Way Out

By Scribe8372

Feb 1, 2006 2:12pm

Good news to all residents of the planet Pluto: You definitely have company.

You’ll remember that last July a team of astronomers from the California Institute of Technology announced they had found a tenth planet—to which, for the time being, they could only assign the unwieldy name 2003 UB313.  It was in a long, elliptical orbit, circling the Sun once every 560 Earth years.  It was three times farther away than Pluto.

Was this a new, tenth planet?  Many astronomers—including Mike Brown, the head of the team that found it—had been arguing that Pluto didn’t qualify.  But Brown had given up, saying, in part, that Pluto is a planet because every six-year-old is told it’s a planet (we can only speculate if this is an argument of convenience).

Well, now a second team of astronomers has observed 2003 UB313, and they report in tomorrow’s edition of the journal NATURE that it’s quite a bit larger than Pluto—about 1,900 miles in diameter, compared to Pluto’s 1,400 miles.  Both bodies are smaller than our Moon, but they circle the Sun, and they’re both probably spheres…and if Pluto is large enough to be considered a planet, then this thing belongs to the club too.

A committee of the International Astronomical Union is mulling this, along with what to call 2003 UB313.  Mike Brown, who’s discovered several smaller objects beyond Pluto, has a suggestion, though he’s careful not to spill the beans.  The other planets and their moons are named for Greek or Roman gods, characters from Shakespeare, etc., but most of the good names are taken, so Brown has borrowed in the past from Inuit mythology.  Appropriate for worlds where the temperature is 400 degrees below zero.

(Brown has a Web site here.  No, he says, “Lila” will not be the name he suggests — that’s the name of his baby daughter.)


Energy Policy

I’m having this wonderful mind’s-eye image of all the late-night comedians, pouncing on the President for his complaint last night that “America is addicted to oil.”  A former oil executive from Texas, complaining? 

On the other hand, the book on last night’s speech is that he didn’t propose very much to get us un-addicted.  By 2025, he wants to replace 75% of the oil the U.S. imports from the Middle East?  That’s not a very large pledge; the top suppliers of U.S. oil imports are Canada and Mexico, according the Energy Information Administration.  The EIA (which has some interesting statistics here) reports that in 2004, the U.S. imported 10,088 barrels of oil a day, 2,400 of which came from the Persian Gulf. 

Gas taxes have been a non-starter for years; see our piece at here

George Stephanopoulos, last night and this morning, remarked that Mr. Bush’s text on energy policy sounded a lot like things Bill Clinton might have said — and Democrats might have been much more receptive if a Republican President hadn’t been doing the talking.

- Ned 

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