Wednesday, July 22, 2015

But what about Ceres?

A lot of astronomy is built out of mistakes, misunderstandings, fuzzy reasoning, insults, pop culture, and so forth.  In other words: its pretty much like everyone else.

The big bang was neither a big nor a bang.  The name was a pejorative coined by someone who wanted to make the entire idea sound as absurd as possible.

Planets are wanderers.  Except... they're moving a hell or a lot less than the "fixed" stars since they remain in the same solar system as us while the fixed stars feel no such restraints.

Asteroid literally means "starlike" --or "starish" if you prefer-- but they're not remotely like stars.

The number of planets in the solar system was once in the 20s and climbing before we decided that the asteroids didn't really count.  Hence the title of this post.  Ceres was a planet, then it wasn't.  Now, at last, it is a (dwarf) planet again.  For some reason no one cares about her as much as Pluto.  (Because Pluto has a dog named after him?  Because Pluto is male?  Because people don't like harvest goddesses?  I don't know.)

Anyway, I try to avoid the news.  I try, but it seeks me out.  It crashes in on my self imposed bubble and threatens to send me spiraling back into depression and hopelessness in spite of my medication.  Except... sometimes the news is good.

Remember that probe we shot off toward Pluto?  It finally got there.  You probably already knew that, but I only just noticed.

When Pluto joined Ceres in the new category of dwarf planet, the best image we had of Pluto was a few pixels.  Almost everything was guesswork.  Now we know what it looks like.

As you might imagine, it's fucking awesome.

So say hello to the tenth planet (if you thought "9th" then shame on you; Ceres!) if you haven't already, and look at the pretty, pretty pictures.


  1. Yes, I saw! Chris Hadfield's been posting some of the pictures on his Tumblr.

    Today I wore a "Pluto: 1930 - 2006. Revolve in Peace" T-shirt Mom bought me at the Boston Museum of Science gift shop a few years back, and I commented that the pattern of light and dark patches on the shirt's Pluto was outdated.

    (It didn't take long for people to start using the newly-known pattern on T-shirts.)

  2. Well, going by original observations: planets are the things that move relative to the stars (and that aren't the sun or the moon, or ephemeral like meteors). Asteroids are pinpoints of light like stars, rather than resolvable discs like planets. And renaming stuff later is a pain.

    (And there are people who are trying to get starfish renamed "sea stars" because they aren't fish.)