Was I the only one floored by Friday’s illogical attack on astronomy?
I sorely hope it is the former.
First, I find it arrogant that the Oregonian editors would presume to know what is best for celestial bodies, rather than an international consortium of astronomers. Auto technicians do not berate them for their choices of column width, because expertise, generally, is left to the experts.
This editorial is polemic better suited to propaganda than to educated discourse. What is with the harping about redemption and the Taliban? (Hello, Reinhard!) “Pluto’s crime seems to be that it exists”? What are they talking about? There is no crime being discussed, or judgment being passed.
The reclassification of the term "planet" (by those they term “effete, inbred” astronomers—nothing like brazen insults to get your point across) seems to make them believe that this has somehow downgraded Pluto, making it less than it once was.
They are evidently unaware that any definition of planet that included Pluto would have added anywhere from 3 to 50 celestial bodies to the planetary canon. It is obvious that Jupiter, Mars, and even our own Earth belong to a different class than 2003UB313, a Scattered Disk Object which angles 44 degrees beyond the ecliptic. Kuiper Belt Objects are markedly different than the eight planets in the ecliptic disk of the Sun, and deserve to be categorized differently. Any rational distinction puts Pluto on the other team. Sorry if it makes you sad, but science is callous that way.
The editors prove themselves ignorant when they decry the “death penalty for Pluto,” despite the fact that it is alive and well—or, at least, materially unchanged since yesterday. The change of classification from “planet” to “dwarf planet” hardly constitutes planetary demise.
Further, they prove themselves both blind and careless when on the front page, they caption a photo of Pluto and its three satellites as “show(ing) two moons around Pluto.” There are, in fact, four celestial bodies in the photo: Plato, Charon (nearly superimposed, but still evident), Hydra, and Nix.
Charon’s status, as a dwarf planet or as a satellite, is still ambiguous according to the current definition, especially since the barycenter of the Pluto-Charon orbit is outside of the surfaces of both planets. This may qualify the duo as a “double-dwarf-planet system,” and this uniqueness alone will ensure that they will not be forgotten among deep space debris.
This interesting convolution could have been used to further the debate. But the editorial did not even use the term "dwarf planet," leading the reader to believe that Pluto had been cast out into the nether reaches for good.
By their own admission, the editorial board “take(s) issue with their decision, not on their chosen grounds of technical merit, but on grounds of accepted procedure.” What accepted procedure do they refer to for celestial classification? This has never been done before (at least, not without the Catholic Church threatening heresy for a wrong answer) and I feel professional astronomers are those best suited to do it.
If the Big O editorial board is upset that they were not consulted, their inflammatory ignorance is proof that they are eminently unqualified to contribute to the discussion.
The presence of such blathering is an embarrassment to Portland’s biggest newspaper. I long for an educated, considered presence in our editorial pages, but so long as the proud ignorance of this kind is tolerated—nay, trumpeted—then I fear that the intellectual discourse of which Portland is capable will be continually discarded in favor of angry, illogical opinions.
If this was, in fact, a joke, then it was light on the humor and heavy on the vitriol. Had it been at least factually correct, maybe I would have gotten the joke. But living with a media dominated by conservative polemicists, I have trouble finding angry ignorance to be funny.