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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Xena and her friends

I was excited and fascinated by the possibility that we might have had three new planets.

When my sisters were old enough to share a room, my father built a couple walls out of the hallway which became my bedroom, of sorts. To compensate for that tiny space, he agreed to paint, right on the ceiling, whatever I wanted. What I wanted was the solar system. The sun was the size of a large beach ball, and the other planets were done to scale. I used to "look at" this part of the galaxy every night before I went to bed for about ten years, until I went to college, and then my parents subsequently bought another house.

The initial changes that were proposed for the solar system didn't bother me at all. Many things that I "knew" as a child have been altered with new discoveries.

The proposed definition: A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet.

What I Knew/What I Know Now
Mercury - had 0 moons/still has 0 moons
Venus - had 0 moons/still have 0 moons
Earth - had 1 moon/has 1 moon
Mars - had 2 moons/has 2 moons
Jupiter-had 12 moons/has 61 moons
Saturn-had 9 moons/has 31 moons
Uranus-had 5 moons/has 21 moons
Neptune-had 2 moons/has 11 moons

Yet, I do have some disappointment. Ceres, under consideration as a planet, continues to be cosmic debris in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The recently found 2003 UB313, which the discover, Caltech researcher Mike Brown, has dubbed Xena (yes, after the warrior princess) remains just some other heavenly body.

And Pluto, dear Pluto, once a real live planet is now - well read this:
"The [proposed but rejected] definition entirely misses the key element of a solar system object, namely its role in the formation of the solar system," David Charbonneau, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said. "There are eight fully formed planets. The other objects - Ceres, Pluto, Charon [Pluto's moon], [Xena], and hundreds of thousands of others, are the fascinating byproducts of the formation of these eight planets." Thus, Pluto, controversial since its discovery in 1930, had its planetary status on the table again, and lost it. Pluto is merely a "fascinating byproduct".

I suppose it's for the best. There would have been at least 53 planets, by Mike Brown's count, had the newdefinitionn taken hold. Imagine the learning curve in school textbooks if THAT hadoccurredd. It'll still be complicated.

But think of all the ruined mnemonic devices:
My very exciting mother just served us nine pizzas
My Very Easy Memory Jingle Seems Useful Naming Planets
My Very Energetic Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pickles
Men Very Easily Make Jugs Serve Useful Nocturnal Purposes
My Very Elegant Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Porcupines
My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Peas
Mark's violet eyes make Jane sit up nights pining

Actually, the last one can still work. No pining, though.
Chris Black on Pluto (August 26)
My sincere condolences to my cyberbuddy, near-twin Gordon on the passing of his father this week. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Gordon.

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