in orbit

I mostly talk about video games and the world wide web

Aug242006

Peace Out, Pluto!

So, Pluto is no longer a planet. I guess if I had to care, I agree with it. Pluto was always a pretty shitty planet. First off its largest moon, Charon, is huge. So huge in fact that the barycenter of the planet/moon system is above Pluto's surface, making it the only planet to have this feature. On top of that it has a wacked out solar orbit that's on an incline from the other planets. So if you think of the other eight planets of orbiting mostly on a level plane to the Sun where they're each at the same 'height', tilt Pluto's orbit a bit so it's below the plane on one side and above it on another (like a see-saw). Finally, when viewed from above the orbit is not in line with the others. From 2/7/1979 until 2/11/1999 Pluto was closer to the Sun than Neptune and the rest of the time it's further from the Sun (every 300 years or so it switches with Neptune for anywhere from 15 to 30 years).

None of this stuff really matters though, because to be a planet the new requirements are:
  • Orbits around the Sun
  • Has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape
  • Has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.
The third point is not true for Pluto along with a couple other celestial bodies that would have become planets (like the asteroid Ceres) under the original proposal.

So, that's all for Pluto! Downgraded to a 'dwarf planet', how humiliating. But still, it was a planet for 76 years, which is a pretty good run. So in memory of Pluto, I've switched the in orbit background picture from Jupiter to Pluto. We still love ya, little guy!
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