Thursday, August 17, 2006

Expanding the Solar System, Part 2

I now have a meta-perspective on my nomadic lifestyle, or mobile ministry, as one faithful reader put it: I'm a planet! The word planet comes from the Greek for "wanderer". My gravitational field keeps me in a smaller orbit than the Heavenly bodies that wandered into our galactic orbit and remained there; nonetheless, the "as above, so below" correspondence holds a satisfyingly familiar ring, perhaps akin to one of Saturn's (my First House planet, for the astrologically adept.)

Now we're expanding our sphere of influence and inclusiveness, as it were, opening the Milky Way to connections with other confections.

Celestially speaking, the International Astronomical Union has honed its definition of a planet to the following two conditions:

• The object in question must be in orbit around a star, but must not itself be a star, and
• It must have enough mass for the body's own gravity to pull it into a nearly spherical shape.

According to a report filed by the BBC, "Any object with a mass greater than 0.6% that of our Moon and a diameter greater than 800km would normally meet the second condition. But borderline cases will have to be resolved by more observation.

Some objects currently considered to be moons and asteroids could be eligible if they meet those basic tests. So the definition leaves the door open for other objects to join the expanding club."

It means Pluto has been demoted to the status of "pluton", along with Charon, (the temporarily named) UB313, and the asteroid Ceres. The IAU's proposal now recognizes eight "classical" planets - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

What's a pluton? Not a crunchy space salad treat. According to the IAU, plutons "reside in orbits around the Sun that take longer than 200 years to complete, circle the Sun with high 'inclination' (are highly tilted with respect to the classical planets) and typically have orbits that are far from being perfectly circular."

Yet--plutons fit all the criteria of the new definition of a planet, so Pluto does not receive a full "demotion". And over a dozen other new candidates now vie for planetary status:

Trans-Neptunian Objects
2003 EL61
2005 FY9
2002 TX300
2002 AW197


This is certainly one way of expanding our galactic reach--and while certainly cosmological, it's not necessarily cosmic in scope. Stay tuned to both inner and outer dimensional frequencies for updates. Conscious evolution is a level playing field. Only requirement: a steadily opening mind.

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