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According to the latest news it looks like Pluto may be denied planet status after all. Rah!

One of these things is not like the others:

ciphergoth: (skycow)
Check out this list of solar system object by mass.

The Sun is by far the most massive object in the solar system, making up over 98% of the mass of the entire system. After that come the planets, starting of course with Jupiter, and finishing with Mercury. Then there's seven of the larger satellites: Ganymede, Titan, Calliso, Io, the Moon, Europa, and Triton. After that comes the newly-discovered trans-Neptunian object, 2003 UB 313, better known as "Xena".

After all that, you get Pluto. Less than one-twentyfifth of the mass of the next-smallest official planet, Mercury. Its orbit is so weird it crosses the orbit of Neptune for years at a time, and it's not in the ecliptic plane. Its likely composition: a big lump of cold rock.

It only barged its way into the planetary club because the presence of its moon Charon caused astronomers to believe that Pluto was much larger than it turned out to be. In fact Charon is practically as big as it is, with the result that rather than one orbiting the other, it makes more sense to describe it as a binary system, with both orbiting a single point in space, faces locked towards each other.

If Pluto is allowed to stay in the club, we'll have to allow in all sorts of dull riff-raff - not only Xena, but Ceres, Charon, and possibly others like Quaoar and Sedna. No-one will be able to remember the names of all the planets.

I implore the IAU to strip Pluto of planet status as soon as possible. It should count itself lucky that we allow it to stay in the solar system at all.
ciphergoth: (Default)
Here's Dr Chris de Freitas writing in the Guardian debating the reality of global warming. He writes:
There is no proof that humans are affecting global climate. The IPCC 2001 report endorses this view. It states: "The fact that the global mean temperature has increased since the late 19th century, and that other trends have been observed, does not necessarily mean that an anthropogenic [human-induced] effect on the climate system has been identified. Climate has always varied on all time-scales, so the observed change may be natural."
This is an astonishing piece of intellectual dishonesty. If you read the quote in context (last three paragraphs), you will quickly see that the report does not endorse the view that de Freitas is trying to attribute to it, and no-one who read it could think that it did. As you can see from the linked text, what they're saying paraphrases to something like "Just because temperature has changed doesn't prove that it's human-induced. To make a case that it's human-induced we need evidence X Y and Z, which we present here." And the global warming skeptics are quoting just the first half, and entirely reversing the meaning.

The really shocking thing about this - and the thing that should hopefully put paid to any suspicions anyone might harbour that global warming denialism is anything more than an oil-industry-funded effort to protect their profits from uncomfortable truths - is just how often this misrepresentation is trumpeted by the skeptics. I did a Google search for "the observed change may be natural". The first entry is the IPCC report itself, and the second is a blog entry discussing its misrepresentation. After that, it's forty-odd instances of people saying "The IPCC doesn't believe global warming is real, look". Sometimes you hear the story that the "Summary for policymakers" was "tacked on" and doesn't represent what the IPCC really felt. No, the IPCC think there's strong evidence for human-induced global warming, and the quote above is part of the way in which they say so.

I've recommended the science blog Deltoid here before; it was after reading this article pointing out one instance of the misrepresentation that I was motivated to do the Google search linked above, and find dozens of other examples.
ciphergoth: (Default)
I've become hooked on Tim Lambert's "Deltoid" blog (syndicated as [ profile] deltoid_feed) and in particular his coverage of global warming skepticism. If you're familiar with the way creationists argue you'll recognise the style of the people Lambert tirelessly refutes. It's fascinating and strangely compelling reading, not only to better understand climate change but as a great study in science and how it is misrepresented by special interests.
ciphergoth: (Default)
I thought I knew that quantum mechanics was mindbending, but I never anticipated this:

[[Elitzur-Vaidman bomb-testing problem]]

which is now proposed as a new way to build quantum computers!


Sep. 11th, 2005 01:25 am
ciphergoth: (Default)
spotted Cassiopeia, Cephus, Perseus, Aries, Triangulum, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cygnus, Lyra, Aquila, Saggita, most of which I've never spotted before. Sky good. Bed now.


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Paul Crowley

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