Neil deGrasse Tyson makes appearances on both The Daily Show and Rachel Maddow

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

We have two Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews from yesterday, one with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show and another with Rachel Maddow. The one on the Daily Show is more on space itself and some of Stewart's frustration (shared by us all) on why we aren't roaming the stars yet, while the one with Rachel Maddow is all about Pluto since deGrasse Tyson recently made a documentary about the planet.

I have a good idea to resolve the dispute over Pluto being a planet or not. Let's remember that a dwarf planet really is a type of planet; otherwise it wouldn't have the word planet there. But the word dwarf sits in front there and seems a bit distracting. Maybe we should lengthen the name and put the adjective on the end. Turn it into a planet of minor stature or planet of minor scale or something along those lines instead. This isn't just to resolve the Pluto issue either, since a definition that includes a condition that a planet clears its orbit will be pretty difficult to resolve once we are able to detect exoplanets of that size. Have they cleared their orbit or not? It'll be next to impossible to confirm whether a planet perhaps a fifth the mass of Mercury in another solar system has actually cleared its orbit or not, but we will be sure that it has hydrostatic equilibrium so at the very least we know that it's a sphere.

Or we could simply place more focus on the different types of planets there are out there. There are minor/dwarf/etc. planets, then terrestrial planets, then gas giant planets, and so on. This classification already exists, but the way the current system works we still place Mars next to Jupiter as being a planet when Jupiter is some 3200 times more massive, and thus when a tiny thing like Mars gets included with Jupiter while Pluto is not it can look rather out of place. So instead of memorizing planets in the order of their distance from the Sun, something like this would be a better way to do it.

Gas giants - Jupiter, Saturn, Ouranos (Uranus), Neptune
Terrestrial planets - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars
Minor/dwarf planets - Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, Eris

And yes, that means that students have to memorize more than nine planets. Big deal. The universe is big. Live with it.

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