In The Field

IAU: giving “planet” a polish

Attendees were asked to amend the planet definition resolution, as printed in the newspaper. “You will need a pen or a pencil,” said Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who is chairing the session. The audience duly rummaged in their bags. The changes were the addition of a few inverted commas for the category of ‘dwarf’ planets and a clarification on the situation of satellites.

Comments were taken, but no further changes were made to the first and main part of the resolution – that which defines planets, ‘dwarf’ planets and the rest. That was despite one man’s suggestion that “nearly round” and “has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit” required so much interpretation that the resolution had no meaning. “There is so much common sense in the resolution that I would propose to drop all the resolutions and keep footnote 1,” he said.

Oh yes, they laughed. Footnote 1 of resolution 5A, to remind you, stated that “The eight classical planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.”


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