Friday, January 13, 2006

The girl who named a planet

Just seen this story on BBC News about Venetia Phair, who now lives in my hometown of Epsom. Way back in 1930 she it was she who gave the planet Pluto its name. Sadly there is now a movement to no longer classify Pluto as a planet. Hopefully the New Horizon space probe will dubunk this myth once and for all.


Mustafa Arif said...

How can you casually dismiss suggestions that Pluto is not really a planet as a "myth"?

I'm not a space scientist (though space science is an important part of my grounding as a trainee space engineer...) but the subject of Pluto's status has been controversial ever since it was first discovered.

The real issue, at stake, as the article subtly hints at, is a scientific consensus (or lack thereof) on the definition of the term 'planet'. It's important to remember that the concept of planets (and indeed many of their names) go back to the times of Archimedes, and beyond. Adapting these ancient concepts to modern science (much as the 'elements' of fire, water, earth and air were adapted to modern chemistry) is yet to be completed and publically accepted.

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

I'm somewhat reminded of the film "The Man who went up a Hill and came down a Mountain". The irony of all this is that the definition of planet is not universally accepted to be solely controlled by scientists - given our respective disciplines I find this link especially ironic. One of the recent proponents of a definition that would have removed Pluto from the list has since accepted that scientists do not control the term as you concede. Frankly do astronomers even need to argue over a definition? Why not just leave "planet" as a layman's term and use whatever technical terms are valid, rather than a massive round of arguments and public petitions on the matter?

So I think it's okay for a layman to regard the claims (which are based in a refocusing of the term anyway) with scepticism and hope that the probe will settle the debate.


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