Matters of Space

1. Tenth Planet – Xena was discovered in 2003 as 2003UB313, but early this year it was given further consideration, possibly enough to give it status of “planet belonging to the solar system of the star known as sun”. I’ve read a lot of articles from places near and far on the topic (thanks to Google News), and it would appear that the word planet, as it applies in our solar system, needs to be defined. The count for number of planets due to this discovery could be 8, 9, 10 or 14. Eight from the realization that maybe Pluto really doesn’t deserve the title, nine from status remaining as it is, or Xena replacing Pluto. Ten would be the obvious, adding Xena to the collective. Either way, it doens’t affect what objects join us as we orbit our home star. My personal opinion at the moment is that adding Xena isn’t such a bad idea (as long as someone denies that name and gives it a decent one), because in the formal scientific definition of planet as it exists, it is any body that isn’t a star, but is big enough to be sphere-like because of gravity. This definition would include Luna, as well as most of the satelites of Jupiter. These are called secondary planets. The title Xena is fighting for is something of a more mature nature, the standing of primary planet. From this existing information, I would define a primary planet as anything meeting those criteria that doesn’t belong to another planet. Lets see how that works:

  • Not a star – Check
  • Round – Check
  • Isn’t another planet’s bitch – check

Ok, so it passes those, if we add the qualification of it has secondaries of its own, then that would disqualify other planetoids in our system from having the primary designation. Now lets look at Pluto:

  • Not a star – Check
  • Round – Check
  • Isn’t another planet’s bitch – Unconfirmed

Hmm… hows that for an oddity resulting from a redefinition of primary planet? Guess Charon will bite that one in the ass.
It should be noted that the finder of the object might just be out to get his name in a science text book somewhere. In 2003 Mr. Brown found “Sedna”, an object far smaller than Pluto that he tried to submit for planethood as well. Because of this fact, a lot of news reports have been in error, stating Xena as 2003VB12. 2003VB12 is the designation of Sedna. Whats interesting is that all of these names have been used over the past 3 days, but they could all be changed at any time by the IAU. The vainity of Mr. Brown is quite funny to me, and his motives are exposed with the way he speaks of his discovery, “Get out your pens and start rewriting the textbooks today”, sounds like someone is over-eager doesn’t it? Somehow I can see the IAU sitting on these two objects, as well as Pluto until 2015 when New Horizons passes by the area.
for shits and giggles here is a summary:

  • 2002 LM60 “Quaor” – very minor, smaller than pluto, way out there.
  • 2000 WR106 “Varuna” – about half the size of pluto, far away but in a slighly eratic orbit.
  • 2003 VB12 “Sedna” – estimated to be about 70% of Pluto’s size and having an orbit wider than Pluto’s. Brighter than Pluto.
  • 2003 UB313 “Xena” – Larger than Pluto, sometimes has an orbit that comes inside of Pluto’s orbit, which results in it having a shorter year.

UPDATE: It would appear that Brown registered 2003 UB313 only after discovering that another astronomer had registered 2003 VB12.
2. Discovery team not making in-orbit repairs! The materials are on-board to make in-orbit repairs to the shuttle and tests have been performed for the “patch kit”. Now that has been completed, NASA is stating that there is no need to repair the crack in Discovery’s heat shield. My opinion on this is that, they have the materials, the opportunity and the real crack, why not fix it? “If it aint broke, dont fix it” doesn’t apply here. There is an obvious flaw in the heat shield that could possibly reduce the shuttle’s ability to return to Earth safely. There is a possibility of the flaw being fatal, no matter how minor the engineers ,who let Columbia and its crew die, believe it to be. I hate when history repeats itself, it was said before Colubia’s failed return attempt that the foam hitting the vehicle was no big deal. I just can’t understand why a group of people who are selected based upon their intelligence and talents would be so ignorant and avoid doing something so simple that could save the lives of the crew, as well as the entire American space program (and maybe NASA itself). It takes about 7 hours to complete the repair procedure to the thermal tiles, which is precious time to the mission, but failing to do so could have effects as far reaching as killing manned shuttle flight from the United States. We are already down to 3 oribters, which are supposed to be grounded until the foam problem is fixed already, but if Discovery is lost, then I suspect that NASA will loose its backers and be grounded permenantly. It would appear that NASA is under a lot of pressure to look good for this mission, but by not doing everything in their power to ensure the safty of the mission, they are dooming it to fail. Even if the issue is determined to be insuccnificant after Discovery’s return, wouldn’t it look really good on their part to have attempted an in-orbit repair on the shuttle itself and have it to land safely?

  • Problem: Rubber cracking, causing fuel leak and explosion due to bad timing of launch on the part of mission control
  • Solution: Give astronauts a way to bail-out on the pad.
  • Follow Up Question: So how does this help us not blow up?


  • Problem: Foam hit shuttle on launch, causing a breach in the shuttle’s skin, resulting in a flaming return to earth. a NASA “Contingency”.
  • Solution: Add some putty to the payload that isn’t allowed to be used on a shuttle yet, because it hasn’t been tested on fake tiles yet.
  • Follow Up Question: Does the putty payload keep the foam from falling?

UPDATE: What happened to the bird that Discovery hit on the way up? If they are concerned about a piece of foam that is under a pound, couldn’t a bird be equally as dangerous?