So, there are wars, undeclared wars that are raging anyway, terror threats… you name it, it’s going on. But what am I most interested in today? What could change my universe? What’s made me vow that I’ll listen to NPR all evening tomorrow and the next day? I’ll tell you: I want to know if Pluto’s really a planet. Astronomers are debating that question at this very moment, and they’ll vote on Wednesday.
Not only is this just SO COOL, but it is a wonderful lesson in the instability of facts, even scientific facts. Since 1930 we’ve “known” that there are nine planets in our solar system. Now, on Wednesday, we may end up with only eight. Imagine all the mnemonic devices we’ll have to pull out of elementary school text books. Imagine the text book windfall!
What’s holding them back? According to the guy on NPR tonight (via MPR), it has more to do with how familiar we all are with having nine planets than much else. Sure, there’s also the little issue of Pluto’s atmosphere… but that only got a one-sentence mention on the interview. The rest of it dealt with scientists’ debates over what it would take to change several generations’ concepts of our solar system. So, if everyone likes having nine planets, does that make Pluto a planet? Tune in Wednesday to find out.
[Update: At long last, here’s how it turned out.]