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New Mexico Might Declare Pluto a Planet 328

Posted by kdawson
from the dwarf-schwmarf dept.
pease1 writes "Wired and others are reporting that for New Mexico, the fight for Pluto is not over. Seven months after the International Astronomical Union downgraded the distant heavenly body to a 'dwarf planet,' a state representative in New Mexico aims to give the snubbed world back some of its respect. State lawmakers will vote Tuesday on a bill that proposes that 'as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies, it be declared a planet.' The lawmaker who introduced the measure represents the county in which Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto's discoverer, was born. For many of us old timers, and those who had the honor of meeting Clyde, this just causes a belly laugh and is pure fun. Not to mention a bit of poking a stick in the eye."
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New Mexico Might Declare Pluto a Planet

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  • Absurd (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dduardo (592868) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:21PM (#18308766)
    I don't like the fact that scientists say the world is round so I'm going to petition my local government to enact legislation to make the world flat. Does that sound right?
  • by openaddy (852404) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:27PM (#18308798)
    I mean, really. Who would know more about astronomy? Astronomists? Or Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, Landscape Architect? Let's just let her and her colleagues sort out stem cell research and evolution and global warming and blah blah.. I don't want to have to think about it. :P
  • Re:Fine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:33PM (#18308844) Homepage Journal

    I never stopped considering Pluto a planet; the new definition is no more attractive than the previous hand-waving, and frankly, I like my definition better anyway:

    If it orbits a star, and has characteristics such that the main mass has formed a sphere or oblate spheroid and it will remain that way barring impact with something, it's a planet. If it orbits a star but will not form a sphere, it's a comet or asteroid, depending on composition (ablative or not, respectively.) If it orbits a planet, it's a moon, regardless of other characteristics. If it is not orbiting a planet or a star, it is a free object; e.g. a free planet, a free asteroid, a free comet. If it is undergoing fusion, it is a star; if the fusion fire was lit, but is now out, we have a dead star, the rest of the usual classifications for the various types of stars apply as per usual.

    Think about the known solar system in those terms. Does that not put everything in its place in a reasonable fashion, without disturbing our previous understandings?

  • by maccam94 (840004) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:33PM (#18308848)
    This bill is a complete waste of time and taxpayer money. It is not the place of government (nor religion) to declare something a fact when it contradicts information obtained using the scientific process.
  • In other news. . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bastian (66383) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:38PM (#18308876)
    Illinois to vote on a bill to define pi as 22/7.

    Oklahoma's legislature to say that eclipses really are dragons eating the moon.

    North Carolina is considering a bill to re-instate earth, water, air, and fire as elements.
  • by quixoticsycophant (729112) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:44PM (#18308912)
    Politics. Pandering to the idiot vote. For Astrology believers, the 'downgrading' of Pluto was a slap in the face, provoking those feelings of religious outrage which politicians love to exploit. Millions and millions of voters in New Mexico have some sort of belief in Astrology, ranging from slight interest to passionate conviction. Many of those votes have just been guaranteed to those legislators responsible for this bill.

    Being enlightened slashdotters, most of us have little appreciation for how stupid people really are. I am here to say that yes, they are that stupid.
  • Re:Fine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Time_Ngler (564671) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @01:47PM (#18308934)
    Wouldn't marbles released into space far enough away from a planet to orbit a star fall under your classification as planets?
  • Uh, schoolbooks? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:05PM (#18309048)
    Yea, funny and even cute, until you figure that as they look at new science books for state public schools, the state will be more concerned with the books promoting the official state version of the planetary population than they will be with overall quality or cost to the taxpayers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:15PM (#18309124)
    What the hell are you talking about? How did Pluto become the basis for a Bush slam? You nerds really need to stop that shit. It's been old for about 6 years already.
  • by giminy (94188) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:17PM (#18309150) Homepage Journal
    Actually it reinforces the first ammendment in a way which the first ammendment does not need, and as such could be seen as weakening the first ammendment, yes.

    The first ammendment states that noone can interfere with anyone calling Pluto anything they want, including a cartoon dog. If the state legislature decided that calling Pluto a Dwarf Planet violated the state constitution, that in turn would violate the US Constitution because as a New Mexico and a US Citizen, I would simultaneously be restricted from saying, "Pluto is a Dwarf Planet" (under NM law) and allowed to say it (under US law).

    They are setting a precedent of slipperiness here. By defining Pluto in terms of what citizens are allowed to call it, they actually introduce the notion/thought/possible (mis)understanding of their state contitution that says citizens are only allowed to define objects in a way that the state legislature permits. The law is unnecessary in the same way that any anti-discrimination law (should be) unecessary -- non-discrimination is already protected as an interpretation of the consitution. The law, by leaving some groups out (e.g. hemaphroditic pagans), can actually weaken the original intent of the consitution, because the law introduces the idea that the consitution should not be interpretated to include those groups. Laws like this can provide a de facto interpretation of the intent of the constitution.

    As a bizarre example, if I were to draft a contract in New Mexico now that had the words "Pluto, a dwarf planet," in it, and actually got someone to sign it, I could probably claim the contract void after the state legislator does their magic. So while a funny addition to the New Mexico lawbooks, the legislators should actually be extremely careful in how they write the law. In all honesty, they made the news and should probably just drop the law at this point, before they do something stupid (or waste hundreds of hours researching similar laws and avoiding the pitfalls that they made).

    Or so a lawyer would argue, of which I am not one. Fortunately, hypothetical arguments are still protected in both the US and the sovereign state of California, so I'm okay...
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@OOOopto ... inus threevowels> on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:18PM (#18309162) Journal

    Clyde Tombaugh.

    He found Pluto at a time when detecting planets was done with glass plate negatives and telescopes that were manually driven. He knew he was looking for a planet but where to find it was a matter of subjective debate. But he was the consummate scientist; as his wife noted after the demotion of Pluto, he would have been disappointed but he would have understood.

  • by despisethesun (880261) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:22PM (#18309190)
    I hope you're joking, but in case you're not, someone who studies astronomy is an astronomer. Astrologers are people who study the pseudoscience of astrology.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:24PM (#18309238)
    No, it's not quite like that. You can't dispute that the Earth is flat because it's demonstrably false.

    This is just a matter of semantics, nothing else. A bunch of scientists had a vote and decided to change Pluto's classification. This is no different. I think the time the scientists spent on reclassifying Pluto was an equally large waste of time.
  • Re:Fine (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JackMeyhoff (1070484) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @02:30PM (#18309312)
    What do you think planets are made out of, debris.
  • by MollyB (162595) * on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:03PM (#18309572) Journal

    But Pluto, subject to more anthropomorphizing than any planet should be, somehow gets to be the cute underdog, fighting for its rights against nasty scientists. Blech.
    1. Exactly who is doing the anthropomorphizing here? Hint: you.
    2. Some people from the New Mexico county in which Clyde Tombaugh (the tireless discover of said celestial body) was born wanted to honor him, in defiance of the slithy toves and slimy weasels that would deprive him of his hard-earned recognition. I'm not going to provide a link you probably won't follow anyway, but you might find that he deduced the presence of an unseen planet from perturbations of Neptune's orbit and found the tiny pinprick of light only after weeks of staring into "blink-comparators" which alternate views of the same patch of sky taken over an interval.
    3. Not all scientists are nasty. Some are blinkered by their own exactitude, but many will continue to consider Pluto a planet. Factoid: Part of the reason Pluto was named such was to honor Percival Lowell, (that's the PL part, duh) and if you've never heard of him, you might be beyond remedial reading.
    4. You seem to imply that no other research is going on because the question of Pluto's status is taking up all the space for other news. If you look around, there's more than plenty.
    5. Stop being sad and judgemental. If you're young and healthy, learn and enjoy as much as you can. Plenty of time for dread and sorrow later...
  • Re:Fine (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:11PM (#18309638) Journal
    Well, how many objects that you would call an asteroid have formed themselves into spheres or oblate spheroids? It takes quite a bit of mass for that to happen

    But "spheroidness" is also a continuum, and composition and history may affect it more than mass does. If we use spheroidness as the guide, then one still needs to pick an arbitrary boundary. Thus, it is not a signif improvement over mass or diameter. Plus, gas giants have no clear surface boundary. One would have to make an exception for them.
               
  • Bad Priorities (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lbmouse (473316) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:21PM (#18309728) Homepage
    As a former resident of New Mexico (along with Bill Gates :), I'd hope that a state representative would focus aim on the poverty of the south valley barrios in Albuquerque, the fact that NM has the highest rate of police shooting people in the back, or maybe even the violence and drug problems on the SE side of Abq. That should be a priority... but then again, that is just me.
  • by clickety6 (141178) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @03:29PM (#18309796)
    And your scientific rather than emotional reasoning for calling Pluto a planet is.... ?
  • Re:Great (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bobcat7677 (561727) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @04:17PM (#18310098) Homepage
    Actually it is a smart political move. Scores points with the constiuents that for the most part agree that demoting pluto was totally dumb to begin with. And creates some good tourist marketing material. "Come visit sunny New Mexico where Pluto is still a planet!".
  • by Bastian (66383) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @04:38PM (#18310238)
    Yeah, I realize that the distinctions among bodies in the solar system are somewhat arbitrary, but the decision to switch Pluto from being a planet to creating a new category called "dwarf planet" is reasoned and rather insightful. Pluto bears a lot more similarity to all the other bodies that fall into the dwarf planet category than it does to other planets. Meanwhile the only reason I can see for legislating Pluto back into planethood is an obsessive need to hold to tradition.

    I don't think tongue-in-cheek list I made is completely dissimilar to this situation, in that I'm trying to highlight the asininity of legislation like this. If the law were based on trying to construct a reasonable definition of a planet they would almost certainly have to include similar objects. Like Eris, which also has a trans-Neptunian orbit but is actually larger than Pluto and in that sense is a stronger candidate for planethood.

    Possibly it would have been better to come up with something along the lines of "California re-instates neptunium as a chemical element." Neptunium was originally thought to be an element, but was removed from the list as our understanding of chemistry improved and the definition of a chemical element was refined. But I left that out because it lacks the slapstick qualities of the three I did use.
  • by osu-neko (2604) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @04:39PM (#18310244)

    This bill is a complete waste of time and taxpayer money. It is not the place of government (nor religion) to declare something a fact when it contradicts information obtained using the scientific process.

    WTF?! You realize we're talking about whether to call Pluto a planet or not, right? This is a social convention, not a fact of nature. It's a societal decision about how we use words, it has nothing to do with any even remotely scientific process, nor can it possibly contradict information. If you think you should name your baby Dwight and your wife thinks he should be named Fred, you're not arguing about a fact of the world, nor is there a true and right answer, nor can either of you be correct or incorrect in any meaningful sense of the word.

    It's highly amusing that there are some people who think there's some fact of the matter about what is or isn't a planet that's independent of what we arbitrarily choose to call a planet. The law in question is silly, granted, but it does not in any way at all whatsoever "contradict information obtained using the scientific process".

  • by Goaway (82658) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @05:49PM (#18310734) Homepage
    Why is being a planet treated as some sort of exclusive club? Sure, they're planets, every last one of them. So what?
  • by Goaway (82658) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @08:26PM (#18311672) Homepage
    It's also pretty hard for schoolchildren to memorize the names of all countries, rivers, lakes, mountains, and so forth. Does this mean we only have ten of each of those?
  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Sunday March 11, 2007 @08:30PM (#18311694) Homepage Journal

    Making schoolchildren memorize arbitrary nomenclature is often useless and one of the many signs that our school systems are structured and run by the clueless.

    As to why you'd have them memorize the names of any planets at all, you'd probably mention to them (not make them memorize) the first few discovered by our relatively limited earthbound observations as an unimportant but mildly interesting historical issue, and any beyond that which might be educational in and of themselves. I suspect you'd want to tell them how large the current planet count has become, again purely as a matter of interest, and as an intellectual fulcrum for you to inform them that said number is expected to change shortly, and often. Along with the asteroid count, the comet count, the satellite count, the star count, the galaxy count, etc.

    There is no need for them to "memorize" any of these names and numbers until or unless they decide to focus on space science one way or another. And perhaps not even then. They just need to know that there are other planets out there in our system, and how planetary systems work, so they don't get caught up in superstitious nonsense.

    On top of this, they need to know how to look things up so that when they want a fact for some reason, they can go get it with minimal fanfare.

    Intellectual honesty, critical thinking skills, and the ability to use reference materials fluidly are all far more educationally valuable than canned, arbitrary information that came from a committee not entirely in internal agreement anyway.

  • Re:Fine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Sunday March 11, 2007 @08:40PM (#18311766) Homepage Journal

    This isn't science. This is simply nomenclature that arises from entirely arbitrary attempts at classing. As for the rest, I decline to respond, as you have convinced me that you are being intentionally abrasive.

  • Re:arrrrr? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) on Sunday March 11, 2007 @11:06PM (#18312468)
    Hi.

    You should learn about the subjunctive.

    Thanks.

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