September 22, 2005Planet, schmanet?
Nothing seems to have stirred the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define a planet quite like Caltech astronomer Mike Brown's July 29 declaration
that a new object his team discovered should be considered a tenth planet. The object, temporarily known as 2003 UB313
and nicknamed "Xena" by Brown and his colleagues, is larger than Pluto.
On August 4, the IAU said a formal name for the object would not be selected until its planetary status was resolved, but Xena can't be classed as a planet until an IAU panel proposes a definition for the term. Brown has called this status "committee limbo."
According to a report in today's Nature
, the panel working on defining "planet" is considering a radical solution: Ditch use of the word entirely unless it's preceded by some qualifier. But Iwan Williams, the committee's chair and an astronomer at Queen Mary, University of London, tells Astronomy
this isn't quite the case.
is premature — the report is not yet submitted," Williams says. "If any proposal on the lines that Nature
suggests does emerge, it would not be to cease to do anything. Simply, that we should define a set of objects — trans-neptunian planets, as opposed to trans-neptunian objects — that have a number of features in common." — Francis ReddyHurricane season affects NASA again
Less than a month after Hurricane Katrina damaged NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, the space agency is bracing for another storm. With the threat posed by Hurricane Rita to the greater Houston area, NASA closed Johnson Space Center (JSC) today.
JSC manages onboard activity for the International Space Station (ISS). During the closure, ISS's flight control will move temporarily to the Russian Mission Control Center in Korolev.
While a small emergency team will remain at JSC, the facility will not reopen until Rita has passed. — Jeremy McGovern