Saturday, July 4, 2009

Trivia on Pluto

Ok... this is going to be LONG. LOL
I read this the other day and found it totally interesting. Maybe because i'm from the generation where it was never questioned whether Pluto was a planet or not... and now... my kids say nope it's not! Some neat scientific facts (or lack of) and basically just a knowledge builder. Quirky. Yes. My norm? Privately yes, on the blog no. LOL I like learning new things. :)
So anyhow... thought it was something some of you might enjoy also. Grab a cup o joe... or popcorn... it's about a ten minute read. :P And please excuse any typos - this is going to take a while to type out!!
"THAT WHOLE UNPLEASANT PLUTO THING" - From Uncle John's Plunges into the Universe 2002 (notice the date)
Is Pluto a planet or not? It depends on whom you ask.
In school, kids are taught that our solar system has nine planets, which are, in order of their orbital distance from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
But at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the high-tech museum/planetarium at New York's American Museum of Natural History, you'll be told that the solar system has only eight planets: Pluto's gone from the lineup.
A victim of the Death Star? Hardly. Pluto, already cold and lonely out there in the dark reaches of the solar system, has been unceremoniously demoted from the lineup by the Rose Center. Why did they do that? Because, "Pluto should assumerose center's director. One problem with the demotion: The International Astronomical Union, who one would suspect knows about this stuff, steadfastly maintains that Pluto is still a planet. The Rose Center is baldly bucking the scientific community.
So what's going on? Is Pluto a planet or not? How do you demote a planet in the first place? Is this just a case of New Yorkers being pushy? And what the heck is a Kuiper Belt and why does it have comets? Patience. All will be explained as we delve into the mysteries of Pluto, the planet that isn't a planet, except that maybe it is.
No matter what you call it, Pluto has always been the oddball of the solar system family. All the other planets fall comfortably into two groups: small, rocky, "terrestrial" planets - Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars - or large, gaseous affairs like Jupieter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. But Pluto fits neither description. It's pretty dinky relative to the other planets (less than 1,500 miles in diameter, which makes it smaller than several moons in the solar system, including our own, which scores 2,200 miles, ) but it's not especially rocky or gassy. It's more like a snowball, comprised of ice, some rock and nitrogen - its composition, in fact is rather like that of a comet.
There are other weird things about Pluto as well. First, while the rest of the planets orbit the Sun within a few degrees of the ecliptic (an imaginary plane on which Earth's orbit rests), Pluto's orbit is wildly off kilter, dipping above and below the rest of the solar system by more than 17 degrees. Pluto's orbit is dramatically elliptical as well: the point in Pluto's orbit closest to the Sun is nearly 1.8 billion miles closer than its most distant point. Pluto's orbit is so out of whatck, in fact, that for a brief period of time in every orbit, it's closer to the Sun than Neptune, traditionally the second farthest planet out. (No point hoping for a collision, however: thanks to Pluto's orbital tilt, its always far above Neptune when this happens.) Pluto's far-back position in the solar system is also a puzzle, since all the other small planets nestle close to the Sun, while the gas planets patrol the outer lanes of the solar system.
Even Pluto's discovery in 1930 was something of an accident. Astronomers were looking for a planet they thought was disturbing the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, which they figured would have to be roughly six times the mass of Earth. Clyde Tombaugh, working at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, found Pluto instead. As it happens, the Earth is 500 times more massive than Pluto (and the "perturbations" of the other planetary orbits were probably just errors in measurement,) but hey, who cares?
The important thing was that the good ol' U.S. had discovered a planet!! People went Pluto-crazy: even Walt Disney got into the act, naming Mickey Mouse's dog after the new discovery. For the next 60 years or so, Pluto was a planet, no question.
It took another discovery in 1992 to plant the seeds of doubt about Pluto's planetary status. That year, astronomers Dave Jewitt and Jane Luu discovered another object, similar to pluto's composition but much smaller, orbiting the Sun between Neptune and Pluto. The object, named QB1, was just the first of these sorts of objects to be found - since then, dozens have been discovered, some of them hundreds of miles in diameter, up to a third of the size of Pluto itself. They've been dubbed "Kuiper Belt Objects," after Gerald Kuiper, who decades earlier predicted the existence of such objects, a "belt" where they were located, and the idea that this belt is where many comets came from.
You see the problem. If all these new Kuiper Belt Objects look like Pluto, only smaller, wouldn't it also be fair to say that pluto looks just like these kuiper belt objects, only bigger? Couldn't Pluto simply be, as the Rose Centers director says, " The King of Kuiper Belt Objects?" The answer many astronomers give is: Of course its a kuiper belt object, but that doesn't mean it can't be a planet as well. Because here's the dirty secret about planets: There's not a good hard and fast definition of what a planet is.
Given that there's no absolute definition, here's how Pluto stacks up against its neighbors, including us:
*One defininition of a "planet" is an object that orbits the Sun and whose gravity is large enough that the object has compacted into spherical form ( a sphere being the most compact shape possible, from gravity's point of view - not counting a black hole, that is). Well, Pluto does orbit the Sun: and it is a sphere, so it passes by that definition. However, by that definition, so does Ceres, the largest of the asteroids, which is not given the courtesy of being known as a planet by contemporary astronomers. Some of the larger of the newly discovered Kuiper Belt Objects might also pass this planetary muster on closer inspection, but it seems unlikely they'll be elevated to planetary status, either.
* Another definition of "planet" might include the idea that a planet has to be massive enough to "sweep its lane" - that is, knock any big objects out of its orbital path. Here Pluto fails, as evidenced by the preponderance of Kuiper Belt Objects loitering between it and Neptune. On the other hand, there's a good chance that if Mercury was placed in Pluto's orbit, it wouldn't sweep the lane either. (There are no big objects in Mercury's orbit, but it's also parked next to the Sun, which helps clear things out.)
* Maybe a planet needs an atmosphere? Pluto's got one, at least part of the time - a thin nitrogen atmosphere that freezes out as Pluto moves toward the outer reaches of its orbit. But Mercury doesn't. How about moons? Pluto has Charon, which is half its diameter, making it the biggest moon in the system relative to the size of its planet. Once again Mercury fails, with no moon. Venus also has no moon, but it's indisputably a planet. It's Earth-sized, and has an atmosphere, as well.
* The planet controversy works in the other direction, as well. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system by far, but some stars have orbiting balls of hydrogen and helium gas that are several times larger than Jupiter and even generate heat, but are too small to be called stars in their own right. These objects are called "brown dwarfs" rather than planets.
Ultimately, the definition of a planet is whatever scientists say it is, and for now, that means that Pluto retains its planetary status. In February 1999, the International Astronomical Union put out a press release that stated, "No proposal to change the status of Pluto as the ninth planet in the solar system has been made by any Division, Commission, or Working Group of the IAU responsible for solar system science."
Take that, Rose Center!
Ok... so i typed all this out on my little laptop. I KNOW there are typos... praying i didnt totally erase whole paragraphs! LOL!
Now... I wish i had an updated article (by the same people) for 2008 or 09 !
As since they stated all the ways/whys/wherefores to planetary status - it makes no sense why Pluto is now NOT a planet?! LOL Except... that last statement ... someone from one of the divisions, commissions or working groups of the iau must have made a proposal... eh??
Uncle John's books are fascinating...enlightening... easy and fun to read... and fill you full of things that make you go "Hmmmmm!" :D Most things in the books are not this long. Most are one page or less, and some little teeny trivia things are all along the bottoms of the pages.
On these pages they are:
Lightning strikes earth somewhere over 17 million times a day or about 200 times a second.
Lightning travels 90,000 miles a second - almost half the speed of light.
Babies cry without tears for up to six weeks after birth.
Most snowflakes are 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch in width and height.
WHO KNEW?!?!?!? LOL (Uncle John's crew does!)
So there ya have it. Useless little trivia that maybe you'll remember, maybe you won't. But I BET all that knowledge about Pluto won't leave your brain any time soon!!
And then there's MY take on it all. I'm sure those of you that actually read my blog (not many lol) know where i stand on this one!
Our God is an AWESOME God... and He created this universe with all the amazing intricacies that it has, and everything works together like clockwork gears. Something that man is STILL TRYING to undertand and figure out! Same with the human body. Same with the eco system. It's absolutely AMAZING. And to think that some people think all of this happened because somehow things in the universe slammed together and created some ooze, that became all these wonderful amazing things!?? REALLY????? That is a much bigger make believe made up story than many people say that my God is! LOL Just cracks me up!!!!!!!
OK, with that.. and alllll those words... i'm signin off!!
Hope you have a wonderful awe inspired week!!
Bright blessings,
Bren :) ps .... one more thing to add! jeez... i know... can i fit any more words in here? LOL In case you have never been introduced to Uncle John - i urge you to go check them out!! Your HUSBAND/BOYFRIEND/FATHER/SON will be ABSOLUTELY THRILLED to get any of Uncle John's books. Guar-an-teed! They are bathroom readers - big thick books chock full of info that tickle them pink... they go into the bathroom to leave something... and they come out with something new! LOL Great birthday/Christmas/fathers day/ any day gift! (And yes... most of you women will get sucked in too! LOL ) Look for them at your local bookstore :)


moosecraft said...

Hi Bren! I feel the need to put a comment here... just to prove your not talking to yourself! LOL! That was a lot of Pluto typing...

Yay for you for passing along your newly found quilting passion!!!!! Have FUN! :-)

Brenis said...

LOLOLOL!!! THANKS Sharon!!!!!!!!!!! :D :D