Says Sessions

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science, Television on | No Comments

A couple days ago, I wrote about an amendment to the PEPFAR bill that would remove the HIV travel restrictions for visitors and immigrants to the U.S.  Not everyone is having it:

Purpose: To continue classifying HIV as a communicable disease of public health significance that renders an alien inadmissible to the United States.

The amendment comes from Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Have you no shame, Senator?  HIV is NOT communicable.  It takes (in most cases) an active effort on another person to get it.  It’s certainly no cough or chicken pox.  And I think you know that.

You can take your homophobia and shove it.

 
 

The Grand New Planet Definition

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I had meant to post this entry yesterday, but didn’t find the time to do so.

So, the definition of planets has, for the first time, been explicitly defined, and Pluto has lost its status as a planet. I’ll give a short explanation for those who didn’t follow the progress of the past week in the astronomy world.

As you might know, the debate has been raging on for years as to whether or not Pluto is or is not a planet. It’s eccentric orbit, more oval than round, on a different plane than the other planets, and passing through the orbit of another planet (Neptune), things none of the other planets have in common. Then there is the fact that is so much unlike the other planets, with a very thin atmosphere. That, and not much seems to be known about its innards, whether or not it has a mantle or a core. It shares much more with the other objects in the Kuiper Belt than with the planets.

I thought I was always so right. Then I found out that Mercury is much closer to the Moon or Pluto than I had originally though. However, at least with Mercury, we know it has the features of a planet.

So, after the discovery of objects such as 2003 UB313, astronomers apparently decided that now was the time to decide how to define a planet, and whether or not Pluto should retain that status. The first definition they came up with was very controversial, and as I’ve already made an entire entry about it, I won’t go into it anymore here.

Well, it would appear that the scientists who study planet composition were responsible for the first definition. The people who study planety movement didn’t like it, so they were somehow able to get their own definition on the table. You can see the Wikipedia article for more on the second draft of the resolution, but here is the definition in its final form:

The IAU…resolves that planets and other bodies in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:

(1) A “planet” [1] is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

(2) A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape [2], (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

(3) All other objects [3] except satellites orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar System Bodies”.

Well, this effectively clears out Pluto, Sedna, 2003 UB313, and any others that were considered and puts them in a different status called “dwarf planets.” I’m happy about that, however, I do agree with those who say the whole “clearing the neighborhood” is a bit vague. It also may compel scientists to disqualify a planet from another solar system that is perfectly capable of supporting humans, if something happens to be in the way of its orbit. So, I would agree that the definition still needs some fleshing out.

Now, I know I said this was going to be a more philosophical entry, but Stargate SG-1 rings, and I’m off to New York City this weekend. So, this is an entry in progress, but I put it up now for you to see. Have a good weekend. Many pictures when I return!

 

The Grand ‘Ol Planet Plu…Oh, wait…

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science on | No Comments

Ha ha! No sooner do I submit my last entry than I switch to the news sites and see this news:

Astronomers meeting in the Czech capital have voted to strip Pluto of its status as a planet.

So, it is done. I also believe they’ve voted on the actual definition, but I’ll wait a bit to make sure. Full entry later on!

 

The Grand ‘Ol Planet Proposal

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Well, today is a huge day for astronomy. It may very well render all the astronomy books currently being ordered by schools and college students around the world as obsolete, even before they’re used. For those not caught in the whole debate, a final proposal has been submitted for vote this afternoon:

A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

A dwarf planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

All other objects orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar System Bodies”.

A separate resolution will be voted on to decide whether Pluto should be included as a “dwarf planet.” Now, while this doesn’t tail exactly with my suggestions from a few days ago, I consider it compatible enough to work. It effectively (if voted in this way) stops Pluto and those others from being one of the big, major planets. Although I don’t know what “clearing the neighborhood” means, it seems likely that it will be explained in the coming days, if this resolution passes.

I don’t have much more to say about it at the moment. Later today, I’ll have my analysis of what the decision means for society and the future if the resolution passes. If not, I’ll have to see what I’ll write about once I know more information.

 

The Grand ‘Ol Planet Debate

Posted by Mike Merritt in Science on | No Comments

Well, thought I might chime in on the whole “What is the definition of a planet?” debate. I know what I’m about to say here is going to be highly controversial, so please bear with me.

I’m a bit appalled about this uproar over defining the characteristics of a planet. It seems to me, that in an effort to save Pluto’s status as a planet, the International Astronomical Union has come up with the strangest 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.

Say what? Does that mean that every round rock, gas, or iceball out there that orbits the sun is now a planet? That could be just the case. Under the definition, recently discovered 2003 UB313, Ceres (formerly a very spherical astroid) and Charon (formerly Pluto’s own moon) now become planets. Had enough? Well, perhaps not the IAU, either. There’s more…rocks like Sedna, 2005_FY9, and even what I’d consider the least likely of the top candidates, 2003_EL61, could also be considered planets sometimes in the future.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but Pluto has always been a mystery to me, ever since I learned the names of the planets. Why is this icy rock with a very thin atmosphere considered a planet? Because it’s round and goes around the sun? Well, so does the moon (which also has a very thin atmosphere), but under the new definition, we’re still considering it a moon. So, I’m sure some of you might say, “Ok, but it’s spherical in nature, has gravity, and all that. It can’t be just an astroid or something else.” Fine, fair enough, you got me. So, what does all this tell me? Failed planet. Something that was going to potenitally form into a planet or a moon, but something happened where either a true atmosphere never formed, or it was blown away millions of years ago.

Would it not be simpler to define a planet this way? Well, at first glance, this might scrub Pluto off the list, along with the other rocks being considered, but not necessarily. What about two categories, so we’re not kidding anybody: Major Planet and Failed Planet. Group all the gaseous-type planets (like the big 8) in the first group. Then put all the rocks that have a spherical (none of this oblong stuff) that are rock or rock and partially ice into the second group. You could even further divide the two groups if you want. Here’s two of my proposed defintions. The first would be highly controversial (because of Pluto), and the second not so much:

1. 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, (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet, and (c) has an atmosphere thicker than [arbitrary number here].

2. 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 spherical or bulged spherical shape, and (b) is in orbit around a star, and is neither a star nor a satellite of a planet. A planet shall be classifed into Major Planets or those that possess an atmosphere thicker than [number], and Failed Planets or those that do not possess an atmosphere or possess and atmosphere thinner than [number].

There, two definitions that might work. The first obviously gets rid of anything without an true atmosphere, and the second keeps Pluto and any astroid field and Kuiper Belt object that comes our way, but further clarifies how they’re labelled. Both kinds could also be Plutons, a planet that takes more than 200 Earth years to orbit the sun, and has a highly elliptical orbit.

I don’t know, it’s just always been hard for me to see Pluto as a planet in the first place (other than the fact the textbooks said so), and all this seems merely to be a compromise between those who’d like to see Pluto stay and those who’d like it gone. Is Pluto or these other considered objects a planet? Only you can decide. On a last note, I will boycott whoever supports the promotion of things like 2003_EL61 to a planet. That is a weird shaped rock, NOT a planet. I mean, look at its satellites. Those are not anywhere near spherical. At least Pluto/Charon, and 2003 UB313 have spherical moons.