Convergence

January 10, 2009

Convergence

I’m definitely one of those people who is into astronomy in the way that, flipping through a magazine, I’ll stop on a page and go, “Cool! Pluto’s not a planet anymore?” Or, “Wicked! Advancements in super-string analysis!” And possibly, “Awesome! One day the sun will destroy us all!”

I’m definitely less the Solaris kind of fan (although that movie’s one of the best ever), and more the 2001 kind of fan (trippy lights = drooling). And I’ll even stoop to the occasional Event Horizon. 

In other words, I love to witness astronomy development and documentation, but I’d hate to pursue it with the vigour of someone who could explain to me what a quark is. Or the implications of blue shift. (Although, again, these are fascinating concepts.) I listened to A Briefer History of Time (the book on tape of the more famous book), and was enthralled throughout, but can only now give you a rough estimate of what I learned.

Convergence is about all the planets coming together (what was that movie where all the planets coming together equalled the end of existence?), and I name it Convergence to bring to mind the Johnny Greenwood song of the same name. If you haven’t heard it, find it. Or watch There Will Be Blood. It’s the track that plays while the first oil eruption is taking place.

I’m sure convergences like these have happened plenty of times throughout the solar systems of the galaxy. I’m sure there’s nothing special about them. But from an artistic standpoint, I don’t know. There’s just something solemn about it.

My apologies to any puritans who don’t think my rock choices are up to snuff as per planet-representation. I was gonna go rock hunting but I’m in Ottawa right now and everything’s packed in ice.

Poor little Pluto. Not part of the gang anymore.

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3 Responses to “Convergence”

  1. Pluto still IS very much part of the gang. Here’s why:

    Pluto IS a planet because unlike most objects in the Kuiper Belt, it has attained hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning it has enough self-gravity to have pulled itself into a round shape. When an object is large enough for this to happen, it becomes differentiated with core, mantle, and crust, just like Earth and the larger planets, and develops the same geological processes as the larger planets, processes that inert asteroids and most KBOs do not have.

    Not distinguishing between shapeless asteroids and objects whose composition clearly makes them planets is a disservice and is sloppy science.
    As of now, there are three other KBOs that meet this criterion and therefore should be classified as planets—Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. Only one KBO has been found to be larger than Pluto, and that is Eris.

    The IAU definition makes no linguistic sense, as it states that dwarf planets are not planets at all. That’s like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear. Second, it defines objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were placed in Pluto’s orbit, by the IAU definition, it would not be a planet. That is because the further away an object is from its parent star, the more difficulty it will have in clearing its orbit.

    Significantly, this definition was adopted by only four percent of the IAU, most of whom are not planetary scientists. No absentee voting was allowed. It was done so in a highly controversial process that violated the IAU’s own bylaws, and it was immediately opposed by a petition of 300 professional astronomers saying they will not use the new definition, which they described accurately as “sloppy.” Also significant is the fact that many planetary scientists are not IAU members and therefore had no say in this matter at all.

    Many believe we should keep the term planet broad to encompass any non-self-luminous spheroidal object orbiting a star.

    We can distinguish different types of planets with subcategories such as terrestrial planets, gas giants, ice giants, dwarf planets, super Earths, hot Jupiters, etc.

    We should be broadening, not narrowing our concept of planet as more objects are being discovered in this and other solar systems.
    In a 2000 paper, Dr. Alan Stern and Dr. Hal Levison distinguish two types of planets—the gravitationally dominant ones and the smaller ones that are not gravitationally dominant. However, they never say that objects in the latter category are not planets.

    I attended the Great Planet Debate, which actually took place in August 2008, and there was a strong consensus there that a broader, more encompassing planet definition is needed. I encourage anyone interested to listen to and view the conference proceedings at http://gpd.jhuapl.edu/ You can also read more about this issue on my blog at http://laurele.livejournal.com

    You can find the petition of astronomers who rejected the demotion of Pluto here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/planetprotest/

  2. Well, that is good news, Laurel. I’m most intrigued by this debate from a linguistic/etymological standpoint, as in pertains to historical context. I expressed myself better in my poem, Pluto, than I could do in plain speech, so I guess I’ll just post that poem at a later date.

    I appreciate your science-driven vigour. And I can tell that you’re someone with a lot of heart and soul invested in this topic. The world needs people like you.

    But to be honest I don’t really care too too much about what the scientific community does in the way of terminology. Obviously, this particular instance held my interest, as shown in my garden, and in my poem (and in Allen Briesmaster’s poem on the topic from his book, Interstellar — what a poem!). But I’d be just as likely to continue calling Pluto a planet just because it’s habit. And it’s an issue that doesn’t have a lot of impact on my day-to-day life. I can totally dig it as an issue of principles. But, again, it’s hard to muster up the interest half the time to give a hoot when scientists reshuffle their literary deck.

    For me, anyway.

    Thanks for writing! You added to this post just what it needed.

  3. Andrew Downie said

    Youre right joe, Fuck Astronomers and their literary reshuffling, Fuck Pluto ( both the planet/non planet and the Disney canine), and Fuck Laurel for her pretentiousness. ( god i hate pretentiousness soo much
    In summation this sand picture is pretty in it’s simplicity. This one design alone causes you, In my humble opinion to be skyrocketed in to sand zen garden Geniousnessery. You are the michelangelo of sand Gardens. I want to sit in front of this particular design and weep gently. Because it makes me feel safe to do so.

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