View Full Version : Discussion: 10th Planet Controversy

2005-Aug-09, 04:44 PM
SUMMARY: José Luis Ortiz had no idea that his announcement on July 29th of the discovery of a big Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) would kickstart one of the most confusing and controversial days for the astronomical community in recent years. The astronomer from Sierra Nevada Observatory, Spain, sent an e-mail detailing his findings with the subject "Big TNO discovery, urgent" to a mailing list for astronomers. A few hours later, reports surfaced on some astronomical websites indicating that the object found by Ortiz, designated as 2003 EL61, was twice as big as Pluto, but they were quickly dismissed by Ortiz.

View full article (http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/10th_planet_controversy.html)

What do you think about this story? Post your comments below.

2005-Aug-09, 07:30 PM
Wow. I can see Ortiz's consternation, but I also understand what Brown was rightly doing. It really isn't enough to say you saw something when you really don't know what it is you saw. But to wait until you fully know that something is really a bit too long sometimes. Thanks for 'the rest of the story'.

2005-Aug-09, 08:24 PM
I agree - I think that just being able to confirm orbit and get an idea about size would be enough to allow disclosure. I also agree with Brown that however it plays out, there is no set rule that states you absolutely must disclose new objects. I would temper this within the contraints of observing objects that won't just die out, like a supernova. I also find it interesting that their observing logs had already been used.

2005-Aug-09, 10:16 PM
This is a nice little article. It is about time that the dirty laundy swirling around these discoveries is aired. I realized the implications of how these findings were handled immediately and am forced to side with the Spaniards. In my original post on the day these discoveries were announced, I used the word "hoarding" to describe Brown's behavior in concealing them for months. I can see his point about not announcing the findings right away in order to be more certain, but waiting months and years before announcing them? What is the point of that except to enhance his sense of prestige by being able to provide details or perhaps to alleviate an unusualy large insecurity complex regarding the veracity of his findings?
At some point the right of the scientific community to know and study the objects in question, which was not surprisingly quite high, outweighs personal concerns about them. And I think every scientist has a duty to the rest of the community to share important discoveries in a timely fashion. I also immediately thought of the possibilty that Brown and his colleagues got scooped more by creative research methods online (hacking) rather than by mere chance. There likely will be no way to prove this, but in a way the fate is somewhat deserved since Brown did not conceal the secret he was keeping very well in his zeal to tantalize the community with his abstracts.
Perhaps it is best to consider this a lesson for future discoveries. Hopefully the lesson learned will not be how to keep secrets better by covering one's tracks.

2005-Aug-09, 11:25 PM
Hi everyone,

What happened to "Sedna" the 10th planet that was named after the Indian princess?

How can this planet be the 10th if Sedna was 10th?

Did I miss something in the news?



2005-Aug-10, 12:01 AM
Quaoar and Sedna and now three more???? Has there been any difinitive answers on any of them?

Merry but totally :huh: confused!

2005-Aug-10, 04:27 AM
The IAU(International Astronomical Union) is the governing body who has the authority to decide what is named a planet. They are the 800 pound gorilla in the world of astronomy who's opinion really matters on the topic and who's lead everyone else will follow. But like any large comprehensive body with so many members, it gets bogged down in administrative procedures and reacts slowly to major events and changes in the world of astronomy. Perhaps this is for the better since often it is best to allow for time to pass on hot topics so that everyone is thinking clearly when it comes to make decisions that may yield broad changes in the field, such as planet nomenclature.
I am sure the classification of these objects is a priority on their agenda, but I do not know exactly when they are going to meet and rule on the status of these objects. As you know, it seems that every few months something else is discovered which changes the very nature of the whole discussion.

2005-Aug-10, 11:18 AM
Thanks, Greg. I am therefore gathering from your reply, that neither Sedna nor Quaoar have been officially recognized and these other objects in fact may be one of those as they appear to be estimated as similar in size. With exception of the latest disputed discovery.

Also, if I understand it correctly, both the above named bodies plus Pluto could be in dispute as to whether in fact they are planets but Planetoids/Asteroids. With Pluto on a different inclination, perhaps that makes sense....

A casual but very interested observer:

2005-Aug-10, 04:27 PM
I provided a weblink to a site that should help you get the gist of how the IAU handles the naming of planets. I am sure you can do a little web fishing from there to answer other questions on how they go about doing this. Needless to say, as I alluded to above, the IAU is slow to react to new discoveries considering that the object was discovered in 2003.

2005-Aug-10, 05:26 PM
I'm pretty sure that Clyde lived long enough for the size of Pluto to be nailed down. HST took pictures, and Pluto was some 11 pixels across. And Charon was discovered, so Pluto's mass was nailed down solid. But if Clyde had waited for more than a size guess, we still wouldn't know. No one would have done the hard work. Clyde had several observations, found a prediscovery image in the archives, and computed an orbit. With an orbit established, one can say, "I found this object, and it is in this orbit". Then others can help with follow up studies. Then, when enough is known about the object, the appropriat ruling body can consider how to classify it. So, in my opinion, the protocol is correct. Discover and announce is better than Discover, wait and announce.

When Sedna was discovered, they announced this name to the public before the ruling body could vote on it - a breach of protocol. In protest, someone else who had discovered a minor planet previously, but had not submitted a name, decided to submit the name Sedna for this other object. In my opinion, the ruling body should have not granted either object this name. The name was already public, in breach of protocol.

And, there's another issue. Sedna is a Sea Goddess. And, we already have a Sea God for a planet name. The astrologers were not happy. Clearly, the astrologers should have been consulted.

2005-Aug-11, 03:06 AM
One can say that the Caltech team isn't much for following protoccol. The other reason of course to conceal the name of the newly discovred object for so long is that it nearly guarenteed them original and high-ipact research projects and possibly grants for as long as they could get away with it. The allure of a certain income and the tenure assurance that goes with it may also have been a factor in their decision to hoard their findings for so long. So maybe there is too much pressure on researchers from their universities these days which foments this kind of behavior?

2005-Aug-11, 03:05 PM
What is sad, very sad, it that the quest for personal glory is retarding science. The discovery process works best when everyone openly shares both observations and ideas. Yes, there is a high probability the idea will be stolen, but historians usually, eventually sort it out. Candor leads to progress, secrecy can only lead to suspicion and delay.

The WMAP team has been camping on the second year data for two years now - it is very clear this is not just a matter of data reduction, but a curve fitting process where the WMAP team hopes to redefine cosmic parameters...before anyone else gets a stab at the data.

Likewise the Deep Impact and Huygens teams are camped on raw data. (In contrast, Cassini scientists are being exceptionally forthcoming.) The Gravity-B probe team - completing there observations next month, have announce it will be a year and a half before reports will be issued. Who paid for this research, and who is willing to sit in the dark while who knows what gyrations the data is being danced through?

We still do not have descent and landing profiles for either Spirit or Opportunity, with another Mars mission on the pad. These profiles contain information important to the survival of the orbiter during air braking.

2005-Aug-11, 09:59 PM
Messenger, sadder still, historians will more likely settle for articles in the popular press than check logs and read observation study reports. But little quirks will sometimes serendipitously appear, like the examination of Galleleo's notes a few decades ago that hinted that he may have spotted uranus in the background of his Jupiter viewing. So this will probably become a trivia piece in fifty years and both of these astronomers will be less remembered than Lowell and Tombaugh.

2005-Aug-12, 02:51 AM
No one can be really sure of anything for now. More research needs to be done on this 10th planet. Although there actually might be some kind of life on that planet. No one can truly know. You cannot judge life on that planet based on life on that planet.

2005-Aug-12, 02:58 AM
The WMAP data hoarding is quite perplexing and disturbing to me as well. There is a long thread on it in the forum which I think batted the topic about fairly well. My own take on it is that I have to be suspicious and skeptical about whatever conclusions they come to since the fact that they published the year one data so quickly yet are holding back subsequent data for so long just reeks of bias to me. There must be a purpose to withholding the data, and by default that means that they have a bias that will influence their interpretation of the data IMHO. If it were me, I would publish the data and let others interpret it, if I can't figure it out. Sometimes saying that I exhaustively analyzed the dat but can come to no solid conclusions is in fact an important and publishable result in and of itself. If the data is faulty and this could possibly effect the year one data, then they have even more of an obligation to reveal this, if indeed this is what they have found.

2005-Aug-12, 05:27 PM
I think the major reason for the Caltech team's secrecy is the grant money. After all, these guys are professionals. Their living depends on grant money, and the grant money depends on having interesting proposals to put in front of the organizations that distribute grant money. And interesting proposals depend on having interesting objects to study. So when they find an interesting object, it's natural for them to "hoard" that information to give themselves a head start on putting together the grant proposals.

It's understandable, but it still feels slimey.

In another thread (here (http://www.universetoday.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=8325&st=120)) I posted excerpts form Clyde Tombaugh's announcement of Pluto's discovery, just to give some contrast to the way the Caltech team is handling things. They kept Quoaor, and Sedna to themselves until they were lost in the glare of the sun, and it's pretty clear that that's exactly what they were planning to do with these three. Tombaugh on the other hand, rushed to publish as early as possible, to make sure that others would have the opportunity to observe Pluto before it was lost in the sun:

"While it is thus too early to say much about this remarkable object and
much caution and concern are felt - because of the necessary interpretations
involved - in announcing its discovery before its status is fully
demonstrated; yet it has appeared a clear duty to science to make its
existence known in time to permit other astronomers to observe it while in
favorable position before it falls too low in the evening sky for effective

That phrase, "a clear duty to science" is interesting. Oh how things have changed. And not for the better.

2005-Aug-12, 06:58 PM
The more I think about it, the more I tend to agree that their motivation had to do with securing grants and therefore tenure as well. I do understand those pressures having been through the university environment, but I think a line has to be drawn somewhere between those concerns and the common good of the scientific community. For example, what if one of these objects had lied in the path of the Pluto probe's trajectory. What if NASA had the opportunity to change its launch window or flight path to get a look at one of them, whereas by waiting to publish the opportunity was lost? This is a bit on the extreme side for a n argument, but I'm sure some astronomers feel that they may have lost opportunities to use their alloted time studying these objects rather than whatever mundane project they did instead.