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17 August 2006 @ 11:16 am
Brave New Worlds  

Ceres, Europa & Xena 
Welcome to the Family! *hugs*

So we've finally started family planning for our solar system - the latest addition, a series of triplets causing chaos. For bloody AGES astronomers have been pointing at the sky going, 'that's a planet' 'nah - nope you're not' and 'you can join but not you, you runt'. etc etc, but now, they're finally setting the bar straight - ish.

The International Astronomical Society met in Prague for the first time in 76 years to settle this ancient fuede and the final vote will be conducted by 2500 astronomers; but at the moment, this is how it works.

From this point onwards there will be 9 classical planets. Our old favourites Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter,  Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. (notice Pluto's exemption).

Public sentiment for Pluto is at an all time high - so stricking it from the planet club is not an option, now, there is a new classification of planet called, 'Pluton' after Pluto. The definition for this category is as follows:

An object may be classified as a planet if it:

*Is in orbit around a star and is not (a) a star or (b) a satellite of another planet.

*Is large enough for its gravity to pull its mass into an almost sphereical shape.

*This means it must be at least 900km across.

*It's orbit must be stable.

Great - so basically there's several hundred potential Plutons out there but for now, here are the ones lucky enough to have achieved a place.

1 Ceres: (seer'-eez)

Named after the Roman goddess of plants and motherly love, this little bunchkin was the first asteroid to be discovered. The '1' is part of its name indicating that it is actually THE first discovered on January 1, 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi. Although it boasts rights as the largest asteroid in the inner asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) it's not exactly huge - barely 950km in diameter. This is the second time it has held the title of planet in a 150 years after it relinquished its initial claim.

Ceres was originally Ceres Ferdinandea after both the goddess and King Ferdinand III of Sicily - the last part of the name was striken from record as it did not comply with the convention of naming extra planetary objects after mythical creations.

Ceres orbits between Mars and Jupiter making it the 5th planet from the sun and is heavy enough to account for 1/3 of the mass in the asteroid belt.

Charon: (shair'on)

Poor Charon wallowed away its existance as the 'moon' of Pluto since its discovery by James Christy on June 22, 1978. 'Moon' is a term used quite loosly as Charon was nearly as big as Pluto technically making it a double planet system. Its orbit is the same as Pluto, lying way out in between the gas giants Saturn and Uranis occasionally slipping out beyond Uranis. It's really hard to say which planet it is from the sun because Pluto and Charon continuously switch places.

Charon and Pluto are not alone out there in the cold of space - Pluto also houses two other moons, Nix and Hydra which are really just captured asteroids.

In greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman of the dead, (with close mythical ties to Pluto). It is slighly larger than Ceres at 1 207km (half of Pluto) and is covered with nitrogen and methane ices. (So no smoking please even if there is less volatile water ice on the surface).

Charon and Pluto complete a revolution of each other every 6.387 days and orbit 19 570km apart.

Xena: (2003 UB-313)

Not even old enough to have an offical name, Xena was a Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) now set to be our 12th planet. Its discovery was kept under wraps for a while with 'Lila' serving as a code name for the object. Xena was discovered by a team consisting of Michael Brown, Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz on the 5th January 2005 but wasn't announced until late July.

Like Pluto, Xena is technically part of the large asteroid belt called the Kuiper Belt which is the last solar system cluster until the distant Oort Cloud.

Yes - before you ask, its name is coined from the famous television show Xena: Warrior Princess where the 'x' also pays tribute to Percival Lowell's Planet X. Basically, they admitted to always wanting to nickname something Xena - and now they have, so they're happy. According to Kuiper Belt naming law, it must be named after a figure in creation mythology but it's going to be a firece battle with public and scientific communities clingling tightly to their sci-fi reference. *cling*

Up for Adoption: 

This whole debate re-ignited with the discovery of Quaoar, a Kuiper Belt object orbiting in a circular path well outside that of Pluto. Because of all the trouble it caused, (and trust me, it was a lot), this little object was named after the God of Chaos himself. Despite its impact in the Astronomical world, it missed out on its chance to become a Pluton along with several other canidates. Sedna in particular, (sleeping happily in the Oort Cloud) is larger than Charon and Pluto smooshed together. It is likely that if the vote is passed for the new planetary definition, these, and other objects, will be quick to leap into our little solar family.

Bill: headdeskbilly_red_ocean on October 5th, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
You know what? this is still confusing the heck outta me.
I read about this in a pseudo newspaper I got from the guy next to me on the beach and was what? Pluto isn't a planet anymore but Xena is? what? I should probably go back to school to attend some astronomy classes...