I've been hearing a lot lately about the controversy surrounding the "planet" Pluto and its other Kuiper Belt neighbors. The situation in a nutshell is that there've been recent discoveries of other orbiting bodies in our solar system that are comparitive in size and composition to Pluto that no one wants to classify as planets.
The problem is that we don't really have a concrete definition of what a planet is, and astronomers are hesitant to create one because it might threaten the number of planets we currenly have. One of two things would have to happen: one or more of the other Kuiper Belt objects would need to be classified as planets, or Pluto would have to be declassified as a planet. My question is, what's the big fuckin' deal? Just get together, make a definition and stick with it.
It seems that "respect" is coming in to play here. I've heard several astronomers say that it would be disrespectful to both Pluto and its discoverers for us to downgrade it. So what? This is science we are talking about here right? Either something is a planet or it isn't and it seems like a pretty simple distinction to me, one which "respect" should have no bearing on. I mean, it's not like we'd decide not to create an anti-virus for a hypothetical lab-created virus out of respect for the scientists who worked hard on it. Would we?
Also, the hesitancy behind classifying other Kuiper Belt objects as planets seems to be because they don't want our model of the solar system to change, once again out of respect, but also so as not to have to change all the books and reteach students new information which conflicts with things they had previously learned. I just don't understand this. I've always been taught that one of the perks of science is that finding new information allows us to paint a more accurate picture of our universe, but here we have a situation where scientists have better tools and better information, and have decided to just discard the new things they've learned because it is too difficult to act on the things that the information requires us to.
That sounds more like politics than science to me.
The author lives in Vancouver, Washington, USA with his girlfriend and a menagerie of cats, rats, fish, birds, guinea pigs and robots.
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