Wednesday, August 16, 2006
"A Complete Mess"No, not the situation in the Catholic Church. And not the situation in the early solar system. The IAU committee has unveiled a brilliant plan to teach school kids that our sun now has twelve planets. Here's a link, plus my analysis of who's in, who's out: Ceres is the big underdog winner in all this mess. The goddess of agriculture lends her name to a round Texas-sized body orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. It was discovered by the Italian Giuseppe Piazzi on New Year's Day in 1801. Originally, he named it Ceres Ferdinandea, but other nations objected to the inclusion Sicily's King Ferdinand, so international usage for two centuries has been just plain "Ceres." Pluto retains its place in the planetary firmament. And former moon Charon gets a surprising promotion. (Both imaged at right.) The proposal states we officially have a double planet now. Wikipedia (link above) explains that discoverer James Christy has maneuvered an adjust ment in pronouncing the name of the ferryman boating on the mythical river Styx:
The ch of the mythological figure is pronounced as a k sound, like the ch in Christy's name. However, Christy pronounced the ch in the moon's name as an sh sound, after his wife Charlene (nicknamed "Char"). The sh pronunciation is now common among astronomers, in spite of the pleas of classicists.I must say that if I ever discover a minor planet, I will name it after my wife, as there has yet to be such a celestial body with her name attached. Caltech crows over the discovery of the "10th" planet, temporarily designated 2003 UB 313, but nicknamed "Xena" for the moment. (And yes it has a moon nicknamed Gabrielle.) UB is bigger than Pluto, so if Pluto is retained in planetdom, it makes sense to add this one. Discoverer Mike Brown isn't keen on the new classification of planets, despite the fame and glory it might bring him, at least according to today's press reports. But last year, he seemed to favor planetary status for his discovery. This is what he says about the name:
The real name of the new planet is currently in limbo while committees decide its fate. For those speculating that the name will be "Lila" based on the web site name I must warn you that that is really just a sentimental dad's early-morning-after-no-sleep naming of a web site for his (at the time) three week old daughter and one should not take it too seriously! In fact, the sentimental dad was so tired he even spelled his own daughter's name wrong (it is "Lilah").If you want to know where 2003 UB 313 orbits, here it is: It gets pretty darned cold out there, as you might imagine. I give a definite thumbs-down to Ceres (though it was briefly considered a "planet" in the early 1800's) and to Charon (no matter how affectionately the discoverer considered his wife). I still vote with CNN's 22% and favor demoting Pluto. But Lilah does have a nice ring to it. For the record, minor planet 51599 is named "Brittany." They even got the spelling right.