April 18th, 2005

krazy koati

Number nine will put you on the spot

You know, I really want somebody to find a tenth planet. Or at least to discover another planet in our Solar system, to head off people insisting the Moon is really a planet, or that if Pluto counts then Charon must, or similar pedantry. Historical usage and the name make it hard to sell the Moon as a planet, and Charon just doesn't cut it. Pluto gets in mostly from those decades everyone figured it had to be a gas giant or at least a twin to Earth because it'd be less convenient if it were tiny.

I don't have a specific reason for this feeling, or why it's strong enough to mention. It's not as if there's a shortage of wonderful and bizarre objects in the known solar system. Maybe I just never got over the disappointment of hearing there was a newly discovered planet, Chiron, between Saturn and Uranus, and learning it was only an asteroid. I've got dimmer memories of the discovery of Charon, maybe because it took a while to get it separated in my mind from Chiron.

Anyway, that's what I want today. A new planet, not some wimpy Kuiper Belt Object, but a real gas giant with weird chemistry and dozens of moons of sizes from post office box to Mercury-sized, in orbits reaching out to 50 million kilometers, and a bizarre ring structure to cap off the show. That's not too much to ask, is it? Just expand on the Pioneer anomaly a little ...

Trivia: Voyager 1's photograph of the Earth and Moon was added to the flight plan only after Voyager 2's launch, less than two weeks before its own liftoff. Source: ``Voyage of the Century,'' Bradford A Smith, National Geographic, August 1990.

Currently Reading: Asimov's New Guide to Science, Isaac Asimov.