Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Planet Issue

Below I commented on the link to this blog from Seed Magazine where they said that one could find out about Pluto being a planet or not in this blog. I wrote that I will not write about this issue at all because I find it unimportant. They now have even added a reply, correcting their "mistake". :-)

Maybe my choice of words was provocative, but for some reason, most of the links to this blog seem to be about these three lines and how bad they are. I will now list the major critics and adress them. Some wrote that:
1. I was a snobbish extra-galactic astronomer bashing planetary science.
2. I had forgotten where my money came from and that popularising is important.
3. Even if this topic may be unimportant, it attracts attention and all popular attention to astronomy (or the IAU) is good.
4. I should have written about it.

My replies:
1. This could not be further from the truth. Yes, this subject is quite remote from what I do myself, but finding out how the solar system came about is great science and with the discovery of extra-solar planets, this topic is deservedly becoming more and more popular among astronomers.

2. Of course it is! Popularising is immensely important and I think that every astronomer is aware of that. But isn't it somehow logical, that I try to do that in my own field? To justify that what I myself do is interesting and important? If that is not possible and unapplicable, I totally agree that planetary science is a popular topic. When I do popular shows at our old refractor I certainly do not point at feeble galaxies, but at the moon and the planets.

3. Now we come to the point where I disagree. Attention for astronomy is good, yes. The topic, if Pluto is a planet, and how to define a planet has gotten attention, yes. Does that make it good automatically? I think not and here is why: It is semantics and not science. It creates the (almost totally wrong) impression in the public that what astronomers do is sitting in committees and debate what a planet is. Is that what they are willing to give tax money for instead for new discoveries? I doubt it. In addition, it takes the media attention away from real science (including planetary, in case you missed point 1.) and I think I am far from the only one who feels misrepresented by this issue.

4. Must I write about everything? I think everyone has to make choices because you cannot cover all. I wrote about this meeting from my own perspective and the meaning was to give people a glimpse of what is going on here. I chose to ignore the "planet issue" and hope it became somehow clear why.