Sunday, July 31, 2005

Yet another conglomerate

This weekend was fun. Alliances were forged, nations crumbled, and we saved the future without leaving justice behind. All this and more without mind-altering substances.

Six Feet Under. I totally called that [SPOILER] despite the apparent recovery Nate would die at the end, but I didn't tell Rachel because if it didn't happen I would look like a fool, and now I look like a poser for claiming to have called it. But really, I did. And wow. No wonder it's one of the best three shows on television.*

How 'bout that tenth planet? As someone who actually follows these things, I know that depending on your definitions, there are probably eight or 30-ish or a thousand planets** in our Solar System, but it's always nice to find a reason to revise the science textbooks.

* For the record, the other two are Lost and Battlestar Galactica. If you aren't watching all three of these shows, you are denying yourself what few shreds of intelligent and artfully-produced visual fiction exist amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the ravaging sea of molten feces known as "television." Sure, there are other programs worth watching, but those three stand apart.

** See, there's no formal definition of "planet." Pluto was pronounced a planet somewhat prematurely, before we knew of its small size and relative insignificance; if Pluto were discovered today, we would not call it a planet. One could arbitrarily declare that a planet is any object larger than Pluto, in which case the new 2003 UB313 is the tenth known planet. But there is really no fundamental reason to declare Pluto as the size limit, and both Pluto and 2003 UB313 are part of the Kuiper Belt, meaning that they don't dominate their orbits, something all other planets do. So some astronomers say that a planet must orbit alone, and there are only eight planets. Other astronomers accept Pluto for historical reasons, use it as an arbitrary size limit, and say planets can exist as part of a population. So by that standard, there are probably around 30 objects in the Solar System larger than Pluto, we just haven't discovered them yet. So there are 10 known of 30-ish planets. Finally, some astronomers say, "Look, a planet is any non-stellar object rounded by gravity, regardless of circumstance," which is basically the definition used for centuries, before we realized there were a bunch of small planet-like objects in addition to the eight big ones. This is the criterion that is the most physically-based and least arbitrary, but it also means that there are possibly around a thousand planets in our Solar System, most lurking in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. Some already-discovered asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects would be planets, too. Personally, I like this one the best, since it seems the most rational and avoids just randomly choosing a dividing line. There are eight major planets that dominate their orbits, and a whole bunch of minor planets that don't. It's really a lot more complicated than any of this.

1 comment: