Thursday, August 24, 2006

Astronomy For Astronomers Not The Public.

Well, it's official. Pluto isn't a planet. (Here.) The minority of astronomers still in attendance at the IAU meeting voted to limit the number of planets in the Solar System to eight. (Here.) Standing athwart history with their hands indicating "stop," the astronomers let loose their reactionary instincts and said, "this far and no further."

This vote is a mistake and apparently some astronomers agree.
"'I'm embarassed for astronomy,'" said Alan Stern, leader of NASA's New Horizon's mission to Pluto and a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. 'Less than 5 percent of the world's astronomers voted. ... This definition stinks, for technical reasons,' Stern told He expects the astronomy community to overturn the decision. Other astronomers criticized the definition as ambiguous." (Here.)
This vote is a mistake because the chosen definition is more likely to stop the growth of public knowledge about the solar system. New Kuiper Belt Object discoveries will be placed into a category of dwarf planet that will be as ignored by the public as new asteroid and moon discoveries are today.

The rejected proposal would have led to incremental increases in public knowledge of the solar system as new KBOs were discovered and verified as planets. Under the rejected proposal public knowledge of the solar system could have kept pace a bit with the astronomers. The chosen definition is more likely to leave the public in the dark as astronomers make new discoveries.

The astronomers have decided on a category that keeps astronomy for the astronomers. Bully for them.


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