Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
"Planet" Is What You Say It Is
Simply Use Pluto as a Minimum
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 12:07 pm
Regarding the demotion of Pluto as a planet, an astronomer once tweeted:
So, hey, Pluto is still not a planet. Actually, never was. We just misunderstood it for 50 years. Now, we know better. Nostalgia for Pluto is not a very good planet argument, but that's basically all there is. Now, let's get on with reality.
I'm sure this guy thought he pwned the folks defying Pluto's demotion. There's a nastiness in his tweet, isn't there? Not surprising, considering his handle is @plutokiller.

He's wrong, in any event.

"Planet" is not a designation like "baryon" or "lepton." There is nothing in the design of the universe that relies on some profound distinction between, say, a "planet" and a "dwarf planet." Sorry, but Pluto was a planet for 50 years. We said it was. We did not learn anything new about Pluto that would make it not a planet. 

What we did learn is that there's a lot of Pluto-like things out there, such as Eris and Sedna. So is Eris a planet? Is Sedna? If they are, we might end up with hundreds of "planets." Where would it end? Heck, would Ceres get promoted? How about Vesta?

"Planet" would become a useless designation.

So step back for a moment. What has been the historical definition of a planet? "Planet" initially encompassed the objects known as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This, then, is our foundation. What is common about these objects? Think a while and the definition arises:

A planet is not the Sun nor a star. That is, it does not engage in the fusion of elements, nor does it constitute the late-stage remnants of a fusing body.

A planet orbits a star. More precisely, its primary orbit has a star as a focus. Even more precisely: Once one has identified a solar system — a collection of objects gravitationally bound, as a unit, to one or more stars — a planet is an object that orbits not a fellow object but one of the stars.

A planet has sufficient gravity to maintain itself as a sphere. Its mass is essentially in a spherical equilibrium, if you will.

And finally, to keep our definition from including every beachball in a system: A planet is no smaller than Pluto.

Ta da.

You don't have to bother with any nonsense about an object clearing debris from its orbit. You don't have to worry about an absurd proliferation of "planets." This definition satisfies that sense we all have of "I know a planet when I see one."

Yes, Pluto is an edge case. Yes, it seems like it's just an upstart Kuiper-Belt object. But come on — Pluto has a substantial moon, its orbit periodically brings it closer to the Sun than Neptune, and it stood out enough among the objects of our system to be noticed without fancy space-borne telescopes.

Besides, there is a lot to be said for nostalgia. Nostalgia is also respect for continuity. Science doesn't have to be constant — and snarky — upheaval.

P.S. "Dwarf planet" is a stupid term. So is it a planet or not? Is a "giant planet" not a planet? For planet-like objects smaller than Pluto, there should be a distinctive noun, akin to "planetoid."

It Doesn't Give You Cooties
Use the Proper Pronouns
Friday, March 10, 2017 3:58 pm
I enjoy Jim Gaffigan, the comedian. Yes, once you've watched his specials repeatedly, you see the patterns in his subject matter. But I enjoy him a lot.

During one bit he says this as a prelude to the main joke:
A woman can grow a baby inside their body. And then somehow a woman can deliver a baby through their body. And then by some miracle a woman can feed a baby with their body.
"Their"? I know he is speaking as we have all been forced to speak. But even when the sex of the person in question is quite known and unavoidable, he can not say "her." Again, this is commonplace these days. But what is really sad is that no part of him cringes; no part of him recognizes the hideous solecism.

You can argue that language changes. So, yes, the loss of the generic "he" is leading to a loss, too, of sex-specificity in pronouns, at least for abstract males and females. So language happens. Language is what people speak. But it is truly a loss when a "woman" is no longer a "she" but is just another "they."

Anyhow, resist this nonsense. If you can't bring yourself to use the generic "he" when the sex is unspecified (and if you can't, you're silly), at least use the sex-specific pronoun that is appropriate to a subject that is clearly male or female.
StoryHack #6
Stupefying Stories #23
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