Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pluto Isn't Even the Largest Dwarf Anymore

It seems like only yesterday Pluto was bumped from a planet to a dwarf planet. But back then it was still considered the largest dwarf planet! Which is kind of like being the youngest octogenarian. Now astronomers bump Pluto down even further with news that Eris nee Xena is a hair bigger:
The key to finding Eris' mass was its tiny moon, Dysnomia. Brown and Schaller used Keck and Hubble to capture images of the moon's position over time.

. . . .

The researchers also calculated the total mass of the pair—about 1.27 times that of Pluto—and revealed that the objects are made of around 70 percent rock, making them as dense as Pluto and Triton, a moon of Neptune.

. . . .

"And since the mass of Dysnomia is insignificant compared to Eris ... we really are just calculating the mass of Eris."

. . . .

[Caltech's Michael E.] Brown's work on the region helped spur the International Astronomical Union to make the decision to distinguish between planets and dwarf planets.

With that, Pluto became the ambassador for all of its neighbors in the Kuiper Belt: planetary science's next frontier. But ambassador is a step down from Pluto's planet status and even its more recent conciliatory title, "King of the Kuiper Belt."
Link (via Fark). So what will Pluto's new title be? I vote for god of the underworld.

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Image credits: The Dwarf Sebastián de Morra, Diego Velásquez, 1644, Spain.


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