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On placemats and other mostly cultural stuff August 24, 2009

Posted by Jorge Candeias in Definition of planet.
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Today, Mike Brown (I keep talking about this guy, for some reason) decided to post about placemats. I agree, they’re evil, and promote a very erroneous picture of the planetary fauna that exists out there and of the distances between the large and small chunks of rock, ice, gas and a few liquids that circle the sun. They are far from being unique in that, though. More often than not, even scientific illustrations fall prey to the same kind of reality-bending depictions most solar system skematics show. That’s actually part of the reason why I posted those two size comparisons below, and why I may follow with some more. Thanks to all those non-accurate renditions of planets’ sizes and distances, people are very often left with distorted notions about space. They think they know stuff, but they really don’t.

So he’s right. Mostly. Where he really gets it wrong is in thinking his version of placemat could really make a difference in the public perception of the solar system. People want simplicity: that’s why so many of the people complaining about the notion that evertything in hydrostatic equilibrium should be called a planet did it while brandishing the probable number of planets that would ensue. 200 planets? What an absurd, they said. Eight is much better: kids can learn their names by heart, they said. And, of course, have placemats with eight very incorrectly rendered planets instead of nine, much less 200.

That’s one of the cultural consequences of reducing the number of planets to 8. Instead of learning about the real solar system out there, about the various classes of planets that circle the sun, about how they interact with eachother, people will satisfy themselves with parroting some kind of mnemonic and end up knowing less about the solar system than they did when they thought the planets were 9, and much, much less than they could know with the term planet defined as a vast umbrella where every gravitational ball has its place.

And there’s another, recurrent, error 8-planet advocates fall into: to speak of these things as if the Solar System was the only planetary system of the universe. It most definitely is not.

Here’s a great reason to make dwarfs planets too August 20, 2009

Posted by Jorge Candeias in Definition of planet, Dwarf planets.
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You know, Mike “Plutokiller” Brown estimates that there may be about 200 objects larger than 400 km in diameter in the Kuiper Belt, and guesstimates the number of similar objects beyond the Kuiper Belt to be around two thousand. He thinks all of these should be in hydrostatic equilibrium, and therefore should be considered dwarf planets. I’m not convinced (the smallest body actually known to be in hydrostatic equilibrium is Saturn’s moon Mimas, which is indeed about 400 km in diameter, but I think satellites will probably be found to have lower limits because tidal stresses should help gravity in the process of rounding them up; in the absense of these stresses, they won’t round up that easily), but I ain’t complaining. And I actually think that this should be a great reason to make all of them planets too. Or at least all of those that actually are in hydrostatic equilibrium.

You see, I’m sick and tired of astrological BS. And you just try to imagine the chaos astrologers would find themselves into if they had to deal with more than two thousand planets in order to make their so-called “predictions”. Ha! Wouldn’t that be a blast?

It would be worth it, just to make these guys’ lives considerably harder, methinks.

Disclaimer for the humour-impaired: this is a tongue-in-cheek post, not a scientific one.

Disclaimer PS: The part about Mimas is serious, though.

Stop it already August 7, 2009

Posted by Jorge Candeias in Plutophiles.
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Enough is more than enough.

Just saw, on twitter, someone calling Mike Brown a “twit” because he is, says the guy, “against Pluto” and “names a planet after a teevy (sic) show”. Really? A twit?

Yes, Mike Brown is a provocateur, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen the alias “plutokiller” for his twitter account. But just how dumb and hysterical do you think calling him names makes you look like?

Can this nonsense stop? Can we please talk about planets and what distinguishes them from other objects in the vast Universe without this kind of childishness? And can we please put Pluto aside while we do that?

You too, Mike.