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Friday, August 25, 2006

What is a planet?


It impresses that 2 700 astronomers of several parts of the world (International Astronomical Union's –IAU-), congregated in Prague, with the express end to define a certain prolonged and at times sour dispute : what heavenly bodies of our solar system (SS), deserve the term of planets. All it in reason to certain astronomical particularities exhibited since their discovery (1930), by Pluto (2360 km of diameter), a small, extreme planet, extremely cool, with almost absent gravity and whose orbit travels certain extreme stretch of our SS (Kuipert Belt), where not a few ice bodies, similar to Pluto abound. The explosive of this dispute was the discovery in the Kuipert Belt, of a heavenly body (Xena. 2003. UB313), of similar characteristics, although of greater diameter than Pluto. Then, if Pluto is a planet ¿why not to add Xena, to the list of our known planets?. If we had added -in the condition of planet- to Xena and other similar bodies (moons and asteroids), we will have now 50 or more planets.
Yesterday Pluto was disqualified as planet, because: 1) its quite steeply, oblong, inclined orbit, not alone travels around Kuipert Belt -but also around the Sun- overlapping in certain points the orbit of Neptune. Somewhat absurd, because we cannot adapt the planetary orbits to our private criteria 2) part of its orbit has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit (filled with many frozen heavenly bodies). On the other hand if we clean the orbit of Neptune, Pluto will disappear. So much the Earth and Jupiter travel for routes sown of asteroids and other heavenly bodies. Likewise, large heavenly bodies attract other bodies with forces of gravity during their travels 3) In addition, the definition of planet, requires that the heavenly body to consider be of certain size (although not so large, that consume its own energy, like the stars do it), in order to have sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape. To discuss, because the adoption of spheric forms spread all the bodies, lacking central holes. 4) not to be satellite of another heavenly body 5) to orbit around a star (Sun).

Beeing disqualified Pluto, passes to dress the undershirt of "dwarf planets" : Ceres (the largest acquaintance asteroid, located between Mars and Jupiter. 960 km x 932 km), Charon (Moon of Pluto, 1250 km of diameter. Belt of Kuipert) and Xena (2003 UB313. 3000 km of diameter. Belt of Kuipert). Certainly these definitions, descriptive, based on gravity movements and orbital criteria, still being teaching and adaptative, are distant a lot of seeing the real essence of a planet, that is knowing if a heavenly body is capable of harboring life or to be terraformed. Ceres for example is an almost an habitable asteroid. Aside from the previous thing it is necessary to comment the voting procedure carried out yesterday (24/08/06), with barely 424 astronomers (of a total of 2700). Many did not vote because they had to travel. The proposal to vote for e-mail is correct since it would permit that the 100% resolve, avoiding not representative or manipulated votings, as suggests it Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, lider of the launch of the robotic probe New Horizons (launched on January 2006, to arrive to Pluto on 2015).

Que es un planeta?

Impresiona que 2 700 astrónomos de varias partes del mundo (International Astronomical Union’s –IAU-), se hallan congregado en Praga, con el expreso fin de definir una cierta, prolongada y a veces agria disputa : que cuerpos celestes de nuestro sistema solar (SS), ameritan el calificativo de planetas. Todo ello en razón a ciertas particularidades astronómicas exhibidas desde su descubrimiento (1930), por Plutón (2360 km de diámetro), un planeta extremo, pequeño, sumamente helado, con gravedad casi ausente y cuya órbita transita cierto trecho extremo de nuestro SS (Cinturón de Kuipert), donde abundan no pocos cuerpos helados, semejantes a Plutón. El detonante de esta disputa fue el descubrimiento en el cinturón de Kuipert, de un cuerpo celeste (Xena. 2003. UB313), de caracteristicas similares, aunque de diámetro mayor al de Plutón. Si Plutón es un planeta ¿porque no añadir a Xena, a la lista de nuestros planetas conocidos?. De haberlo hecho, hubiesemos tenido que añadir -a la condición de planetas- decenas de cuerpos similares, incluidos lunas y asteroides.

Ayer Plutón fué descalificado como planeta, porque : 1) su órbita bastante oblonga e inclinada, no solo discurre por el cinturón de Kuipert -sino que en su recorrido alrededor del Sol- se solapa con la órbita de Neptuno. Algo absurdo, porque no podemos adaptar las órbitas planetarias a nuestros criterios particulares 2) parte de su órbita dista de ser limpia (esta tachonada de cuerpos celestes helados). A discutir, porque si limpiaramos la órbita de Neptuno, Plutón desapareceria. Tanto la Tierra como Júpiter transitan por rutas sembradas de asteroides y otros cuerpos celestes. Asimismo, los grandes cuerpos celestes atraen otros cuerpos a efectos de la gravedad durante su recorrido 3) En adición, la definición de planeta, exige que el cuerpo celeste a considerar sea de cierto tamaño (aunque no tan grande, que consuma su propia energia, como lo hacen las estrellas), a fin de que por autogravedad, condicione una forma redondeada a su superficie. A discutir, porque hacia la adopción de formas esféricas tienden todos los cuerpos, carentes de agujeros centrales. 4) no ser satélite de otro cuerpo celeste 5) orbitar alrededor de una estrella (Sol).

Descalificado Plutón, pasa a vestir la camiseta de los “planetas enanos” : Ceres (el asteroide más grande conocido, ubicado entre Marte y Júpiter. 960 km x 932 km), Charon (Luna de Plutón, 1250 km de diámetro. Cinturón de Kuipert) y Xena (2003 UB313. 3000 km de diámetro. Cinturón de Kuipert). Por cierto estas definiciones, descriptivas, basadas en criterios de gravedad y movimientos orbitales, aún siendo didácticas y adecuativas, distan mucho de ver la esencia real de un planeta : saber si un cuerpo celeste es capáz de albergar vida o estar en capacidad de ser terraquizado. Ceres por ejemplo es un asteroide casi habitable. Aparte de lo anterior es necesario comentar la votación realizada el último dia (24/08/06), con apenas 424 astrónomos (de un total de 2700). Muchos no votaron porque tuvieron que viajar. La proposición de votar por correo electrónico es correcta ya que permitiria que el 100 % dirima, evitando votaciones no representativas o, “manipuladas” como lo sugiere Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, lider del lanzamiento de la sonda New Horizons, a arribar a Plutón, el 2015.

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