PERSON OF THE WEEK - Aug. 20-26, 2006
Okay, the funny thing is that I made the above graphic last Saturday, but I got so busy that I's just now posting it a week later. Anyway, last week's biggest news story was out of this world - literally. After much debate, the International Astronomical Union revoked Pluto's status as a planet. Whether the icy world qualified as a planet had been debated for years, but scientists never put forth an official ruling on the subject. Many bodies similar to Pluto have been discovered in recent years, causing the debate on what makes a planet to heat up, but the scientific community ducked the issue by noting that none of the newly discovered objects were nearly as large as Pluto, and hence were too tiny to merit planet status...That was before Mike Brown made his biggest discovery.
Brown has made a career out of searching for icy worlds at the edge of the solar system. His discovery of a small planetoid called Quaoar got people talking about defining the term planet, but Quaoar was too small to merit serious attention. Then he found Sedna, which not only was larger than Quaoar, but was red in color (unlike all of the other chunks of space ice that have been found). Yet, Sedna was still smaller than Pluto, so there was no serious debate. Then he found 2003 UB313 (nicknamed Xena), which was bigger than Pluto, and the ice finally hit the fan. Was this strange new world the 10th planet? If not, could we justify the inclusion of it's smaller cousin Pluto? The world waited with baited breath for a ruling, and it finally came last week: 2003 UB313 is not a planet, and neither is Pluto. Without Mike Brown, the debate on Pluto could have raged for decades with out a solution. So, by forcing astronomers to finally bite the bullet and define the word "planet", he is ConservaGlobe's Person of the Week.
Note: The author of this blog disagrees wholeheartedly with the decision on Pluto. I realize that it might confuse people if the number of planets has to continually be revised upward, but I do not see that as a valid reason to create an overly stringent definition of a planet (the final definition says that a planet cannot has to clear its orbit, so Pluto is disqualified on a technicality because it crosses Neptune's orbit). In my opinion, the solar system has at least eleven planets - the traditional nine plus 2003 UB313 and Sedna. I count 2003 UB313 because of it's size and Sedna because it red color indicates that may not made of the same material as any other ice cube that we have found. I'm also open to adding Quaoar, the mega-asteroid Ceres, and another BIG block of ice found by Brown - tentatively nicknamed "Santa". Just my thoughts.
Tags: Pluto, Astronomy, 2003 UB313, Xena, Planet, Mike Brown, Person of the Week, Kuiper Belt, Sedna