Tenth Planet?

posted in: science, space 0

The discovery of the new planet 2003 UB313 is one of the cooler pieces of science news so far this year. Assuming, of course, that it’s eventually called a “planet” and not given some more boring designation. I’m with the leader of the discovery team, Mike Brown, who says that the word “planet” has a cultural meaning as well as a scientific meaning. The public hasn’t taken kindly to suggestions that Pluto be downgraded from a planet to a Kuiper Belt Object; I don’t either. I suppose I’m just being sentimental.

I also like the fact that the new planet is 45 degrees out of the plane of the ecliptic. I say it’s about time we had a planet that wasn’t so conformist and hide-bound. (And now that we know there are planets outside the plane of the nine, I’m betting we’re going to find a bunch more of them.)

This is almost as good as the discovery earlier this year of a planet orbiting a three-star system. As an SF writer, I always found it annoying to hear scientific experts say, “Forget it—there won’t be planets around binary and trinary star systems (except maybe Tatooine)—the orbits will be too unstable.” To which my answer, under my breath was, “Oh yeah? We’ll see.” Which is more or less my answer to the argument that we’ll never find a practical means of interstellar travel. I consider it a challenge when I’m told something’s impossible.

Click to read a very interesting article about the crazy business of naming solar system objects.

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0 Responses

  1. tsmacro
    | Reply

    Yeah i’m hoping they’ll actually give it a “real name” before too long. Of course I guess the discovery is subject to scientific review before they will really allow it to exist and be called a planet.

  2. Harry
    | Reply

    I wonder if they’ll call it Nibiru, the supposed 12th body in the solar system (including the solar system’s star, the Sun, and Earth’s moon)? Planet X used to be in astronomy textbooks and as recently as the ’60s they expected it would be found but it had been removed for the last few decades.

    Whether Pluto (found while Clyde Tombaugh was searching for X) and “Nibiru” count as planets is an interesting question. What about Sedna? How about larger minor planets? Some fear if we include Nibiru then there will suddenly be 24 planets. Does it really matter?

    We don’t even seem to know what a star is, with brown dwarfs and huge giant gas ‘planets’ orbiting very close to stars.


  3. Tim
    | Reply

    perhaps i’m showing a large bit of ignorance here but how is it that we can’t find planets in our own solar system but can find planets in solar system thousands of light years away?

    also again if we can’t find planets in our own system then how can scientists claim to know so much about the foundations of the galaxy and the universe?

  4. Harry
    | Reply

    The planets they’ve found in far away solar systems have, for the most part, been very large and/or very close, large and close enough to either produce a wobble in the star’s position or to produce a dimming of the light from the star as it passes in front of it. The only small terrestrial planets found so far were the first ones ever found, orbiting a dead star. As telescopes and techniques improve, they’ll find smaller and smaller extrasolar planets and perhaps we’ll see less strange systems than ones with gas giants in 3 day orbits.

    The planets we’re looking for locally are quite small and thus cannot be looked for in the same manners. The ways they perturb the orbits of other planets has long been used as a way of predicting them but to find them you have to view the stars and see if any of them move in a regular motion. If so, you have some sort of non-star which could be of various origins. Often these are ‘found’ without being known if no one checks the pictures for these moving stars. Some people are searching through old pictures and discovering them that way.

    They still don’t really know how our solar system formed or how they form in general. Similarly they’re still creating, modifying and tossing theories for the formation of our galaxy and the universe. This is how science works at the frontier of knowledge. Older areas of study are generally better understood and less in flux.

    The understanding that galaxies are their own star groupings rather than ‘nebulae’ in our Milky Way galaxy is relatively recent, only about a hundred years old. At first people generally believed there was only one solar system, ours; then they learned there are others. Now we know there are other galaxies and some say even other universes. We are still learning and likely will never know everything. Each answer we learn poses new questions.

  5. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Thanks for the good explanation, Harry. One other reason is that since all the planets in the solar system are orbiting more or less in the plane of the ecliptic, people tend to concentrate their searches in and around the plane. This new planet is orbiting 45 degrees out of the plane, which is one reason no one saw it sooner.

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