Sunday, October 02, 2005


I don't have that much interest in Astronomy, but a story came over the wires today that at the very least gave me a bit of a chuckle. When I looked into it a little more it revealed something a bit more interesting. And in a peripheral sort of way it relates to television.

Most of us know the nine planets: the four inner terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), the four gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) and the trans-Neptunian planet with the odd orbit - Pluto. Pluto even has a moon named Charon. Astronomers don't like Pluto - it's small, it's lumpy, it doesn't orbit like the rest and worst of all it is essentially a big lump of smelly ice (frozen methane plus ammonia). But it is considered a planet and try as they might people refuse to let the astronomers demote it to the status of an asteroid.

Beyond Pluto there are other astronomical bodies. Among them are "Santa", and "Easterbunny" (I swear I'm not making these names up). Santa (so-called because it was discovered on December 28) is bigger than Pluto and has it's own moon, but is cigar shaped and tumbles end over end. But the big one is Xena and object two or three times the size of Pluto. People are already calling it the Tenth Planet, and although Xena is currently only a nickname (the real designation is 2003 UB313), the longer it keeps being referred to by that name the more likely that name is going to take with the public so that if the Astronomical Union eventually decides that it is a planet and needs a "proper" name (some Greco-Roman god of course) it will be awfully hard for them to make that name stick for a while. Well into the 19th Century some people in Britain still referred to Uranus as Georgium Sidus (George's Star - named for King George III by William Herschel). It was anounced today that Xena has a moon. For now at least it's being called Gabrielle.

I always knew they had heavenly bodies - now they are heavenly bodies.

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