August 17th
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“Planet” Gets A New Definition

Thursday, August 17th, 2006 at 15:44 by Simon Kimber

After a number of minor head injuries, and an almost equal number of broken telescopes, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) have stopped the fighting at this year’s convention in Prague and issued a proposal for a new definition of what constitutes a planet.

The gist of it is that any object large enough to generate its own gravitational pull and drag itself into a sphere should, say the IAU, be considered a planet. Unsurprisingly, despite this being the result of over two thousand astronomers from 75 countries debating for two years, there are still just as many who are throwing their star-charts out of the pram in disgust.

The new rules, if followed strictly, would mean that our solar system would go from its current 9 planets to a somewhat more crowded 53.  Rumour has it that NASA are already seeking funding to develop an updated rhyme for school children.

We can probably credit most of the recent attention that this subject has been getting to the discovery last year of an alleged tenth planet. The object, nicknamed Xena - doing nothing to help disprove any stereotypes, is larger than Pluto, but believed by some to be nothing more than a big ball of ice. This in turn called into question Pluto’s own status as a planet and thus did battle commence.

The most likely resolution looks to be the creation of a new class of celestial body called a “Pluton”.  Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune will become known as the “Classical Planets” while the new classification will apply to Pluto, Xena and a couple of others, Buffy and DS9 perhaps?

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