Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Planet, Non Planet, or A Small Constellation of Large Space Rocks - Pluto Discussed

Call it Pluto's revenge if you want, but apparently it seems to be teaching us a thing or two about our solar system, and causing us to re-consider our definitions. If you will recall a few years back Pluto got itself demoted as a planet, which messed up a few astronomy text books to say the least. Well, we haven't heard the last of this space rock, not by a long shot. Okay so, let's talk shall we?

There was an intriguing article in the New York Times titled; "Another Moon on Pluto Has Astronomers Aglow," by Kenneth Chang which stated; "It's like, since being kicked out of the planet gang, it's decided to form a rival solar system," said Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist and stand-up comic in Britain. "Good one Pluto, I say." Yes, that is funny isn't it, well they say "paybacks are a witch." Maybe, if we look really close Pluto is trying to tell us something, maybe it's just a large version of a particle physics constellation in tight formation? Hey, crazier things have happened in science.

So, if Pluto is not a planet, but it has moons, or orbiting space rocks, what is it then? Is Pluto part of its own system? Was it once a planet, but broke apart while the pieces stay tightly intertwined by gravity rotating around one-another? Would that make it more like a small constellation? Almost like a set of particles spinning around each other, can we use this model to estimate other similar systems in nature, both big and small?

If this constellation like system wasn't once a planet, is it in a long slow process of becoming one, perhaps waiting to fuse together in half a billion years? Would it take longer to do that, way out there on the edge of a solar system, or could it happen faster? Questions, lots of them, and we don't seem to know. In fact, we don't seem to know much about anything, including our own meandering definitions of what a planet or non-planet is these days.

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