Thursday, January 21, 2016

Today in budget-conscious discoveries...

Cal Tech astronomer Micheal E. Brown whose previous work in the field got Pluto demoted to dwarf planet status, is back and ready to jerk us around again. But before we get to that, to the jerking around I mean, I should probably explain.
Pictured: Mike Brown and his book about victim blaming.
Above: one of the new images of Pluto
sent back by NASA's New Horizons probe.
Between 2003 and 2005, Brown and his team at the Palomar Observatory discovered a bunch of objects floating around out past Neptune, including Eris, which is even larger than Pluto. This discovery led astronomers to come up with a firm definition of planet. In order to qualify, an object must orbit the sun, have enough mass to be roundish, not be a satellite of another object and it has to have cleared its orbit of debris. Pluto, like the one house in the neighborhood with all the crap in the yard, doesn't fit the third criteria. It's orbit is full of rocks, planetesimals and even an old lawnmower.

Pluto and other similarly lazy and market-value lowering space objects were reclassified as 'dwarf planets;' a term whose definition requires only that the object not be a moon and that it be round or round-ish because of its own gravity. 
A third, lesser known criteria requires that such planetoids be the
home of a stout and mighty race of bearded warriors upon whose
blades the unrelenting and terrible orcish hordes shall meet their doom.
Brown, Batygin and the $30 dry erase
board they used to make their discovery. 
Oh, I mentioned some jerking. Brown and his colleague Konstantin Batygin have announced that according to their calculations there should totally be a new, as yet unobserved ninth planet out beyond the orbit of Neptune. Yeah, unobserved. This discovery is totally math-based which, while cool and budget friendly, is something they probably shouldn't mention to Cal Tech's board. Not if they ever plan to go to them asking for money for a new telescope or computers or even pizza for the year-end department mixer. You can't eat math.

Having a bad week? Well holy shit
hang on, because Planet 9's going to be
 in retrograde for the next 10,000 years.
Anyway, the mathematically likely planet is mathematically probably about ten times the mass of Earth and takes between ten and twenty thousand years to complete an orbit around the sun. If and when it's finally observed it will bring us back up to nine planets, as anything that massive is sure to fit the definition of true planet. And that's good, because somehow eight planets seemed wrong, although astrology fans will have to scramble to incorporate a whole new planet into their crazy pseudoscience.

Hey, is it too early to talk names? Because I'd like to propose we name it after our dear, demoted Pluto. I know the discoverers usually get first dibs, but for real, I think this Mike Brown guy owes us one.
I give you the new ninth planet: Plutwo...wait,
no, that's terrible. How about Mega-Pluto?

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