Monday, 25 April 2011

When Good Writers Stop Writing

I still have this link on my blog, and the last post was 2006. Still, I wish I'd written this:

Interplanetary whiskey on the rocks

Unfortunately very short on whiskey (some god or alien or something must have drunk it all a long time ago (Might explain a few things)), but there is absolutely no shortage on ice planets out there. At least if the suggestion put forth to the International Astronomical Union (Not an astronomical large union, just a group of astronomers deciding how big a piece of rock needs to be to be called a planet, and what the before mentioned planet is supposed to be called.) But first: How does the solar system look like today:

Well, smack in the middle you have a rather big yellow thingy, called the Sun. (You can see it during the day. It's the big yellow bright spot that appear to play hide and seek among the clouds up there... On occasion more hide than seek unfortunately.) (The Sun weighs 332950 times more than the Earth, for those that like numbers). Everything else that exist in the solar system orbits around this big yellow thingy. (With the exception of those rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the Sun. Or the rocks that obit the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbits the Sun. Or the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the Sun. Or the... You get the idea). Now, the biggest of these rocks that orbit the Sun is called planets. (They are not made purely of rock though. Also ice and gasses of differing type can be found, sometimes in much larger quantities that rocks.) The planets in our solar system is divided into three types. Type one is made of stone and metals, and orbit rather close to the Sun. The names of these are Mercury (Freakishly warm), Venus (Even warmer), Earth (We live here) and Mars (Red sandy place, with a lot of small human-made metal boxes in orbit). Type two is the humongous gas giants. They too are made of stone and metals, but as their name suggests, the main ingredient in these are gas. The end result is that the surface of these planets are somewhat unsurfacey, or to but it bluntly: They have a significant lack of one. The names of these planets are: Jupiter (The biggest planet in the solar system, some 318 times more massive than the Earth), Saturn (the nice one with the rings), Uranus (Cold place, orbiting on its back), and Neptune (Even colder). Now, the third type of planets, a type I honestly think should not be called planets at all, is Pluto. (Not named after Mickey Mouse's dog.) The ninth planet in the solar system is called Pluto, and is made of ice (and some rocks thrown in for good measure).

Ok, that's all the planets. There are however other things in the solar system. A few hundred moons (That are the rocks that orbit the rocks that orbit the sun), asteroids (A bunch of small rocks that orbit mostly between Mars and Jupiter. Usually seen together with big headlines in the newspapers like: “This rock might hit us in 2235”, and then a blurry picture of something that look like a peanut , pea or some other consumable) and blocks of ice to name a few. These blocks of ice (Pluto is one of them), orbit the sun very far out, and are divided into Kuyper belt objects and Oort cloud objects. (Depending on how far out they are.) When these lumps of ice come close to the sun, we see them as comets. (There happens to be at least a few millions of these Oort cloud and Kuyper belt objects).

For those that have gotten this far, congratulations. Just remember that next week you might have to learn all this over again. You see, that is when The International Astronomical Union is going to discuss what a planet really is. The problem is simple: They found some lumps of ice that are bigger than Pluto. Should these new lumps of ice be called planets? Or should we do the simple thing and remove the planet status of Pluto? (I know where my vote goes...)

The way it looks now, they are going to decide that Pluto is a planet. Also the fabulously named ice cube 2003 UB313 (The name is going to change), which is around the same size as Pluto, is also going to be called a planet. So 10 planets then? No.. Charon, Pluto's moon is also going to be called a planet from now on. As is Ceres, the biggest of the asteroids in the asteroid belt. (Ceres is about 950 km across. The trip to my grandparents and back is longer...) So, 12 planets then? Yes, sort of. At least for a couple of months. The thing is, there is a lot of lumps of ice out there. As it is now, astronomers have a list with lumps of ice they think are bigger than the lower limit for planets (about 800 km if the Astronomical Union do what it looks they are going to do). So, 20 planets then? 30? Maybe.. At least for now.

However, as telescopes get better and better, we will probably find more and more lumps of ice that satisfy the demands. So if some grandchild of yours should happen to go to school in 2104 or thereabouts, I sure hope he will not have to learn all the names of all the planets. It's probably going to be a few thousand of them, if not more...

Anyway, more on this madness can be found here. Enjoy. (There are also something about the nice cuddly Plutons on that page...)

(Oh, and for those that wondered: Summer holiday is nice. Also, please excuse any lame jokes you might have read during the last few minutes.)

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