of time. Why?

    Because when the Illinois legislature is wasting time with stuff like this, it means they’re NOT spending time passing new taxes and figuring out additional ways to further screw up our economy. Believe me, as an Illinoisian, I much prefer that they demonstrate their incompetence in science rather than in economics, regulation, or law.

    Next, I hope the IL legislature will spend much time and deliberation on Fly a Kite Day, Twiddle Your Thumbs Day, and Get Buzzed And Stay Home From Work Day. We the people of Illinois deserve nothing more…er, less.

  69. I happen to spend a lot of time at Walt Disney World so I went to the source and asked Pluto about all this. He said, “Rowrf, rowf rowf row rowrf.” So I went to Goofy (no commenters made that connection in the title?) He replied, “Gawrsh! I thought there was only seven dwarves!” So Pluto is fine, Goofy is, well goofy, and I place the actions of the Illinois senate and the IAU at the same level of mickey mouse seriousness as the above.

  70. Michael

    The Illinois legislature is promoting science, perhaps inaccurately and clumsily, but promoting it nonetheless and that’s a good thing! Too many people in this country have listened to the yapping chihuahuas of the political and religious right and believe now that science is elitist and evil. Showing admiration and respect for science and its heroes in a public forum is a way of countering the damage that has been done. Illinois needs to do this as well as the rest of the country, and the members of the Illinois legislature, should be encouraged, not ridiculed for their work. And as far as science and astronomy in particular does have heroes, Illinois’ favorite son Clyde Tombaugh is a pretty good choice to advocate. It really is inspirational when kids read about a farm boy in the early years of the twentieth century who loved learning so much that he ground his own mirrors and lenses to make a nine inch telescope. I know, because I was a kid once and I was inspired when I read Tombaugh’s story and as much as anything else it led to a lifelong love of science and astronomy.

  71. JoeIII

    Illinois government is just trying to change its image of being corrupt.
    Its now shooting for Moronic.

  72. BR

    I think they just found some votes up there and redistricted. It wouldn’t be too much different from they’re normal redistricting.

  73. Hey isnt it better to be known for discovering the first Kuiper belt object, rather than the last “planet”?

  74. Winter Solstice Man

    Ironic that Clyde Tombaugh left Illinois for Arizona and eventually settled for the rest of his life in New Mexico because he could not find astronomical employment in his birth state – and now Illinois wants to pay “tribute” to him and Pluto.

    And now Oklahoma has banned Riochard Dawkins? Oh, I am so sure the man is just devastated that he can no longer visit that part of the USA.

    Does Oklahoma make anything (besides guests on Jerry Springer) that we can boycott them for?

  75. Todd W.

    @Michael

    The Illinois legislature is promoting science

    Promoting science by going against what the consensus of a scientific body decided? By promoting that matters of science can be put to a vote by public opinion?

    Even without those shortcomings of their actions, it is a waste of the legislature’s time. The resources put into drafting this bill and putting it to a vote on the floor would have been better spent on, say, an actual issue within the purview of the state legislature.

    So, yes, they do deserve a little bit of a ribbing for this.

  76. Gonzo

    @Todd W.

    Please, there are plenty of scientists that disagreed with that decision too. So, best get to ribbing them too then.

  77. Todd

    I live in Illinois, just outside Chicago, and this is no real surprise. I’m sure there is some Chicago public school official that will give a kickback to a state senator for Pluto day because it in some way benefits them financially – maybe they have their own “Pluto is a planet” book they want to sell the CPS system. For those of you who think this is crazy – just look at our last Governor. He is NOT unique – the vast majority of politicians out of Chicago are like that. However corrupt you think it is here, you are not aware of how truly corrupt it is, the situation simply cannot be overstated. We had Operation Graylord – the largest federal corruption probe of judges in the history of the US. We have judges that take bribes to pick murder and rape trials. And we have the politicians and political machines to either appoint of elect those judges. So when you say that Illinois declared Pluto is a planet, you need to look for who is passing the money around to make it so.

  78. Tyler Durden

    “Serious question: *does* Pluto pass over Illinois? If you drew a line between the center of the Earth and the center of Pluto, does it ever intersect Illinois? How often does this happen? When will it happen next?”

    —————————————————–

    I think this part of the resolution is yet another indicator of the ignorance involved here. It seems they are unaware that Pluto does not “pass over” Illinois when it rises and sets at night. It is in fact the rotation of the Earth which causes Pluto’s position to change so rapidly.

    Pluto’s actual motion can be determined by observing it one night, then again at the same time on the next, and measuring the difference in position (or longer than the next night, depending on the size of the telescope used.)

  79. The majority of the people on this comment stream seems to think that the IL Legislature doesn’t have the authority to make this decision.

    Well guess what? Neither does the IAU. Just because a bunch of hominids on the third rock from Sol happen to have more scientific knowledge of a certain area does not give them the right to name anything. They throw something against the wall and see if it sticks, but they can’t fight against the pitchforks and torches of the masses.

    Now if they had observed a fundamental principal of the universe, such as Pi and the legislature tried to legislate a fact, that would be a different story.

  80. Pluto is now classified as a dwarf planet. So, it is still a planet.

  81. Who took a core sample to determine Pluto is only ice?

  82. David Marjanović

    Ironic that Clyde Tombaugh left Illinois for Arizona and eventually settled for the rest of his life in New Mexico because he could not find astronomical employment in his birth state – and now Illinois wants to pay “tribute” to him and Pluto.

    How Austrian of them.

    (I’m Austrian, and it’s funny how every time anyone of vaguely Austrian descent gets a Nobel Prize or anything similar, usually after having spent the last 70 years in the USA, all the media act as if they, the media, had a reason to be proud of that…)

  83. Todd W.

    @Dr. Phil Plait

    In addition to Rep. Todd Thomsen trying to ban Richard Dawkins from the state of Oklahoma (in resolution HR1015), he has also introduced HR1014 – A resolution disapproving certain actions of the University of Oklahoma regarding the theory of evolution; distribution.

    In essence, he’s decrying the “one-sided indoctrination of an unproven and unpopular theory”, “framing the Darwinian theory of evolution as doctrinal dogmatism rather than a hypothetical construction within the disciplines of the sciences”. The resolution also claims that the university’s zoology department is “brand[ing] all thinking in dissent of this theory as anti-intellectual and backward”.

    For those who are in Oklahoma and may be interested in contacting this individual (keep it civil!), his e-mail address is todd (dot) thomsen (at) okhouse (dot) gov, as listed on the OK House of Representatives web site.

  84. JohnG

    I love that the resolution only applies if Pluto passes over Illinois at night, but not during the day apparently.

  85. Winter Solstice Man

    C’mon, JohnG – everybody knows the stars and planets disappear in the daytime because our Sun is just too hot for them to compete for sky space!

    They only grow back at night when the Sun has gone down in the chariot led by Apollo and the temperatures have cooled enough for them to reform.

  86. Todd W.

    @Gonzo

    Please, there are plenty of scientists that disagreed with that decision too. So, best get to ribbing them too then.

    I would, but I fear I’d be barking up the wrong tree. :)

    Seriously, though, if scientists want to discuss the scientific merits of either side and dissent based on the facts, so be it, but for a bunch of politicians who, I would guess, know very little about any of the science behind the issue, to put it to a vote of uninformed opinion…

    Now, if a scientist dissents simply because they have warm fuzzies for Pluto being a planet, then yeah, ridicule them. Same thing for scientists who just don’t care much for it being a planet and made their decision based on emotion.

  87. Karl

    CHICAGO – Federal authorities have indicted several Illinios Senators on corruption charges after an undercover investigation. According to tapes released, Senators called a number of planetoids asking “what they could get” for the title of planet. Rod Blagojevich was unavailable for comment.

  88. I’m really surprised – I’d expect this kinda thing to come from a place like Oklahoma, but Illinois ?!

  89. @Michael

    The Illinois legislature is promoting science

    Some states legislate debate of all of the theories in the science classroom. Are they promoting science?

    While there may be some actual scientific debate about this issue, deciding it by legislation is not a scientific way of resolving the question.

    There is no scientific evidence to support Creationism. Some state legislatures encourage school children to debate things that are already resolved scientifically. This is not promoting science.

  90. This is the kind of bull our local governments are wasting time on. Like there isn’t a problem with the economy or something.

    Sheesh.

  91. Norm

    The puns ruin the article.

  92. RickW

    “Serious question: *does* Pluto pass over Illinois? If you drew a line between the center of the Earth and the center of Pluto, does it ever intersect Illinois? How often does this happen? When will it happen next?”

    —————————————————–

    It turns out that Pluto is currently at a declination of -17 degrees and is moving south, which means it is not “over” Illinois. In fact, it never gets farther north than +24 degrees, and the southernmost point in Illinois (Fort Defiance) is at a latitude of +37 degrees, so Pluto will *never* get far enough north to be overhead in Illinois.

    I’m sure the Illinois senate had already done this calculation and realized there was no risk in suddenly changing Pluto’s classification every time it passes over the state.

  93. @ Daniel D Lindmark:

    Allmost all fields of science have some international body responsible for conventions that scientists should adhere. Like the INQUA in Quaternary geochronology who decides on what names and boundaries to use for geological periods for example, or the Meteorite Nomenclature Committee when it comes to official meteorite names.

    For astronomy , that international body is the IAU, and it has been for a long time, and has been recognized as such for a long time. For example, the names and number of constellations and the coordinates of the boundaries between them have been decided by the IAU (back in 1926 already). All astronomers worldwide adhere to that convention.

    All this outcry of “what right has the IAU to tell us that Pluto is not a planet?” is really strange. It sprang up after the Pluto demotion only. And b.t.w:

    @ Dave M:

    …the IAU committee that drafted the proposal, and the assembly that voted in favour of it, contained some of the most eminent scientists in this field in the world.

    From a European point of view, the continuing resistance to the IAU motion regarding Pluto, is a mostly and significantly American thing. It is not an internationally widely shared sentiment.

  94. Bemused

    So, what, now we need separation of science and state?

  95. Daniel D Lindmark,

    Why wouldn’t those knowledgeable on astronomy be the ones to decide what Pluto is?

    You use the term hominids. should biologists also have no say over the naming of creatures?

    Since Pi has already been set by fiat, they decided to go for something a bit less daring. Like working their way from accountancy to banking, and gradually working toward being a Lion Tamer.

  96. Tim

    …that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies…

    Actually, it’s passing over in the afternoon.
    http://www.fesg.tu-muenchen.de/dieter/java/TLVisPOrbit.html

  97. dm

    Wouldn’t their time be better spent naming stars after people?

  98. Grant

    Really? Seriously??

    Y’know, sometimes the Farkisms write themselves…

    “Having solved all other problems…”
    “…Mickey’s dog wants steak.”

  99. Jeffrey

    BJN, I recommend watching Tyson’s recent interview regarding his book “The Pluto Files”.

    http://fora.tv/2009/02/04/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson_Pluto_Files

    He explains his reasoning behind removing Pluto from the exhibit at the AMNH as well as why he also is not a big fan of the current definition of “planet”. I definitely agree that Pluto does not fit as a planet if we’re just looking at the 4 terrestrial and 4 jovian planets, but would have no problem if we included all of the large (aka gravitationally differentiated – round) Kuiper belt and asteroid belt objects. Though i would imagine the public would have even more problems if there were suddenly dozens of “planets”. The problem with the current definition is that it is dependent on how far out an object is. By the current IAU definition, Earth would not be a planet if it was at Pluto’s orbit, since it would be unable to clear the orbit.

    And yes, I am an astronomer (or will be soon, I’m a graduate student).

  100. Tim

    Gee, thank you Illinois politicos. Glad to see you are wasting your time in Springfield with something like this instead of working on…lets see:

    A 9-billion dollar regular debt, combines with a currently 74-billion dollar pension debt.

    No biggie though!

  101. erexx

    What an incredible waste of time.
    Pluto isn’t a Planet anymore… oh, the outrage…
    Rome is burning.

  102. Metre

    @holastefan

    Come on, this is just one of those symbolic things that governments do, like declaring every 14th Wednesday of the year as “kiss your kids day”. It’s a symbolic gesture to a favorite local son. They are not trying to undo the definition of a planet – it’s tongue-in-cheek. It carries no signficance, and will quickly disappear into the trash heap of symbolic gestures. Methinks you are over reacting to it.

    I have been doing astronomy since 1964. I have learned to distinguish real threats to science from the non-threats. This is a non-threat.

  103. @Gonzo: “That said, I live in Illinois and have been and always will be proud to say so. Despite our politicians (mind you, ours just get caught –which, depending on your point of view, could actually make us less corrupt than other states),”

    Keep telling yourself that. They only hit you because they love you, too.

    Maybe you’ll believe it if you say it often enough.

  104. KC

    Ah come guys – it was a joke. Don’t take it so seriously!

  105. Joe Meils

    Aces on the puns, Phil.

    But I still don’t agree with the definition that turns Pluto and it’s ilk into “third class” ice-dwarfs. I don’t care if Pluto is “just ice”, Saturn is just gas, but you don’t hear the deniers whineing about that one!

    It’s got enough mass to pull itself into a sphere.
    It circles the sun.
    It has three mons of it’s own.
    It has a measurable atmo.
    It has seasons.

    It’s a frackin’ planet. You and your buddy Tyson and those fru fru astronomers in France can just pucker up and put your lips on Pluto… it’ll be like licking a metal flagpole in the middle of a Colorado cold snap.

    When Far Horizions passes by in 2015, we’re all going to have to revisit this issue. Because it will be obvious that Pluto is a bone fide planet!

    So there!

    (Blows a raspberry, al la John Cleese as the French knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)

  106. NS

    I’m sure it passes through the sky during the day, too. (yeah, the sun’s brightness makes it impractical to observe during the day, but implying it’s only there in the *night skies*? Discrimination, I say!

  107. I hereby nominate this post for the Highest Pun Density of the Year Award.

    And what constitutes “passes overhead”?

    Finally, I think the in the wording:

    RESOLVED, … that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies,

    the use of “as Pluto passes overhead” doesn’t mean “during the time when Pluto passes overhead”, but rather “due to the [alleged] fact that Pluto passes overhead”.

    Though it would be fun (FSVO) to consider the former interpretation. “Is Pluto a Planet? I don’t know… what time is it in Illinois?”

  108. JBBW

    As scientfic knowledge advances theories must be reexamined. If Pluto does not meet the criteria for a planet than it must be reclassified. An emotional response is the only reason to keep it a planet. Science asks you to look at the facts.

  109. Winter Solstice Man

    Pluto is not a major planet.

    There are objects in its very elliptical orbit out there which are as bigger or bigger than it.

    Pluto is smaller than our Moon.

    Having moons of its own means nothing these days. So do many asteroids.

    Had it been discovered in 2000 instead of 1930, there would not be this debate and the gnawing masses would not have a clue that Pluto even existed.

    I agree the IAU handled this less than perfectly, with a healthy helping of misinformation from the infotainment media.

    Pluto is not a major planet. It is a KBO object.

  110. Aaron

    Finally, a state with some sense. You gotta love the dopes that think that just because a planet might be made entirely of ice, that that would somehow disqualify it as being a planet, but it gets old after awhile. Pluto’s a planet guys. Chances are good that it’ll still be orbiting the sun in more or less the same state it’s in now long after the Earth is a ball of cold rock.

  111. Dane

    Pluto far more more closely approximates a planet than does the black hole of “gay unions” (though now so fashionable to advocate) get anywhere near marriage.

    And speaking of such “fashions in thought”, C S Lewis said:

    “The use of fashions in thought is to distract men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is in the least danger, and fix its approval on the virtue that is nearest the vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running around with fire extinguishers whenever there’s a flood; and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gone under. ”

    “… Cruel ages are put on their guard against sentimentality; feckless and idle ones, against respectability; lecherous ones, against puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants, we make liberalism the prime bogey.”

    By the way, your comments on the process, the provenance, and the probity vs. the parlance in the appellation of poor Pluto reveal a great sense of humor, a sharp wit in this crowd – very funny – thanks!

  112. Chris A.

    @DaveM:

    “There was a simple definition of planet that people followed for a long time:
    – something that orbits directly around the Sun (i.e., not around another body that is orbiting around the Sun)
    – and which is large enough to assume a roughly spherical shape under its own gravity.
    There is nothing wrong with this definition.”

    Define “roughly spherical.” What’s that you say? You’re forced to come up with some arbitrary cut off between the ones that are spherical enough and the ones that aren’t? Oh my yes, that’s BIG improvement.

    Oh, and what to do with the ones that are spherical enough not because they have enough gravity, but because of random chance in the near-infinite variety of shapes that small objects can assume? And what about the ones whose internal composition makes it easier for them to assume a spherical shape than larger objects made of stiffer stuff inside? Will your definition only work after we obtain detailed knowledge of the innards of every near-spherical rock from here to the Oort Cloud?

  113. Chris A.

    @ebookey:

    “Pluto is now classified as a dwarf planet. So, it is still a planet.”

    And the 400,000 plus known asteroids (AKA “minor planets”) are still planets too, right?

  114. Ambar

    “KBO object”? Surely it’s a “KB” Object?

  115. Joe Shuster

    The issue at hand isn’t about the planethood of Pluto. That issue is substantially an astronomy issue.

    The real issue at hand is the collective disgrace that the Illinois legislature (aided by our ex-governer) has branded on the state of Illinois. Once again, our shameful “public servants” in Springfield have provided SNL, and the talk show comedians with golden material to ridicule Illinois.

    One thing that Pluto and the Illinois Legislature have in common is that they have no sign of intelligent life.

  116. wygit

    For those of you who support Dwarf Planet Rights…
    http://crazylikethat.com/product/tshirt/pluto9.html

    ( disclaimer: a friend of mine makes them )

  117. Joe Meils

    Yes, it definitely seems to me that the early 21st Century is turning into the the “Decade where we settled on some definitions.” What constitutes a planet, what people can get married and which are second class citizens, what’s torture, and what’s “enhanced interrogation.” Among many others.

    But to look into the night sky, and see a ball of rock and ice circling the sun… and be able to note that it has huge polar caps, an atmosphere we can measure and take the temperature of, and see that it has three moons orbiting around it… well, that just strikes me as splitting hairs so fine you can see through them.

    And in the meantime, you gut several states pride in being the first to have someone discover a planet for the United States, and steal the candy from all those little kids who finally learned all the planet’s names thanks to the “Mother Very Enthusiastically Made Jelly Sandwiches…” Meanwhile, the french astronomers laugh… (ever hear a French astronomer laugh? It’s a low, mean laugh…) Because they know it’s a planet too.. they just voted the way they did to screw with the heads of US children…

    As to the question of “does Pluto pass over the night skies of Illinois?” Answer: of course it does. Just as every other object in the night sky rises, arcs across the firmament, and sets again… and it does so each time the Earth and Planet Pluto are on the same side of the sun. So yes, for a good portion of the Earthly orbit, Pluto passes through the night skies of Illinois.

    And yes, Virgina, as long as there are 80 years of science fiction stories out there (specifically copies of Heinlien’s “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”) Pluto shall forever be a planet in the minds of kids with a sense of wonder.

    :P

  118. Jonathan

    This politicking of the Illinois legislature goes hand in hand with the political manipulations that happened within the IAU, a supposed scientific society, to oust Pluto from it’s status as a planet originally.

    The whole debacle began when a small segment of gravitational scientists waited until the last day of an IAU convention–after most of the IAU, including their opposition among the planetary scientists, against whom they had a grudge–had departed the conference. They then brought up an unannounced proposal to redefine planets, which specifically carved out exceptions contrived to reach their desired result. Since they were the majority left at the conference, they won. Surprise.

    Given that the whole issue started with a fiasco that rivals the procedural manipulations of any regular legislative body, I am unmoved by whatever pain these state politicians, who at least have to stand for election, may cause the IAU in response.

  119. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Hire a biologist to fix your vocabulary, you guys are just too sloppy to do it yourselves.

    Oh, so that’s why biologists have come up 26 different definitions of species and counting, damn “the” culture idea of “I know a species when I see one” and especially damn creationist rigid “kinds”?

    (And ironically, the IAU definition seems to me to be exactly in line of the biological usage of terms. I.e. acknowledging known processes and the resulting populations instead of random traits to get stabler, diversifying, and likely more technically useful, natural definitions.)

    ”When I hear the word culture, I uncock my revolver’s safety catch.” [H. Göring.]

  120. holastefan

    @Metre said: It’s a symbolic gesture to a favorite local son. They are not trying to undo the definition of a planet. Methinks you are over reacting to it. I have been doing astronomy since 1964 … This is a non-threat.

    Obviously. I don’t think anyone here thinks that astronomical definitions are in jeopardy. I posted my response to you because you said “Lighten up”, when it seemed apparent that this *already was* a light topic (prior to your comment, my top comment was even a joke). No need to debate or point out professional qualifications.

  121. It’s “Volkswagen” not “Volkswagon.” German, ya know?

    – Jack

  122. cak

    People seem to be attacking illinos here, for having a little fun. Yes, how dare our politicians have a little laugh, at their own expense.

    You guys are bunch of jerks, just looking for a fight.

  123. TheBlackCat

    Hire a biologist to fix your vocabulary, you guys are just too sloppy to do it yourselves.

    You should check out the naming system for cellular ion channels. It sends chills down my spine just thinking about it. There are 3 or 4 of conflicting ones.

  124. Mark

    I think Pluto should be left to decide it’s own status. That way it can be self explanetary if it so wishes. Or not.

  125. Moon

    They are morons! Don’t they realize that the Adler Planetarium in Chicago lists the EIGHT planets in the solar system. Pluto is NOT included.

    Finally, this is accurate again after more than 75 years and now the fools in the Illinois Legislature want to change it back?

    FOOLS!

  126. Alicia C Simpson

    A dwarf human is a human.

    A dwarf horse is a horse.

    But apparently a dwarf planet is not a planet??

    Granted this is a stupid idea for the legislature, they have so many important things to do. Of course, during the time they spent on this they didn’t do any harm. Is this bad??

    Planet hood is rather arbitrary, so who cares.

  127. RegularGuy

    The IL General Assembly ‘wannabe-astronomers’ finally proved what the voters of this State knew all along. They may meet in Springfield, but their heads are up Uranus.

  128. pppaulll

    a nerd observation…

    just musing…perhaps reclassifying Pluto is part of your government’s stimulating package.
    all that money has to go SOMEWHERE.

    or maybe somebody just doesn’t have enough to do.

    “nerd” in Latin is “Nemo Fossor”, or so they say, eh?

  129. State of Pluto

    Whereas be it Resolved, that when Pluto flies over me at night, it shall be officially declared the State of Illinois.

  130. Ambar Says: (on March 6th, 2009 at 12:37 pm)

    “KBO object”? Surely it’s a “KB” Object?”

    Actually technically speaking, its the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt or perhaps even the Edgeworth-Kuiper disk EKBO? EKBD, TNO, (yuk) Plutoid?

    Nah! Forget it, its far simpler & more reasonable to just call Pluto a planet! ;-)

    @ Alicia C Simpson – Very true & moreover :

    A dwarf galaxy is a galaxy.

    A dwarf star is a star.
    (Our sun is one such stellar dwarf – are any pluto-haters going to start saying it ain’t really a “proper” star now?)

    Given that then you’d expect a dwarf planet to be …

    Well a planet of course!

    Why on Earth (or Pluto or Jupiter for that matter) NOT & why be inconsistent???

    The Pluto-bashing IAU’s silly, scientifically inaccurate and politically derived anti-Plutonian dictate embaress’es them and by association astronomers in general far more than the Illinois legislature.

    Plus at least the IL legislature made a fair and democractic choice which is far better than the tiny minority of the tiny minority that is the IAU making an undemocratic last-minute political choice. Its also worth noting the IAU vote deliberatly excluded the world’s leading experts in this area – Mike Brown and Alan Stern – who both consider Pluto a planet!

  131. Accuracy Nazi

    @ Torbjörn Larsson, OM signing off with :

    ”When I hear the word culture, I uncock my revolver’s safety catch.” [H. Göring.]

    Okay, I’m confused. You know who Goring was don’t you?

    A top Nazi war criminal that’s who.

    Is that quote meant to be serious or ironical?

    Do you support the idea of shooting artists or are you saying it for the reverse effect – Ie if others who disgarew withyouort are taking the positionagainst yours want to shoot artists .. or what?

    Sorry but I don’t get what you are meaning at all there.

  132. Accuracy Nazi

    Ambar Says: (on March 6th, 2009 at 12:37 pm)

    “KBO object”? Surely it’s a “KB” Object?”

    Actually technically speaking, its the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt or perhaps even the Edgeworth-Kuiper disk EKBO? EKBD, TNO, (yuk) Plutoid?

    Nah! Forget it, its far simpler & more reasonable to just call Pluto a planet! ;-)

  133. Accuracy Nazi

    @ Alicia C Simpson – Very true & moreover :

    A dwarf galaxy is a galaxy.

    A dwarf star is a star.

    (Our sun is one such stellar dwarf – are any pluto-haters going to start saying it ain’t really a “proper” star now?)

    Given that then you’d expect a dwarf planet to be …

    Well a planet of course!

    Why on Earth (or Pluto or Jupiter for that matter) NOT & why be inconsistent???

    The Pluto-bashing IAU’s silly, scientifically inaccurate and politically derived anti-Plutonian dictate embaress’es them and by association astronomers in general far more than the Illinois legislature.

    Plus at least the IL legislature made a fair and democractic choice which is far better than the tiny minority of the tiny minority that is the IAU making an undemocratic last-minute political choice. Its also worth noting the IAU vote deliberatly excluded the world’s leading experts in this area – Mike Brown and Alan Stern – who both consider Pluto a planet!

  134. The Illinois Senate has way more sense than the International Astronomical Union has shown in two-and-a-half years. It’s the IAU who have acted like idiots, with one tiny group forcing a nonsensical planet definition on everyone. The truth is there is NO scientific consensus that Pluto is not a planet. The criterion requiring that a planet “clear the neighborhood of its orbit” is not only controversial; it’s so vague as to be meaningless. Only four percent of the IAU even voted on this, and the vote was driven by internal politics. A small group, most of whom are not planetary scientists, wanted to arbitrarily limit the number of planets to only the largest bodies in the solar system. They held their vote on the last day of a two-week conference with no absentee voting allowed. Their decision was immediately opposed by hundreds of professional astronomers in a formal petition led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto.

    Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader definition of planet that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body orbiting a star. The spherical part is key because when objects become large enough, they are shaped by gravity, which pulls them into a round shape, rather than by chemical bonds. This is true of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and comets. And yes, it does make Ceres, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake planets as well, for a total of 13 planets in our solar system.

    Even now, many astronomers and lay people are working to overturn the IAU demotion or are ignoring it altogether. Kudos to the Illinois Senate for standing up to this closed, out of touch organization whose leadership thinks they can just issue a decree and change reality.

  135. Accuracy Nazi

    Oh & one other pedantic little point – Pluto is apparently more rock than ice. According to what I’ve read recently (reputable astronomy mags & sites) Pluito stucrture (geologicallydifferentiated like aplanet you’ll note) is an icy crust overlying a slushy perhaps even tidally heated ocean of water or watery layert then a rock core.

    Given tidal heating from Charon (perhaps also Hydra & Nix though I suspect they’re probably too small) its seems possible that Pluto could have Europa-type underwater life present.

    Moons, an atmosphere, a surface, weather, geologically differentiated, Come on Pluto is indeed a proper planet folks. More so than Mercury which has no atmosphere or moons. Put Mercury – or for that matter Earth – where Pluto is and they wouldn’t be planets under IAU diktat either – which is ridiculous because they are! Also an exoplanetary system was found recently with two massive exoplanets orbiting in the same resonance as Neptune and Pluto agian making the IAU criteria look .. well just dumb really.

    This is one case where the IAU has it wrong and the Illinois legislature right. If astronomers are upset by this then the answer isn’t to mock Illinois but to get the current IAU replaced with sensible members and the anti-Pluto decision corrected.

  136. Accuracy Nazi

    Oh & one other pedantic little point – Pluto is apparently more rock than ice. According to what I’ve read recently (reputable astronomy mags & sites) Pluito stucrture (geologicallydifferentiated like aplanet you’ll note) is an icy crust overlying a slushy perhaps even tidally heated ocean of water or watery layert then a rock core.

    Given tidal heating from Charon (perhaps also Hydra & Nix though I suspect they’re probably too small) its seems possible that Pluto could have Europa-type underwater life present.

    Moons, an atmosphere, a surface, weather, geologically differentiated, Come on Pluto is indeed a proper planet folks. More so than Mercury which has no atmosphere or moons. Put Mercury – or for that matter Earth – where Pluto is and they wouldn’t be planets under IAU diktat either – which is ridiculous because they are! Also an exoplanetary system was found recently with two massive exoplanets orbiting in the same resonance as Neptune and Pluto agian making the IAU criteria look .. well just dumb really.

    This is one case where the IAU has it wrong and the Illinois legislature right. If astronomers are upset by this then the answer isn’t to mock Illinois but to get the current IAU replaced with sensible members and the anti-Pluto decision corrected.

  137. StevoR

    Here’s my list of 12 reasons why the IAU decision was wrong & why the Illinois legislature got this right :

    _* 12 REASONS WHY PLUTO _IS_ A PLANET : *__

    1. The orbital clearing condition which was made up to eliminate Pluto is fatally flawed because it is itself too hard to define – what is meant by “cleared” & how far from the planet must the orbit be “cleared”? Strictly speaking this eliminates any object in our solar system as all planets have objects – comets and asteroids crossing their orbits, Jupiter has Trojan asteroids, Neptune has Pluto crossing its orbit, Earth has numerous near-earth asteroids such as Eros and so forth. A consistent application of this criterion would exclude all the planets of our solar system! (Even Mercury has sun-crossing comets and Icarus!)

    2. A reductio ad absurdum approach reveals that this criterion fails because it leads to absurd results ruling out objects we’d clearly consider planets based on their location – a Jupiter or Earth-type planet hypothetically located in the Oort cloud would be excluded yet we’d clearly still call it a planet otherwise! Why then draw the line at smaller objects that would otherwise fit the planetary description ie. rounded by their own gravity and directly orbiting the Sun? (Or their common centre of gravity for “double planets.”)

    3. In relation to forming planetary systems including historically our own, planetary orbits cross and interact in unpredictable ways. By the IAU’s “orbital clearance” criterion, these objects – even ones Jupiter sized and above – are NOT strictly planets because their orbits are not yet cleared – again failing the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ test. Eg : The earth before it was hit by the Mars-sized body that became our moon would NOT have been termed a “planet” because it had that Mars-sized object in its orbital path.

    4. From point 3 above, we see that by IAU definitions planets cannot collide because their neighbourhood then isn’t clear – nor can they exist as binaries or “double planets” by the same logic. This appears contrary to common-sense and consistency. It also has potential for creating trouble with exoplanets given the so-far hypothetical but quite probable possibility that some extrasolar planets may exist in this form – even potentially twin Neptunes or Jupiters. Given that some would describe the Earth-Moon system as well as the Pluto-Charon one as such a ‘double planet’ then a strict definition of the IAU rule may rule our Earth out of planetary status again clearly a ridiculous proposition!

    5. Inconsistency and inapplicability in regard to exoplanets – the IAU definition excluded planets of other stars. Yet surely planets orbiting other suns are no less planets for not orbiting our star! Even more tellingly, at least one of the Pulsar planets, PSR B 1257+12 e is tiny – smaller than Pluto withonly 1/5th our Moon’s mass raising a glaring inconsistency. Given PSR1257+12 e is counted as an exoplanet then Pluto, equally, should clearly count as a planet for the sake of consistency.

    6. The “dwarf planet-dwarf” star analogy – just as dwarf stars are still stars so surely are dwarf planets still planets. Extrapolating the “dwarf planets don’t count” line to stellar astronomy would imply the Sun is not a proper star nor are 99 % of all stars – those 90% on the main-sequence and the 10 % of “stellar corpses” such as white dwarfs and neutron stars. Moreover, as with stars, the smaller the object’s size the greater its numbers! Therefore calling a planet “dwarf” should NOT rule it out of being considered a proper planet.

    7. Problems with the “classical” planets term : the IAU defined “classical”; planets are restricted to our Earth’s solar system and it is hard to see how they apply to exoplanets or how the term can work usefully as a scientific description. Apart from differing immensely – Earth and Pluto are arguably far more similar worlds than Earth and Jupiter or Mercury or Neptune – they also clash with a previous understanding arguably much more apt of classical planets being those visible to the “classical” age peoples – the five original bright wanderers – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, & Saturn. If that ‘classical’ term is retained, it seems best used in this sense as a historical and descriptive sense.

    8. Sentimental, cultural and historical reasons – noting Pluto’s long-established and culturally scientific place as a recognised planet from its discovery in 1930 until its demotion in 2006. This also covers the slight to Clyde Tombaugh’s memory, widow and family plus the perceived political aspect of stripping from planetary status the sole planet discovered by an American. (BTW. I’m an Aussie with no connection to the US.)

    9. The undemocratic manner in which the IAU ruling was made. For instance, of the 10,000 IAU members only 2,500 attended the Prague meeting that demoted Pluto and rejected the other planetary candidates, Eris, Charon and Ceres from planetary status. Furthermore, of those 2,500 only the merest handful – just 424 actually got to vote making therefore a very unrepresentative decision. Among those to excluded from voting and arguing their case in that last minute meeting were some highly relevant and articulate people – notably Pluto expert Alan S. Stern, head of the New Horizons mission. Stern’s summary of the IAU judgement was blunt : “ … idiotic. I have nothing but ridicule for this decision.” (Alan Stern, P.28, ‘Astronomy Now’, October, 2006.)

    10. The decisionto demote Pluto has had a generally negative reception from the general public and on public perceptions of astronomers – just ask the Illinoisans who must’ve had a fair number of people demand their action.

    11. The first proposed IAU definition of ‘planet’ (that would have included Pluto, Eris and Ceres) was much better in terms of logical consistency and general application as well as being more easily explained, understand and applied – ie. two main criteria for planets are that they are objects circling a star directly which are not themselves stars or brown dwarfs and are rounded by their own gravity.

    12. Pluto is a complex world with the key aspects of planets - it dominates its own satellite system of three moons (Charon, Hydra & Nix), has its own atmosphere, has a complex geology and weather system (of nitrogen frosting based on HST images and theory) and meets all the criteria for planethood with the sole exception of the problematic and, I believe, absurd “orbital clearance” criterion.

    ***

    Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the IAU’s burningly stupid decision is reversed and Pluto gets re-instated as a planet along with Eris, Ceres and the other ice dwrafs! I suggest we adopt an inclusive definition of “planet” which then gets sub-divided into other categories eg. gas giant, rocky planet, ice dwraf, SuperEarth, Hot Jupiter, etc ..

  138. StevoR

    @ Laurel Kornfeld :

    Well said! Love your Pluto blog too. :-D

    Please feel free to adopt, quote & use my “12 reasons Pluto *is* a planet” above (feel free to edit & modify as suits you if it helps too.

    (Afraid I’ve no blog or website of my own.)

    & as I said, I’m an Aussie who like many all around the world thinks (as Dr Suess might put it) :

    “A planet’s a planet no matter how small!” ;-)

  139. blf

    They should have made Pluto the Official State Planet. And declared Tombaugh’s birthday an Official State Holiday. There would be state Astro-Pluto Fairs, with carnival rides and ice cream eats (what else is appropriate for celebrating Pluto?).

    Planetariums would be open for free for the day, with lectures by the likes of Phil and other astronomers. And of course, there’d be star parties at night! A state day of astronomy is what they could have done.

    Instead, they just look like fools.

  140. StevoR-correcting

    @ Blf Not to me or many others.

    The IAU are the ones that look foolish to us – & for good reason.

  141. StevoR-correcting

    Mind you, they could do all the stuff you suggest as well! I’d support that! ;-)

  142. Marco Langbroek

    @ Laurel Kornfeld:

    That that IAU assembly would decide on the status of Pluto was known very well for a long time. All these people now crying could have attended that convention and cast their vote. They didn’t, but now they are whining that they are excluded.

    It is amazing, and telling, that those opposed to the exclusion of Pluto are now creating a tale that it was decided by “a small group of non-experts with explicit exclusion of some big names in the field”. That is nothing more than the typical conspiracy theory: it is total BS.

    The motion was prepared by an international committee of astronomers. After an earlier all-expert committee failed (!) to reach a solution, a new committee was formed which includes (contrary to some of the sentiments expressed by some of the commenters here) some big names from planetary astronomy (e.g. Iwan Williams, Richard Binzel, André Brahic), plus people specialising in the History of Science, addressing that aspect of the decision . The vote was in an IAU general assembly which every IAU member could have visited to cast his/her vote. Those who did, voted in favour of the demotion of Pluto. Those who chose to not be there, did not vote, and are exactly the ones now whining.

    I have pointed out in an earlier comment that almost all the resistance to the IAU decision is American (and this is true!). To Europeans like me, that is just another case of Americans not accepting international decisions if they feel it goes against their ‘American’ views/interests, in this case because they loose their only American “planet” discovery. Because that is really what this is all about. And the Illinois motion only reconfirms that.

    So, get a life guys. Realize that this planet is bigger than the US. The international community has decided. Accept that, instead of whining.

    (I am sorry to have to put this into a bit of an “America” vs “the rest of the World” issue, as I normally dislike that: but that is because this is what really is behind it. The opposition against the IAU decision is almost solely American)

  143. J.L.Lee

    Did anyone tell them they couldn’t rename it Planet Blago?

  144. @ StevoR and @ Laurel Kornfeld,

    Maybe there are valid reasons for Pluto to be classified as a planet. That does not mean that the Illinois legislature should have any say in the matter.

    What kind of precedent does it set for a bunch of politicians to set scientific standards?

    The Illinois legislature is just a part of a state government, not even a national government. How many incompetents do we want to authorize to make these decisions, just because we may like the result? A very unscientific approach.

  145. CANADA

    CANADA RULES!!!!!!!!!

    lol

  146. electricity

    I find the fapping about Pluto totally bizarre. Esp. when folks attach it to right wing (American, natch) ideals. The creationists are insane but I understand why they’re doing it. Why the fuck does anyone care about Pluto?!

  147. Keith

    That does it, I’m writing my state representative and I’m going to ask that the Texas Legislature draft a bill granting planetary status to Eris!

    Effing Illinois morons.

  148. TheBlackCat

    1. The orbital clearing condition which was made up to eliminate Pluto is fatally flawed because it is itself too hard to define – what is meant by “cleared” & how far from the planet must the orbit be “cleared”? Strictly speaking this eliminates any object in our solar system as all planets have objects – comets and asteroids crossing their orbits, Jupiter has Trojan asteroids, Neptune has Pluto crossing its orbit, Earth has numerous near-earth asteroids such as Eros and so forth. A consistent application of this criterion would exclude all the planets of our solar system! (Even Mercury has sun-crossing comets and Icarus!)

    My understanding is that to have “cleared” its orbit it must be the dominant gravitational object in its local vicinity. This is not ambiguous in our solar system, all the planets are by far the most massive objects in their orbits. Earth has the moon, which is a small fraction of its size. All those asteroids and comets are tiny and their behavior is heavily influence by the true planets but not by the other way around, Pluto, however, is a practically unnoticeable blip compared to Neptune, with whom its orbit intersects. Therefore it is not a planet.

    2. A reductio ad absurdum approach reveals that this criterion fails because it leads to absurd results ruling out objects we’d clearly consider planets based on their location – a Jupiter or Earth-type planet hypothetically located in the Oort cloud would be excluded yet we’d clearly still call it a planet otherwise! Why then draw the line at smaller objects that would otherwise fit the planetary description ie. rounded by their own gravity and directly orbiting the Sun? (Or their common centre of gravity for “double planets.”)

    Reductio ad abusrdum is a logical fallacy for a reason. There is no evidence that objects of this sort could exist. This definition is based on what we know about orbital mechanics and the formation of a solar system. And based on that, a body of the sort should not be able to exist. So I am sure you can make up hypothetical scenarios that make the definition break down if you imagine a solar system that does not appear to be possible, but this definition is only designed to apply to solar systems that appear to actually be able to exist.

    3. In relation to forming planetary systems including historically our own, planetary orbits cross and interact in unpredictable ways. By the IAU’s “orbital clearance” criterion, these objects – even ones Jupiter sized and above – are NOT strictly planets because their orbits are not yet cleared – again failing the ‘reductio ad absurdum’ test. Eg : The earth before it was hit by the Mars-sized body that became our moon would NOT have been termed a “planet” because it had that Mars-sized object in its orbital path.

    Yes, and if you go back far enough the whole solar system was just a disc of gas and dust. This obviously only works for mature solar systems and not ones in the process of formation. The very idea of having “cleared it orbit” indicates that, during the early solar system, each planet either consumed or ejected every other nearby object. It didn’t just magically poof in to place with nothing nearby. So to claim that, because at some point in the past, the planet carried out the very process on its surroundings that the definition of a planet requires it carry out somehow means that it is not a planet really is absurd. Now if Earth still, in the mature solar system, had a mars-size object then you might have a case. But what we know about orbital mechanics once again indicates that this could not happen, such an arrangement is inherently unstable. As before, this definition is not arbitrary.

    4. From point 3 above, we see that by IAU definitions planets cannot collide because their neighbourhood then isn’t clear – nor can they exist as binaries or “double planets” by the same logic. This appears contrary to common-sense and consistency. It also has potential for creating trouble with exoplanets given the so-far hypothetical but quite probable possibility that some extrasolar planets may exist in this form – even potentially twin Neptunes or Jupiters. Given that some would describe the Earth-Moon system as well as the Pluto-Charon one as such a ‘double planet’ then a strict definition of the IAU rule may rule our Earth out of planetary status again clearly a ridiculous proposition!

    It appears that planets do not collide in mature solar systems. If they did, practically by definition, the solar system is not mature because it is undergoing massive changes. As for double planets, I do not believe this is what they meant by “clear”. Pluto is not a planet not because it is a double body, but because its orbit intersects with that of Neptune.

    5. Inconsistency and inapplicability in regard to exoplanets – the IAU definition excluded planets of other stars. Yet surely planets orbiting other suns are no less planets for not orbiting our star! Even more tellingly, at least one of the Pulsar planets, PSR B 1257+12 e is tiny – smaller than Pluto withonly 1/5th our Moon’s mass raising a glaring inconsistency. Given PSR1257+12 e is counted as an exoplanet then Pluto, equally, should clearly count as a planet for the sake of consistency.

    The issue of exosolar planets is irrelevant to Pluto. And the problem with Pluto isn’t its size, it is the fact that it is totally unlike any of the other planets.

    6. The “dwarf planet-dwarf” star analogy – just as dwarf stars are still stars so surely are dwarf planets still planets

    Why? The people who decide the term get to decide what it means.

    7. Problems with the “classical” planets term : the IAU defined “classical”; planets are restricted to our Earth’s solar system and it is hard to see how they apply to exoplanets or how the term can work usefully as a scientific description. Apart from differing immensely – Earth and Pluto are arguably far more similar worlds than Earth and Jupiter or Mercury or Neptune – they also clash with a previous understanding arguably much more apt of classical planets being those visible to the “classical” age peoples – the five original bright wanderers – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, & Saturn. If that ‘classical’ term is retained, it seems best used in this sense as a historical and descriptive sense.

    So you are saying Neptune and Uranus aren’t planets? Earth is much, much more like Mercury, Mars, and Venus than it is like any other body in the solar system. Uranus and Neptune are much more like Jupiter and Saturn than they are like any other bodies in the solar system. Pluto is much more like a KBO than it is like any the other 8 planets, therefore it belongs with KBOs and not planets.

    8. Sentimental, cultural and historical reasons – noting Pluto’s long-established and culturally scientific place as a recognised planet from its discovery in 1930 until its demotion in 2006. This also covers the slight to Clyde Tombaugh’s memory, widow and family plus the perceived political aspect of stripping from planetary status the sole planet discovered by an American. (BTW. I’m an Aussie with no connection to the US.)

    Tradition is what you resort to when you don’t have the time or the money to do it right.
    -Kirt Herbert Adler

    This argument goes entirely against the very core of science. Science demands that you revise your ideas in light of additional information. Should we have stuck with the old plant/animal way of dividing organisms when it became clear that fungi, most protists, bacteria, and archae don’t work with that definition just because it is the way people had always done it? Should we give up on the search for a unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics just to avoid insulting Einstein who never liked quantum mechanics? That is ignoring the fact that we had already revised the definition of planet once before to exclude asteroids.

    9 has already been covered by Marco, so I won’t repeat it.

    10. The decisionto demote Pluto has had a generally negative reception from the general public and on public perceptions of astronomers – just ask the Illinoisans who must’ve had a fair number of people demand their action.

    So scientists should bow to public pressure and only do science that doesn’t upset people. By that logic we should avoid studying evolution altogether because a lot of people in the U.S. don’t like it.

    11. The first proposed IAU definition of ‘planet’ (that would have included Pluto, Eris and Ceres) was much better in terms of logical consistency and general application as well as being more easily explained, understand and applied – ie. two main criteria for planets are that they are objects circling a star directly which are not themselves stars or brown dwarfs and are rounded by their own gravity.

    Define “rounded”. How round does it have to be? Besides, it lumps together found entirely separate groups of objects and arbitrarily excludes others. Rounded asteroids are more like unrounded asteroids than they are like the inner or outer planets.

    12. Pluto is a complex world with the key aspects of planets – it dominates its own satellite system of three moons (Charon, Hydra & Nix), has its own atmosphere, has a complex geology and weather system (of nitrogen frosting based on HST images and theory) and meets all the criteria for planethood with the sole exception of the problematic and, I believe, absurd “orbital clearance” criterion.

    Neptune dominates its satellite system, completely dwarfing Pluto’s gravity. Mercury does not have a stable atmosphere, does not have any moons, and is not geologically active, does that mean it is not a planet?

    And you are committing the begging the question fallacy here. You are concluding that the features Pluto has are key aspects of planets, that is to say these should be part of the definition of a planet. But the very thing we are debating here is whether those particular characteristics really are key aspects of planets or whether they are irrelevant details shared by planets and non-planets.

    Hopefully, it won’t be too long before the IAU’s burningly stupid decision is reversed and Pluto gets re-instated as a planet along with Eris, Ceres and the other ice dwrafs!

    And tens of thousands of asteroids.

  149. fpd

    Pluto dogged… Uranus probed… Mars barred…

  150. Beaugrand®™©

    Actually, there are far more destructive things the Illinois legislature could be doing- like, you know, raising taxes, writing laws, stuff like that…

  151. brink

    i’m just glad we in illinois can go back to using our old saying to remember the planets, my very eager mother just served us nine pizzas, it just doesnt make sense without the pizza

  152. 5x5

    Thank you government of Illinois. I owe you a Pluto 9 t-shirt! I’d ask for an IAU recount, but why should they get to choose? Fact: Pluto IS the 9th planet. My grade school teacher would not have lied to me. :) http://www.crazylikethat.com/product/tshirt/pluto9.html

  153. Alan Stern

    Phil,

    The IAU resolution of 2006, among it’s other genius provisions, defines a planet as having to orbit the **SUN**— so Phil, those extra-SOLAR “planets” you’re thinking of aren’t planets by IAU standards. Go Illinois! Go all those who can tell a planet by seeing one, without having to integrate orbits and calculate dynamical clearing timescales first.

    Alan Stern

  154. Exxos

    I think that the astronomical societies should be stripped of any right to name things after the pluto debacle.

    Pluto was a planet.

    Then it was, for seemingly about 5 years, a Pluton along with Ceres, Eris, and the other one nobody remembers with all the numbers.

    Then they decided that it was not a planet, but a dwarf planet. This is like saying a human with dwarfism, a dwarf human, must essentially not be human. In calling something a dwarf planet and saying it is not a planet, they demonstrated that they were incapable of using the language effectively and responsibly. And there might be those who say, “But a dwarf elephant is a different species,” or “A what about dwarf stars?” A dwarf elephant might be a different species, but it is still a species of elephant. A dwarf star is still a star. What the issue is, is that they state a dwarf planet is not a planet. Which is kind of like saying a black dog is not a dog.

    Putting it back to Pluton, I feel, would be the most amiable solution. It makes it special and its own, intermediate class. A class that can be considered a planet or not without falling into a grey area as planetary status would still be one of perception, whilst the classification could stay accurate and not upset any language rules.

  155. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ A. Nazi:

    You know who Goring was don’t you? A top Nazi war criminal that’s who.

    What has that to do with Göring’s understanding of culture, which, according to himself at least, was an interest of his?

    Why do you think it is about shooting artists? Have you heard about metaphor? (I believe it is cultural contingent, but most modern cultures have it.)

    But FWI, you prompted me to find out what it is likely an urban myth – it was reportedly not Göring but a poet that said it:

    To the Editor [Of NYT]:

    Please don’t be annoyed if a fellow writer tells you to always make sure of quotations. I am referring to James Atlas’s report on a symposium at Skidmore (March 1), where Dwight Macdonald attributes the notorious remark, ”When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun,” to Herman Goering.

    It was the Nazi poet Hanns Johst, not Herman Goering, who made that remark. The actual quotation is: ”When I hear the word culture, I uncock my revolver’s safety catch.”

    Goering prided himself on being a sponsor of cultural endeavors. (It is a fact that he took the Berlin State Opera to his heart.) It is probably just as well that Johst has been forgotten – even in Germany, where the quotation was wrongly attributed to Goering in the seven-hour motion picture ”Our Hitler.”

    I grew up in Nazi Germany -no pleasant experience, I assure you – and at that time Hanns Johst’s ”poetry” was cultivated by young Nazis. PETER BLOCH, New York City

  156. Gonzo

    @Todd W.: Well, there are those that contend planet itself is defined culturally. From that point of view it is completely appropriate for politicians to declare Pluto a planet. That said, I don’t think it matters much what it’s called. Sorry if I was a bit snarky. Everyone always laughs it up at Illinois. Man, we got Chicago.

  157. @ Marco Langbroek: Yes, it was known that the IAU General Assembly would act on the Pluto issue–based on the recommendations that committee took a year or more to craft. What very few members knew or anticipated was that that recommendation, and the IAU’s bylaws, which state that a resolution must first be vetted by a committee before going to the General Assembly floor–would be thrown out the window by a tiny group of dynamicists (four percent of the IAU’s membership) with its own agenda. IAU bylaws preclude a last minute committee coming up with a new definition on the fly after having spent literally no time in deliberation. The dynamicists ignored those bylaws, and that is what took astronomers worldwide by surprise. They expected the vote, whether yes or no, to be on the initial resolution.

    Every IAU member could not have cast a vote on this. If they weren’t in a particular room on the last day of a two-week conference, they could not vote, as there are no provisions for electronic voting. Those who could not make it or had already left were blindsided by the introduction of the new resolution so late in the process.

    And this is not just an American concern. There are scientists and lay people around the world, many on the Internet, who are of other nationalities and strongly reject the IAU planet definition.

    What is a “rounded asteroid” anyway? If an object is large enough to become round, that means it is being shaped by gravity instead of chemical bonds–a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless rocks, asteroids, KBOs, etc. A good definition must encompass not just where an object is, but what it is. Pluto by its location is a Kuiper Belt Object, and by its composition is a planet. It is both.

    StevoR, thank you for your support. I would be happy to quote your 12 reasons in my blog. Your being here demonstrates that it is not only Americans who care about this issue.

    The “international community” has not spoken. A tiny group has, and while they may want the debate to be over, the fact is, it is not. I urge anyone who opposes Pluto’s demotion to contact the IAU and its president, asking that they reopen the issue at this year’s General Assembly. You can find contact information at http://www.dwarfplanetsrplanets2.com

  158. Me

    Hmm…I must say I’m a bit embarrased to be an Illinoisian right now.

    Their hearts were in the right place though. Pluto will always be a planet =P

  159. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The orbital clearing condition which was made up to eliminate Pluto

    Do you like to make up conspiracy theories much?

    AFAIU the condition was based on planetary dynamics, where there is a very huge difference between planets vs kuiper and other objects. Well, yes, the clearing condition more precisely, but it makes for a really distinguishing trait, based on population dynamics. [Note figure 1 in Soter’s paper, where there is 3 (!) order of magnitude difference in scattering parameter between planets (scatterers) and non-scatterers.]

    Any body above the dashed line, which represents Λ = 1, will scatter a significant fraction of planetesimals out of its orbital zone within a Hubble time. [Soter]

    The end product of secondary disk accretion is a small number of relatively large bodies (planets) in either nonintersecting or resonant orbits, which prevents collisions between them. Asteroids and comets, including KBOs, differ from planets in that they can collide with each other and with planets.

    I.e. planets are planets because they will become planets (and stay that way for as long as the universe exists, bar external influences and internal dynamical instabilities). It can be seen as either a population or stability criterion and doesn’t exclude Pluto specifically.

    In fact several bodies, such as Ceres, Eris, and Pluto, has just about the same value of scattering parameter. So do the pairs Mercury and Mars, and the quadruple Venus, Earth, Uranus and Neptune. (But Jupiter seems to be the Big Bad Body of the solar system, because it is in a class of its own.)

    Btw, this is IMHO rather nice physics.

  160. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Laurel:

    Your description of events doesn’t seem to follow the IAU own description at all. (Available at their site.) For example, they describe the process as giving plenty of time to prepare for the voting session, that it was following IAU’s Working Rules for the process of considering resolutions, and specifically as providing extra opportunity for member input:

    The process by which resolutions are considered by the IAU is set forth in the Working Rules. It involves consideration by the Resolutions Committee and the Executive Committee, and discussion by the General Assembly before a vote taken in the second business meeting of the GA. Because of the potential impact of this resolution the EC is undertaking extra measures to assure full discussion of the draft during the General Assembly that will allow for possible revisions to the current version before it is presented to the GA at the closing business meeting. They include a discussion and debate of the resolution by Division III-Planetary Sciences at its scheduled meeting this Friday, 18 August. In addition, the EC is convening an extraordinary plenary session of the General Assembly to take place next Tuesday, 22 August, during the lunch break, which will be devoted entirely to a discussion of the draft resolution, and after which a “sense of the meeting” vote will be taken on the resolution as presented. We are fully aware of the potential difficulty in achieving a consensus on this complex issue, and we wish to provide ample opportunity for input from members in the formulation of the final resolution to be considered next week.

    The key events that bear on the substance of the final resolution to be presented at the closing business meeting, and in which all IAU members are encouraged to participate, are (1) the discussion at the meeting of Division III on Friday, 18 August at 11:00 am in Club B, and (2) the Plenary Session on the Definition of a Planet on Tuesday, 22 August at 12:45 pm in Forum Hall. The Closing Session of the GA will be held Thursday 24 August at 14:00 in the Congress Hall and here the final resolution will be presented, discussed, and voted upon.

    The EC reiterates our desire to benefit from members’ input into this issue by your participation in these events, which are an important part of the IAU’s mission to communicate the discoveries of astronomy to the public.

    They even link to Brown’s work and description of Eris discovery. Brown’s own description is:

    The above gives my personal view on how to resolve the planetary status. The official decision will come from the International Astronomical Union. We had hoped for a timely decision but we instead appear to be stuck in committee limbo. Here is the story, as best I can reconstruct it from the hints and rumors that I hear:

    * A special committee of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) was charged with determining “what is a planet.”
    * Sometime around the end of 2005, this committee voted by a narrow margin for the “pluto and everything bigger” definition, or something close to it.
    * The exectutive committee of the IAU then decided to ask the Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society to make a reccomendation.
    * The DPS asked their committee to look in to it.
    * The DPS committee decided to form a special committee.
    * The IAU decided to that it no longer wanted the DPS to look at the question
    * Nothing happened for a long time
    * During the summer of 2006 the IAU made a new committee that met for 2 days in Paris and came up with the “everything round is a planet” definition
    * The definition was met with heated opposition at the IAU General Assembly in Prague
    * The strict eight planet definition was agreed upon

    Whew.

    So there was a committee. And if Brown’s description is relatively correct, it was the IAU that was stuck by the AAS not making recommendations on an already decided matter. When they restarted it, the result was a new definition that didn’t satisfy the assembly, and so they made a third and final one.

    How this can be construed as a minority pushing an agenda through is beyond reason. Apparently the matter has been through a democratic process not once, not twice, but three times already, with assemblies discussing and voting on the last two rounds.

    Btw, seems to me an IAU member, or any scientist really, would be rather pissed at the moment, considering that IAU specifically wanted to support the “communicate the discoveries of astronomy to the public” part of their science mission. Which apparently is now railroaded by emotionally founded politics.

  161. cletus

    > RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE OF THE NINETY-SIXTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE
    > OF ILLINOIS, that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies…..

    I’m reminded of the Stan Freberg song:

    Omaha Moon keep shining,
    on Omaha keep shining down.
    We’d like it if you wouldn’t shine on Council Bluffs
    or for that matter any other town.

    Omaha Moon we heard that
    you shined on Cedar Rapids last June.
    We’ll thank you to remember that you are a one-town moon;
    don’t forget your name is Omaha Moon.

  162. Mart

    I think I know a way to resolve this. Has anyone seen a film called “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain”? All we need is a few buckets, shovels, some soil and the lend of a shuttle…

  163. Nigel Depledge

    Holastefan said:

    And I realize that NASA is also a “government agency” too. You all know I meant the “State of Illinois senate”, which is not in the business of planet definitions, so no need to point out my slip.

    Don’t sweat it. NASA doesn’t get to decide either.

  164. Marco Langbroek

    @ Laurel Kornfeld:

    you wrote: “Every IAU member could not have cast a vote on this. If they weren’t in a particular room on the last day of a two-week conference, they could not vote, as there are no provisions for electronic voting. Those who could not make it or had already left were blindsided by the introduction of the new resolution so late in the process.

    If those whining now really care so deep about this issue, they should have made sure they were there, had not left, etc. Not coming to a vote, or leaving early, and then whining about not being involved in the vote is ridiculous and childish. Those that were there and voted, where apparently the ones that took things serious. Those that were not, should not complain and shut up.

    The rest of your comment has already been handled and debunked by Törbjorn Larsson.

    To a large part of the minor body community, it has been clear for years that Pluto is the first discovered object of the Kuiper belt, objects that in their physical and orbital nature share more with comets than with the inner planets. Naming it a planet was a historic mistake.

  165. Marco Langbroek

    Oops: for “inner planets” read –> “inner solar system objects (planets)”

  166. pv

    @TheBlackCat

    Well you’ve convinced this inexpert observer.

    The ‘tradition’ argument for calling Pluto a planet seems especially weak to me anyway – whose tradition? Calling Pluto a planet was never an important ‘tradition’ for me. The guy you are replying to might be Australian but my impression is its mainly Americans who regard it as a significant ‘tradition’. And what’s the big deal about ‘tradition’ in general? Slavery was a tradition for many people, after all, as was child-sacrifice to placate the Gods. Traditions can be jettisoned in the light of new evidence.

    I do think though that having ‘dwarf planet’ not be a sub-type of ‘planet’ seems a slightly odd use of language. I mean, a compact disk is still a disk, a personal computer is still a computer, etc.

    What I find my self wondering about though is whether any human being will one day stand on the surface of any of them, whatever they are called. Will there one day, millennia from now, be colonists getting serious chips on their shoulders about the fact they live on a dwarf?

  167. Nigel Depledge

    DaveM said:

    While it does look kind of silly for a state to make such declarations in legislature, I applaud the sentiment.

    Pluto is indeed a planet. A large number of astronomers still consider it such. This whole “Pluto is not a planet” business was pushed through by a few stupid academicians who didn’t have the brains to publish serious science, and has since been taken over and repeated ad nauseum by TV shows on the Discovery Channel, and their panel of self-serving publicity-conscious mouthpieces.

    There was a simple definition of planet that people followed for a long time:

    – something that orbits directly around the Sun (i.e., not around another body that is orbiting around the Sun)

    – and which is large enough to assume a roughly spherical shape under its own gravity.

    There is nothing wrong with this definition. If this means that some of the larger asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects should also be considered planets, so be it. We are not infants unable to count beyond 9, we can handle a larger number of planets.

    First, the majority of astronomers do actually consider that the terminology they use should reflect the charactersitics of the objects being described. That’s why the definition that was voted in by the IAU was voted in. You can’t really have Jupiter in the same category as every KBO that happens to be a spheroid. Especially considering how ductile ice is in comparison to rock.

    Second, you seem to have omitted Ceres. It is neither a planet nor a KBO, but it is a spheroid. However, its orbital neighbourhood is full of other stuff, so I’m happy with Ceres not being a planet. Are you?

    Finally, what’s wrong with trying to categorise solar system objects according to their intrinsic characteristics, rather than some arbitrary historical accident?

  168. Nigel Depledge

    Gonzo said:

    Please, there are plenty of scientists that disagreed with that decision too. So, best get to ribbing them too then.

    Well, yeah. For a start, this is irrelevant to any scientist who isn’t an astronomer. If some astronomers started trying to tell me how I should define, say, a bacterium, I would not pay them a whole heap of attention.

    Second, astronomers have all participated in the debate (or had the opportunity to participate but declined to do so) and the vote was to define “planet” the way it is now defined.

  169. Todd W.

    @Gonzo

    Well, there are those that contend planet itself is defined culturally. From that point of view it is completely appropriate for politicians to declare Pluto a planet.

    And there are those that contend that “theory” is defined culturally (i.e., colloquially as “a guess or hunch”). Is it appropriate for politicians to declare that “theory” has no specific, scientific meaning?

    I’m not a prescriptivist when it comes to language in general (or I try not to be), but when speaking about jargon (i.e., technical language), terms need to have a precise definition, so that those who use the terms can have a mutual understanding. Once those terms start to get watered down, they become essentially meaningless. This action by the legislature was meaningless, insofar as it affecting the scientific meaning as astronomers use the term, but it sets a precedent for second-guessing science and the terms used by scientists. It waters down the word and muddles it for the general public, so that when a scientist uses the term, with a very specific meaning, the public assumes they mean the more general, colloquial definition of “any ol’ object up in the sky that isn’t a star or moon”.

    It boils down to, “We don’t agree with what the people who actually study this stuff, so we’re going to make up our own definition, one that we like and makes us feel happy.”

  170. Maybe Rod Blagojevich was right about the entire Illinois. Did anyone mention the dwarf planet Eris? Definitely larger than Pluto. These people are complete idiots.

  171. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    handled and debunked by Törbjorn Larsson

    Thanks, Marco, perhaps I’m not lost in space then!

    And now I have to decide if I’m going to start whine that my mööns are circling the wrong planets … :o :o

  172. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Heh, that’s funny, the Discover parser caught and replaced the first lazy ö with an emoticon, but not the other.

  173. Nigel Depledge

    Daniel D Lindmark said:

    The majority of the people on this comment stream seems to think that the IL Legislature doesn’t have the authority to make this decision.

    Well guess what? Neither does the IAU. Just because a bunch of hominids on the third rock from Sol happen to have more scientific knowledge of a certain area does not give them the right to name anything. They throw something against the wall and see if it sticks, but they can’t fight against the pitchforks and torches of the masses.

    This is misdirection.

    No-one has the “authority” to impose a universal name on an astronomical object. However, this statement is utterly irrelevant. The IAU has the authority to provide the astronomical community (i.e. humans who study celestial objects) with a definition for a common term.

  174. Nigel Depledge

    Dr Ron said:

    Who took a core sample to determine Pluto is only ice?

    Irrelevant. Our best understanding of the formation of KBOs indicates that they are entirely (or almost entirely) composed of ices. Unless evidence comes to light (e.g. from New Horizons in a few years’ time) to indicate that we are wrong, we should assume our best understanding to be correct.

    The fact that some quite small objects appear to be spheroidal supports this – rock is too rigid for a small rocky body to form a sphere, whereas ice is far more ductile and hence small icy bodies form spheroids..

  175. Nigel Depledge

    Bemused said:

    So, what, now we need separation of science and state?

    Yeah!

    What we need is guaranteed Academic Freedom. Free the Academics!!

    Oh, wait . . . don’t we already have that?

  176. Nigel Depledge

    Jeffrey said:

    The problem with the current definition is that it is dependent on how far out an object is. By the current IAU definition, Earth would not be a planet if it was at Pluto’s orbit, since it would be unable to clear the orbit.

    Nevertheless, the fact remains that Earth has cleared its orbital neighbourhood.

    What alternative definition would you supply?

    Personally, I think that the definition of planet should include “orbits a star” instead of “orbits the sun”, but I guess that gives us a distinction between planet and extrasolar planet.

  177. Beskeptical/skeptigirl

    California passed earlier legislation with reasons that are good for a ROTFLOL episode.

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=21982
    [quote]…WHEREAS, The mean-spirited International Astronomical Union decided on August 24, 2006, to disrespect Pluto by stripping Pluto of its planetary status and reclassifying it as a lowly dwarf planet; and

    …WHEREAS, Pluto, named after the Roman God of the underworld and affectionately sharing the name of California’s most famous animated dog, has a special connection to California history and culture; and

    WHEREAS, Downgrading Pluto’s status will cause psychological harm to some Californians who question their place in the universe and worry about the instability of universal constants; and

    WHEREAS, The deletion of Pluto as a planet renders millions of text books, museum displays, and children’s refrigerator art projects obsolete, and represents a substantial unfunded mandate that must be paid by dwindling Proposition 98 education funds, thereby harming California’s children and widening its budget deficits; and

    WHEREAS, The deletion of Pluto as a planet is a hasty, ill-considered scientific heresy similar to questioning the Copernican theory, drawing maps of a round world, and proving the existence of the time and space continuum; and [/quote]

    But the last 2 reasons make one wonder if the legislation wasn’t intended to be sarcastic.[quote]WHEREAS, The downgrading of Pluto reduces the number of planets available for legislative leaders to hide redistricting legislation and other inconvenient political reform measures; and

    WHEREAS, The California Legislature, in the closing days of the 2005-06 session, has been considering few matters important to the future of California, and the status of Pluto takes precedence and is worthy of this body’s immediate attention; now, therefore, be it [/quote]

    New Mexico’s legislation is a more mundane version except it highlights their ignorance while touting their state as a center of astronomical education.

  178. Beskeptical/skeptigirl

    Separation of science and state is probably needed more than you would think. I’m trying to get legislation overturned in WA state that reflects anti-vaccine activists’ pressure which influenced the legislators to adopt a law based on very bad science. It has resulted in patients who should have been vaccinated not getting vaccinated. It also amounts to the legislators practicing medicine without licenses. They rejected the testimony of the medical professionals in favor of the lunatic fringe.

  179. Beskeptical/skeptigirl

    Apparently Yahoo is feeling the twitter.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/space/20090316/sc_space/asscienceevolvessodoespluto
    As Science Evolves, So Does Pluto

  180. Gooly

    I think Plutos a planet!!!!!!!!!!

  181. I thought Pluto been dead for years

  182. JOE

    I have lived in the area around Streator for my entire life, and I can tell you honestly, that the people there and the others in Illinois think this is just as ridiculous as you all do. One of my friends was working in the state legislature when this was all happening, she couldn’t even find someone from Streator who supported this and would be willing to vocalize their support. It was just a stupid state senator that wanted his name on passing legislature, his name is Gary Dahl, and if you are from Illinois call to complain to him. I have called more than once, but he assures me that the people from Streator support it and requested it, but I know for a fact that is not true. I’m sure thousands already have called him and gotten the same response, from what I’ve heard and seen of him, he was really the only one that cared about Pluto’s planetary status, and it wasn’t out of misguided local pride or because the scientific system “failed” and needed correcting, it was merely a way to build his political resume and generate publicity, which it so obviously has.

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