Wednesday, April 6, 2011

pluto, the previous planet: a song

a couple years ago i was walking to the bus stop with the song "rudolph the red nosed reindeer" stuck in my head, much to my frustration! in order to maintain my sanity, i started singing alternative lyrics based on the phrase that popped into my head: pluto the previous planet! i've been wanting to record this song and post it for the public ever since, but had never really been inspired.

so yesterday during the hack day portion of dotAstronomy meeting, i gathered a few fellow conference participants: astronomers, a great pianist, and an enthusiastic director.... and off we went!

so without futher ado... pluto, the previous planet!!

Pluto, the previous planet from carolune on Vimeo.

as much as i like the song as it is, the last verse might lead one to believe that i would like to reinstate pluto as a planet. i want to state for the record that this is NOT the case! i'm pleased that astronomers have decided on a definition of a planet that is based on some actual physics! the song is just fun and i hope people enjoy it.

with all this in mind, we also developed an accompanying website with a special message from pluto:

"First of all, thank you everyone for your concern, but really, I’m happy in my new role as the original dwarf planet! And there’s no need to worry, nothing physically happened to me to cause my reclassification. In fact, Charon’s been jealous for years that I was considered a planet, while we’ve been dancing around each other in our joint orbit around the sun. And don’t forget about our other two small satellites: Nix and Hydra! They may be small, but they’re important to me. And your Earth only has one Moon, so I feel special..."

here's the website:

hope you enjoy!


Kirsch said...

Amazing! And if this whole astronomer thing does not pan out, you know you can always fall back to a singing career.

Steve Hall said...

That was pretty awesome, Amanda. :) Keep on having fun!

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Amanda, I am an astronomer as well as a singer, and I can tell you confidently that astronomers have not decided on any planet definition." As someone who has actively spent the last four-and-a-half years working to get Pluto and all dwarf planets reinstated as planets, I want to emphasize that astronomers remain divided between a dynamical and a geophysical planet definition. A dynamical definition focuses on the way celestial objects affect and perturb one another and states that only dynamically dominante, or large celestial objects, should be classed as planets. In contrast, a geophysical definition, which, contrary to your statement, is equally based on physics, focuses on individual objects themselves rather than on the objects' effects on others. According to the geophysical planet definition, any object large enough to be pulled into a round shape by its own gravity, a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, is a planet, whether or not it gravitationally dominates its orbit. Both views are equally legitimate.

The IAU decision was largely political rather than scientific. Significantly, only four percent of the IAU voted on the controversial definition that demoted Pluto. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet.

I urge you and everyone interested in this debate to read Alan Boyle's book "The Case for Pluto."

Anonymous said...

You're awesome!

heroineworshipper said...

That took guts. Must have taken a lot of practice.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

On the other side, here's my rendition of Mark Burrows' "Ode to Pluto":

Ron said...

Encore! Encore! Very nicely done!

skywatcher88 said...

Wow Amanda
You Have a very nice easy to listen to singing voice!
Great job of everyone else involved also in the making of my now favorite Pluto Song.
I think a new vote using all the physics and More IAU representatives should be taken !
If Pluto is reinstated as a planet again then you can create a new song to welcome Pluto back to the fold.I`ll be waiting!
I wonder if they used voting machine cards for demoting Plutos`s planetary status and the chads were not counted because they were not punched all the way through????
Peace and Clear Skies!

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Significantly, they did not allow electronic voting, which means anyone not in that room on that particular day (the last day of a two-week conference) did not get a vote.

Also, there are many astronomers who are not IAU members, and they should have input into this as well.

Unknown said...

laurel, please read my full opinion at the website and on this blog.... i think the official decision of the IAU was the right one. its fine that pluto is not an official planet anymore.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I did. And you can read my full opinion on my blog at . I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Pluto's status is still very much a matter of debate.

Spaceman Spiff said...

Very clever, Amanda, and kudos for creativity, but I have to say I agree with Laurel's comments above. Pluto was, is, and will one day again be a full-fledged planet (once the *entire* IAU gets a chance to vote, instead of a small minority) (a minority employing a seriously flawed, confusing, and contradictory "definition"). Thanks for the fun, but sorry, Pluto will persevere!

Amydove said...

Yikes, it's just a song people!

Sowff said...

Well, I heard both songs, and was entertained by both. As far as whether Pluto is a planet or not, given the fact that the IAU didn't follow proper protocol and at least one member in Prague told me on Facebook that his career was threatened to vote against Pluto, and the fact that if Earth was in Pluto's orbit, it, too, would not meet the current definition of a planet, I have to side with Pluto. As for you speaking for Pluto, as someone who as a child in Detroit used to pretend to be The King of Pluto, back in around 1965 or so, I think I speak for Pluto more than either of you. Pluto wants to be a planet, still, and, in 2015, in Honolulu, the IAU may just find itself outed for the dastardly, rushed way in which the 2006 GA showed Pluto the celestial door....

By the way, I once wrote a short story called "So Be Good For Goodness Sake" using the Rudolph story. It was written during the Cold War. Enjoy if you want to read it. There are a few other stories on that page, too, including the now-infamous "My Pet Goat." I put it on the page so it would be easier for others to read. It took an inter-library loan for me to find it. I am a writer and artist, by the way, and some of my art used real images of Pluto and real images taken by New Horizons, which will reach Pluto on July 14th, 2015.

One more thing, don't be surprised to learn that Pluto once again thought to be, without question, larger than Eris, once the final calculations of the stellar occultation of November 2010 are published.

Here is the link to the story story, and my art can be found on the site, as well, if you are up for some surfing via the left navigation bar.....


Mike Wrathell aka Sowff

Sowff said...

Oooops forgot to include the link.....

Boris Häußler said...

Yes, it's just a song, no need to argue. So please forgive me if I still do.

First of all: Who cares whether Pluto is called 'planet' or not? What's the difference? It's a description/class, it doesn't change its nature!
Why is everyone so upset about Pluto, there are other cases. Ceres was counted as a planet for 50 years (about as long as Pluto) and lost this status thanks to some re-definitions ages ago. Nobody complains about that.

Some words about the IAU where the decision was made:
The IAU is the international astronomical union, in comparison to the national associations. As such, it is largely regarded to be the organisation which decides in such matters. The meeting in question was the IAU General Assembly, anyone was invited to come. Non-members (like myself) were invited to come and have a say, too.
The matter of 'Pluto, The Previous Planet' was discussed for ages and it was known that a decision will be made in Prague. Everyone (professional astronomers, that is) was also able to join the IAU and have a vote in the process. For the members that did not come and vote, I have to say that it is in the nature of democratic elections that these people do then not enter the result in any way, but the majority of the people voting is seen as the majority vote! That's just the way votes and elections work. (About an electronic voting system, especially internationally and presumably online, it has to be said that it is VERY easy to tinker a result. So far, electronic voting systems have mostly failed).

The meeting took place August 14th-25th, 2006. While the decision indeed was made on the last evening as far as I can tell (only stayed the first week), there was a long discussion on August 16th, which you will find is NOT the last day of the meeting but in the middle of the first week. In fact, this discussion too place directly after the opening ceremony where nearly everyone was present, so staying and discussing has been very easy. The matter was further discussed at amongst the participant, so anybody who was at the conference had their influence (and that was around 3500 people, which is a pretty good fraction of all astronomers worldwide, and not a percentage-sized minority as has been stated).

Generally, I think a physical definition (ANY physical definition!) makes complete sense. The vague 'system' that were used before was neither suitable (they were simply historical) nor scientific and things had to be done one way or another. The IAU defined a guideline. Yes, they could have chosen a different one which would have included Pluto and others, but it didn't. That's how definitions work. You could argue a motorbike is a car, because it does basically do the same thing. But it's not. It's a motorbike.

I simply cannot see how this decision was political. Political against/for what? It was a scientific decision.

Finally, I should make clear, that I am too emotionally attached to Pluto, but I really don't care what it is called.
As an astronomer I am happy to have a solar system with only 8 planets that children can learn and not a solar system with many more and a varying number of planets as more of these objects are found. And I think that teaching astronomy and getting people interested in science is important. Varying numbers would be confusing and would lead to the opposite. Don't get me wrong, I do NOT say that this is reason enough, but it is a reason and we should be very careful of our actions. Pluto was not degraded light-heartily!

If the only criteria for a body being a planet is whether it is heavy enough to be round, would all the Jupiter moons be planets? Many of them are much bigger than Pluto (even the whole Pluto/Charon system).
So ARE they planets? No, they are not, because they are different, e.g. they do NOT dominate their own orbit around the sun. And neither does Pluto or any other of the dwarf planets/plutonians (see, Pluto now even has his OWN class! I think he would be very proud of that).

Pluto said...

This is Pluto!
I like your song very much!
I am what I am and that`s what I am!
Salutations from way out here!

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Since most General Assembly attendees pay their own way, many do not stay the entire two weeks. Those who left early assumed the IAU would adhere to its own bylaws and would vote only on the resolution crafted by its own committee. They had absolutely no way of knowing that at the last minute, a different resolution would be substituted. In essence, they were deceived. Once they found out what happened, many who left early, including Planet Definition Committee Chair Dr. Owen Gingerich, said had they know a different resolution would be put to the floor on the last day, they would have changed their plans and stayed.
The vote was political in two ways. It was partly driven by anti-American sentiment over the Iraq war. Pluto is regarded as the only planet discovered by an American (prior to Eris and exoplanets). Several American astronomers at the General Assembly were told, "Pluto is going down because we can't stand your policies in the Middle East."
The other way the vote was political is due to the shenanigans described above. The ongoing debate is between dynamicists and geophysicists. The dynamicists were so insistent on getting their way that bullied other astronomers to vote with them and showed complete disregard for IAU rules and proceedings. One South American astronomer even got up at the microphone and screamed, "If Pluto stays a planet, my life's work is ruined!" That sort of behavior is why the General Assembly was described in the media as "astronomers behaving badly."
I completely disagree that varying numbers of planets would confuse people. No one is confused by the fact that we have billions of stars and billions of galaxies. Everyone understands that the number of known exoplanets will be constantly changing as more are discovered. In fact, when it comes to motivating public interest in astronomy, an increasing number of planets is much more exciting and comprehensible to most people than is one where planets are suddenly "taken away" for what seem to be arbitrary purposes.

angelrls, El Lobo Rayado said...

That is absolutely great, Amanda. Very well done indeed! I have talked about ths and included the video in my blog:

Cheers from Sydney!

Boris Häußler said...

Very quickly, because I cannot really be bothered:

1) (Some of) You Americans should really get off thinking that everything that people do that some Americans don't like is politically motivated and anti-american. I am pretty sure that that sentence was said in a pub over a pint of beer, maybe in a discussion about the war rather than pluto, followed by some laughter? This attitude that nobody likes you and everyone is against you is childish and not worthy of a great nation like USA. In fact, for me it is the one thing that actually makes me anti-american most.

2) Don't you think that scientists really decide on a scientific basis rather than political reasons? If you don't think so, you should immediately stop funding.

3) If you are accusing the dynamicists of being insistent, what would you say is it that the geophysicists and you are doing now? Don't you think it is worse to argue about a decision afterwards than the state of confusion before?
Don't you think that what you are doing now sounds a bit like "If Pluto is not a planet, my lifes work will be ruined" to many people?

4) I could not disagree more about the changing number and the public. The solar system and its planets are usually the first contact that people, especially small children, have with astronomy and often physics/science in general. I agree that for exoplanets/galaxies, stars (other than the few that you can see) and other more advances things, this makes things interesting, but for the FIRST STEP, things HAVE to be simple. Those simple sentences that are used to remember the order of the 8 planets, they do have a useful sense. There is a reason why not many people today speak latin, it's just too complicated to start with.

And on a personal note: If pluto being or not being a planet is the only problem you have, I'd like to have your life.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Obviously, many people, especially planetary scientists, do care whether Pluto is called a planet and about the larger issue of planet definition. Those of us who adhere to the geophysical planet definition DO view Ceres as a planet. Its demotion was wrong, but we can excuse 19th century astronomers because their telescopes weren't powerful enough to resole Ceres into a disk. Today, we know it is spherical, probably geologically differentiated, and may even have a subsurface ocean that could harbor microbial life. That makes it a small planet.

Whether or not the IAU is "the organization that decides such matters" is completely a matter of consensus. That consensus has been seriously eroded in the last few years. If enough people, especially astronomers, reject the IAU definitions, then they become irrelevant. Besides, science is not decided by decrees from a central group of elders whose word becomes gospel truth. That's religion, and appealing to authority is a logical fallacy. No one voted on whether the universe is made up of one or many galaxies. Time and data gave us the answer. The IAU can vote the sky is green; that does not make it true.

Significantly, the IAU violated its own bylaws by putting a resolution on the floor of the General Assembly without first vetting it by the proper committee, as its bylaws require.

I for one don't believe everyone is anti-American. However, these comments were made and were done so at the General Assembly, not over beer at a pub. The atmosphere was very hostile and polarized; this was reported at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD by astronomers who had actually been present at the General Assembly.

If you think science never gets political, just look back at the controversy over the discovery of Neptune.

Both dynamicists and geophysicists tend to be insistent. Personally, I have no problem with having two ways of looking at the solar system. That itself teaches a valuable lesson. And we aren't arguing about the decision "afterward" unless you give that 2006 vote some special sanctity. The debate over Pluto's status began in 1930 immediately after its discovery, as Clyde Tombaugh discusses in his book "Out of the Darkness: The Planet Pluto." I expect the debate over how to define the term planet to go on for quite a while, given the many strange exoplanets we're discovering. And I don't see anyone's life's work being ruined, given this discussion has gone on for more than 80 years.

And I could not disgree with you more about public perception. You underestimate the intelligence and capability of the public. People have no trouble understanding that the number of known exoplanets is in constant flux. My nephew understood at four that there are two ways of defining what a planet is. Things do not have to be in a simple, memorizable order like a nursery rhyme. Alan Boyle suggests starting by describing our solar system as having four plus four plus more planets, as in four terrestrials, four jovians, and many more dwarf planets. I think that is an ideal way to introduce kids and adults to the solar system.

Sowff said...


The bigger moons of Jupiter can be called satellite planets.

Taking away planets the way the IAU did in 2006 will discourage the young from astronomy. What happened to Giuseppe Piazzi and Clyde Tombaugh should not happen to a dog. Both Ceres and Pluto will be explored further in 2015, so, hopefully, the IAU will be in the mood to reopen the debate, especially since, as Laurel correctly points out, the vote was horribly tainted. Jocelyn Bell was very disrespectful to the opposition and one member who voted for 5A said that he his career was threatened. I watched the vote recently on video. It was appalling. To end, Pluto obviously clears its path. How else could it have 3 moons orbiting it? If you want to be all technical, you can say Neptune does not clear its path, too. The current definition of a planet is a tainted crock.

Boris Häußler said...


Now you're getting crazy. Satellite planets? And our own moon, which is nice and round? Shall we call it 'The Planet' from now on? It's called 'The MOON' for a reason!

Yes, and there are Asteroids on Jupiters orbit. But if you look at the fraction of material that is hosted in the main body on an orbit to the total mass, there is a HUGE gap between the 8 planets and pluto.

What bad has happened to the discoveres of Ceres and Pluto? Nobody disagreed with their scientific discovery! Only the classification of the objects they found changed. There are THOUSANDS of scientists out there whos scientific 'discoveries' were later shown to be wrong. They survuved that, in fact that's an important piece of science. And that didn't even happen to them! Their discoveries are great and valied. What you CALL what they found, I simply cannot see why it is important. They are still the discoverers, nothing has been taken from them at all!

Really, try changing it, but after 2015, when the IAU again has voted the same way, please give it a rest!

(Unfortunately, for some reason, Blogger always delets my other comment)

Boris Häußler said...

Don't you think it is a bit .... funny that you dismiss the IAU as the deciding institutution, yet, you want to use this exact institution in 2015 to restate Pluto as a planet?

Just assume that they vote against it (which I see is likely, the discussing community is very small indeed), would you then accept the decision? Or would you keep it going until your opinion wins?

How many galaxies there are is an entirely different question. It was a matter of data depth at the time (as was when pluto was discovered and it wasn't obvious that he is not king of his orbit). Defining a planet is different, because (whetever the definition is) there are always border-cases which MIGHT fall in and some which might not. That's the way astronomy works as a science. BTW, the exact number of galaxies is also unknown, because there is no definition on what is a dwarf galaxy, what is a 'real' galaxy. I would largely favor to have one, although my own science happens on galaxies so far away that they are impossible to be clusters of dwarfs. Most of them larger than the MilkyWay, actually. But then, if they weren't, I wouldn't care much and would use a different word in my papers. It's just a word. Actually, my work kind of depends on the separation of spirals and ellipticals. But all I care about is the statistics of the populations, not individual cases.

Boris Häußler said...

Were you at the general assemby and heard these sentences said yourself? I was, and I was around all kinds of astronomers all week, including all the planet department of my own institution. I heard many discussions on the matter, but I didn't hear anything like this, discussions where friendly and scientific.

Your Nephew is very clever if he understands that at the age of 4, my experience with all the (many) outreach that I have ever done is very much that people do like things simple, and many were quite proud to be able to tell me the (then) 9 planets from one of these sentences.

If you already agree that Pluto is a dwarf planet as you say in your last paragraph, what are you arguing about then? It IS classified as a dwarf planet/plutonian. The separation between earth-like and gas giants is done as well (and frankly, it an easy one to make, so I'm not sure it needs to be written down), although possibly not officially, but every astronomer I ever met clearly distinguishes the differences between them and exo-planet papers always emphasise which one it is that they found. Maybe you should try fighting for this separation, then you've got exactly what you want. In fact, you are already largely there. No-one at all argues that the number of dwarf planets is (and will be) varying, but that's it, they are DWARF planets. ;-)

Laurel Kornfeld said...

The term "satellite planets" is a "crazy idea?" How ironic you should say that since this term was proposed by none other than New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern. All it means is that geophysically an object is a planet while dynamically, it orbits another planet instead of orbiting a star directly. The moon can be technically classed as a satellite planet and still called "the Moon." Besides, why should Earth's moon be treated any differently than the spherical moons of other planets? Earth is not the center of anything.

Boris, were you at the Great Planet Debate, held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in August 2008? I was, and heard many discussions not just on the planet definition issue itself, but on questionable tactics and processes that took place at the 2006 IAU General Assembly--by people who had been there, such as Dr. Gingerich. The intimidation that did occur happened behind closed doors but has been verified by at least one astronomer who was then a graduate student and told that if he didn't vote for resolutions 5a and 5b, there would be negative consequences for his future career.

I have extensively researched the proceedings of that General Assembly, spoken to people who had been there, watched the videos, and am convinced, as are many others, that the proceedings under which this vote occurred were terribly flawed.

The problem is not with calling Pluto a dwarf planet; it is with resolution 5b, which states that dwarf planets are not planets at all. Dr. Stern is the person who first coined the term "dwarf planet," and he did so to designate a third class of planets in addition to terrestrials and jovians--small planets that are large enough to be rounded by their own to gravitationally dominate their orbits. In a 2000 article, "Regarding the Criteria for Planethood and the Proposed Planetary Classification Scheme, Stern and Dr. Hal Levison distinguished between the gravitationally dominant "uber planets" and non-gravitationally dominent "unter-planets." However, they agreed that both are subclasses of planets, just different types. Ceres and Pluto were classed as "unter-planets."

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Referring to dwarf planets as a subclass of planets is exactly in line with the use of the term "dwarf" in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. In each case, the dwarf category is the most numerous one.

I do not necessarily look to the IAU as a "deciding institution." I would rather the IAU and, if created, a new planetary science organization, focus on being forums for discussion but not "authorities" that issue decrees. Let the discussion go on, for years if necessary. There are astronomers who specifically do not want the IAU to try to define the term "galaxy" because they believe doing this is beyond the IAU's scope and perspective. Information about borderline cases will be revised over and over, not through decree, but through discovery.

Nothing about Pluto's discovery was found to be wrong other than the estimate of its size. An object does not have to be "king of its orbit" to be a planet to those who choose to define planet in geophysical terms. We're fine acknowledging Pluto as a dwarf planet, but emphasize that DWARF PLANETS ARE PLANETS TOO!

There is also a huge gap between gas giants like Jupiter and terrestrial planets like Earth. In fact, one could say Earth has more in common with Pluto than with Jupiter. Jupiter has a composition much more like the Sun, of hydrogen and helium; it has no solid surface, and it has its own little "solar system" of moons. How is this at all similar to Earth? In contrast, Pluto and Earth both have solid surfaces, both are geologically differentiated, both have atmospheres and weather, both have large moons formed via giant impact, and both have nitrogen in their atmospheres. How does it make scientific sense to group Earth together with Jupiter but not Earth with Pluto?

I have done a lot of public outreach too, and I believe we do people a disservice by oversimplifying things with the inherent assumption that they wouldn't understand anything even slightly complex. Our goals for the public should not be just listing eight, nine, or 15 names. Our goals should be motivating people to think about these issues, to consider the different arguments and understand that even experts can view the same thing (in this case, our solar system) in different ways. We do not need to "dumb down" astronomy to keep people's interest. This issue is not about "winning" but about the important lesson that there can be more than one "right" way to understand things around us.

astrofrog said...

I propose that all further comments be submitted in the form of a song.

@Laurel, we are waiting for your song 'Pluto the object which may or may not be a planet because astronomers are divided between a dynamical and geophysical definition'.

Sowff said...


You are right. I will never accept the notion that Pluto is not a planet. If the IAU were to say that dwarf planets are planets, I would accept that. They should have in Prague, but clearly the anti-Pluto cabal that ramrodded 5A on the last day of the GA without proper vetting and with Bell being rude to anyone who was in the slightest degree pro-Pluto (and yes, I did see the session recently), even mocking Pluto with a stuffed Disney toy, and refusing to sit down with a pro-Pluto speaker took the podium, had it in for Pluto. Perhaps since Bell was screwed out of a Nobel Prize for discovering pulsars, she decided to screw over Clyde Tombaugh. She seems like a very anger and maladjusted person. Too bad Sigmund Freud was not around at the GA to sit her down on his couch.....

If you ever have the time to watch the session of the 24th, you wil perhaps see at least some of what I saw and know where I am coming from. I am not making this stuff up.

Anyway, dude, are you going to Hawaii in 2015? If so, maybe we can have a Mai Tai. I do not mind that we disagree. Such is life. Maybe someday you will realize that Pluto deserves to be a planet. Just like a short person is still a person. Especially a short person that has been a person for 76 years and have three moons in orbit, and whose discoverer does not try to kill other planets like a creep we both know of who shall go unnamed, and who even says he was the sole discoverer of a dwarf planet he at first called a planet, before he transformed into an utter creepazoid. He co-discovered it with Chad and David, as you can verify on Wikipedia, et cetera.



Boris Häußler said...

This whole last post is aggressive, unjustified, insulting and shows a very biased view (I have seen the session and I cannot see what you are on about. Sometimes people sit, sometimes they don't there isn't always a meaning in that. I think over-interpretation is generally a big problem in at least western society). As I can not be calm when replying to this, I have decided to leave it here. I disagree, maybe you will realize at some point that Pluto (or Goofy) is not a planet, but has entirely different properties. At least accept (like Laurel) that there are different definitions of what a planet is and that the current definition is as good as any other (and frankly, I really don't even care much, but I do not want a varying number of planets. And sorry, the idea of 'satellite planets' is just too crazy for me to be taken seriously. Even if we find life on any of them, it does not mean that jupiters moons have to be planets. Where is it said that only planets can host life. This, in fact, seems the most random definition of them all.

I will most likely not go to the iau in 2015, it's too far away and not much use as a conference (I was in Prague merely because it was close and seemed like a good conference at the time, today I prefer smaller meetings). And I'm not sure a Mai-Tai would be a good idea when you cannot even accept other definitions as valid on a scientific bases.

Laurel Kornfeld said...

While I accept that there are different definitions of what a planet is, I do not accept the IAU definition as "the current" definition. Such a statement is inherently biased in giving one viewpoint more legitimacy than the other. Personally, I cannot say I will ever view Pluto as not being a planet because my concept of planet is centered on geophysics, specifically, an object being in hydrostatic equilibrium but not being a star. Earth and Jupiter also have many different properties from one another. Having different properties doesn't make an object not a planet if there is a larger overall common element, i.e., an object being rounded by its own gravity. In this case, having different properties simply makes some objects different kinds of planets.

Not "wanting a varying number of planets" and inability to accept the notion of "satellite planets" are not science. They are personal preferences and in and of themselves, not any more legitimate as arguments than someone else saying they want only eight planets.

I never argued that "only planets can host life." What I did point out is that no matter which definition one uses, that is based on an individual's picking and choosing characteristics and emphasizing those as defining features of planethood. One could choose to say that only bodies capable of hosting life are planets. I do not advocate this; I am just trying to make the point that the choice of characteristics as deciding factors is subjective.

Why did Prague seem like "a good conference," yet Honolulu does not? It's your choice whether or not to attend, but that does not mean the whole world has to accept a decision reached via a flawed process as gospel truth for all time. There were many problems with the proceedings that took place in Prague, with most based on the notion that the IAU "had" to come up with a definition and do so quickly, no matter how many of its own rules it broke or how many voices were excluded. The 2015GA will be faced with a huge amount of new data from New Horizons on Pluto and from Dawn on Ceres and Vesta. That alone calls for a reopening of this discussion. We don't so much need a "final ruling" as a recognition that there are different, equally legitimate ways of defining a planet, and that we may need a lot more information, especially about exoplanet systems, before making ironclad declarations.

Boris Häußler said...

Prague seemed like a good conference because I did not have very much experience with conferences before. It turned out that iau general assemblies are actually much too big to be of any use. All the important people that one would like to talk to are so busy talking to the other important people that they have no time for you. And they will not find your poster in the 600 (true!!) poster poster room. As a conference is about talking to people and making contacts, it is pretty useless to go to a GA. At least when it isn;t right in front of your door so you might just as well go and it doesn't cost that much. For that, Honolulu is simply too far away (it's possibly the same reason why the american community on the Prague conference was quite small, too). The whole point was entirely personal and I was merely stating that I will most likely not be going there. Nothing to be upset about ;-)

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Well, now we have another disagreement, and that is, what constitutes "important people?" And what makes you view some people as "more important" than others? You can (erroneously, in my view) regard yourself as "not important," but I strongly disagree. And I certainly object to any classification of me as "not important." My experience at other conferences is, people talk to those who share their interests. A galactic astronomer is less likely to want to discuss planetary science than another planetary scientist. But if the planetary scientist wants to talk about galactic astronomy, the galactic astronomer will happily talk to him or her. At the Great Planet Debate, there was no "two tier" system; everyone was open and talked to everyone else regardless of viewpoint. The sort of mentality you describe may be why so many astronomers don't go to General Assemblies or even join the IAU--that and the fact that most have to pay for the trip themselves. This might not be the case if teleconferencing and electronic participation were allowed. I was invited to attend in 2009, but not a single one of my astronomer friends went, and once the leadership precluded any discussion on the planet definition issue, there really was no point in my going. However, in spite of my disagreement with the IAU 2006 decision, I was still encouraged to write an article for the General Assembly newspaper. So I can honestly say I've never experienced this "important/not important" dichotomy of which you speak; almost all of my interactions with other astronomers have been ones of mutual respect.

My real point was that the 2006 IAU GA--and maybe the IAU itself--is not the be all and end all of the planet debate. There likely will be many future discussions in the wake of new discoveries. Right now, my goal is to attend the 2015GA, where the data from Dawn and New Horizons will be fresh in people's minds.

Boris Häußler said...

It's starting to get funny how you fire up to whatever I say. I didn't even say what I meant by 'important people'. I certainly did not mean to call you unimportant in any way.

important people = people I would like to talk to because they have interesting opinions on my work, that I would like to hear, I want to comment on their work because they have done something similar. Or people that have jobs for me to potentially apply to.

It was NOT meant to rank the person/individual, but (I hope) you will agree that following a scientific career requires getting your name out and talking to the right people (where 'right' is not meant in a political sense, just before you misunderstand that again).
On a iau GA that's tough, because all the big names have important things to discuss by themselves. On small meetings it is more likely you can grab them and 'force your wisdom' on them.