Friday, August 18, 2006

Space Opera in Prague

Breaking news from the IAU.

What is going on in Prague?? Soon we’ll be getting reports of pocket protectors being thrown about in anger. This article was first posted on

Pluto May Get Demoted After All

Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer

The effort to define the term "planet" took a fresh twist today as two competing proposals were put forth at a meeting of astronomers in Prague.

In one case, Pluto would be demoted to "dwarf planet" status, which would mean it would not be a real planet at all.

Astronomers are split down the middle on the issue.

Eight planets or hundreds?

On Wednesday, officials with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) proposed a planet definition that would make Pluto's moon Charon a planet. Several astronomers criticized the overall proposal as being vague and the Charon aspect specifically for going too far in essentially recasting too many small round objects as full-fledged planets. Eventually, with new discoveries, there would likely be hundreds.

They also were critical of the proposed term "pluton" to describe Pluto, Charon and other small round objects in the outer solar system that would be planets under the new definition.

Today, a subgroup of the IAU met to discuss the proposal. A straw vote was held in which only about 18 astronomers favored the proposal, according to Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Another 20 or so said it should be reworked. And about 50 favored an alternate proposal.

Stay Tuned.


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