Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Things Are What They Are



In 1930 the object, Pluto, was discovered in orbit around the sun. In the latter part of the 19th century it had been suggested that the orbit of the planet Neptune was being disturbed by another planet. Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona began searching for this theoretical planet in 1906, but it was not discovered until 14 years after Lowell’s death in 1916. Until 2006 Pluto was considered to be the 9th planet in the solar system, although its status had been questioned after the discovery of the more massive object, Chiron, in the late 1970s.
In 2006 the International Astronomical Union defined the word “planet,” and according to the new definition, Pluto was demoted to “dwarf” planet, a category that includes any objects similar to Pluto. Pluto has been a regular planet for so long, however,  that its demotion has caused a huge controversy, not only among astronomers, but also within the general population.
Now McDonalds UK has entered the fray; the new Happy Meal boxes proclaim that "the solar system is made up of all the planets that orbit our sun," and that "there are 9 planets in total." This begs the question, “What are all those other things, e.g. asteroids and comets, that orbit the Sun? If they are not part of the Solar System, what are they?”
The German Aerospace Center now suggests that there are three types of planets: the eight regular planets, a growing number of dwarf planets, and a large number of irregular planetoids.
I do not wish to debate whether or not Pluto is a planet, planetoid, asteroid or hemorrhoid. This whole brouhaha is an illustration of a human problem that we don’t normally recognize: our language. Whatever these objects really are, we cannot even think about them until we give them a name.
So lets step back and ask, “What is a system?” Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary defines an astronomical system as “a number of heavenly bodies, [Editor’s note: non-human, I presume]  associated and acting together according to natural laws.” So under that definition, the Solar System includes all celestial bodies operating under the influence of the Sun.
But my point is: they are nothing to us until we give them a name and put them into a category. It’s like the baseball umpire said, “There are balls and there are strikes, but they are nothing until I call them.” This is true whether we are speaking about planets, bees or automobiles.
The only exceptions to this rule are events that we feel internally, i.e. the emotions. In fact, we can actually destroy them by speaking about them. Think about it. And comment below.

A Last Look At Summer

I thought I would give everyone an opportunity to take one last look at summer before the really cold weather sets in. A bunch of us took a trip to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Click here to see what we saw.

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