02 February 2006

Today in the Science News: Part 1: Space Science

A "space policy" post follows, but will probably be the last in the science news series since I'll be commenting on it fairly extensively. But now, for space science!

Planet X, I mean Xena, not really a planet either:
It's apparently larger than Pluto, so if Pluto is a planet, then Xena definitely is, and Sedna and Quaoar probably are too.

Of course, there are only eight planets, so there's no debate at all.

Seriously: There is no commonly accepted definition of "planet," so you could say, "Yo momma's a planet!" and be perfectly accurate. The International Astronomical Union hasn't issued a definition, and may never, because it really doesn't matter. "Planet" is more a cultural word than a scientific term, so in that sense, yes, Pluto is a planet, and oddly, Xena, Sedna, and Quaoar may never be considered planets despite being comparable in size to Pluto.

Anyway, Jack M's momma is a planet.

Astronauts and radiology:
A recent study shows that protons cause twice as much serious damage to DNA as was initially thought. Since protons are fairly common in space, this finding suggests that astronauts are in more danger than we've thought. At the very least, we're going to need to have a closer look at these results.

NewScientistSpace vs. Space.com:
On the subject of a pair of Trojans orbiting Jupiter. Compare and contrast the two and notice how much more accurate the Space.com article is. The New Scientist headline is misleading, because the objects are comets, not asteroids, and it leaves out a lot of detail. And yet, the Space.com article is shorter and more readable. The NS article does focus more on the differing theories surrounding the Trojans, though.

Under the moons of Mars:
I forgot to wish happy anniversary to Spirit and Opportunity, which have each been on Mars for over two Earth years, despite having been designed to run only three months. Good work, little fellas!

Spirit is heading toward "Home Plate," and Opportunity is on its way to Victoria Crater. The article discusses the two features and what investigating them might uncover.

Self-healing spacecraft skin!:
This article is really interesting because the self-healing system these scientists have invented is analogous to our own repair functions. If the spacecraft is nicked, resin will bleed out of a network of tiny glass tubes to fill and harden in the nick, just as blood clots in shaving nicks.

No word on whether the spacecraft will need to use tiny squares of toilet paper to aid the clotting process.


Blogger Jack Michaels said...

As far as planets go, I don't think relative size is the determinative factor. After all, Titan and Ganymeade are both larger than Pluto and Xena, but no one (so far as I know) is pushing to have them redesignated as "planets" rather than "moons".

It's just difficult to "demote" an object that has so many planetary characteristics.

Pluto currently has an atmosphere that is thicker than Mercury's. Pluto has at least three identified moons. Pluto's surface composition and reflectivity are different (rockier and brighter) than other observed KBO's to date.

I'll over look the joke about my momma, onlybecause I don't want to have to break out my dozens of "Uranus" jokes in reference to your momma. :)

3:29 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Peel said...

Well, that's the thing. There isn't even a consensus on what characteristics (size, albedo, satellites, what have you) should define a planet. That's why I said it's really a cultural term. I think one of the scientists in the articles I linked even said that it wouldn't matter what they're called, because the scientists would know what they really were.

The main reason I don't consider Pluto a planet is that I contend that if it were discovered today, no one would consider calling it a planet.

As for Uranus...that's one planet where you just can't win no matter how you pronounce it. I usually stick with the original, scatological pronunciation. But please, Jack, Uranus jokes are so easy. Show a little creativity, dude.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Jack Michaels said...

Wow...I'm being lectured on creativity by the woman who brought out the "your momma" jokes.

I feel so...ashamed.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Peel said...

As you should, Jack. As you should.

Hey, check it out. I have a post that's tangentially about football.

4:52 PM  
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