Monday, March 15, 2004
Have we discovered a new planet in the outer regions of the solar system? NASA seems to think so. Two orbiting telescopes -- the Hubble Space Telescope, about which we've been ranting previously, and the Spitzer Space Telescope, a relatively new infrared observatory named after my Ph.D. advisor's Ph.D. advisor -- have both seen evidence for a relatively large new object. It might be as big as Pluto. Deciding that the Roman pantheon has become politically incorrect, the new object has been named "Sedna," after the Inuit goddess of the ocean.
This is fun, but not an earth-shaking (as it were) discovery, to be honest. There's likely to be all sorts of medium-sized rocky objects lurking in the far-flung regions of the Sun's orbit. And the debate about whether Pluto is really a planet was boring and silly. Probably there is an advanced civilization floating deep in the atmosphere of Jupiter, that spends coffee breaks arguing whether Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars should be classified as planets. (Okay, not "probably.") But the relentless series of new discoveries has to make the Hubble-killers uncomfortable.