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Press response to the new planet Sedna
A planet or just another rock...
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The following is taken from a well-known leading UK based regional newspaper with a very good reputation. As in all press reports, the astrological comments attributed to me in the final paragraphs aren't written exactly as I would have done. (Like I take no credit for discovering the meaning of Pluto as it was established long before my time!). However, given that press reporting on astrology is normally sceptical or satirical, I believe Chris Benfield has done a very professional job that would make interesting copy for the readers of The Yorkshire Post. ~Robert Currey

Quoted from The Yorkshire Post by Chris Benfield 16 March 2004

"Most of the scientific world was still waiting to be convinced, last night, that a newly discovered object was the tenth planet of the solar system. But the North American Space Agency, NASA, was talking up a good case for it. At the end of last week, NASA announced the discovery of "the most distant object ever detected orbiting the sun" by an astronomer working on a NASA programme, Michael Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. By time he held a press conference about his observations last night, his find had been promoted to a "new planet", provisionally called Sedna, after an Eskimo goddess. And although it was hard to pin down where scientific enthusiasm stopped and media frenzy took over, it seemed that NASA had encouraged the upgrading."

"Sceptics pointed out that "New planet in solar system found" made a better headline than "Unidentified lump spotted in back of beyond" and that NASA scientists who are not involved in the race for Mars are badly in need of reasons to hang onto their budgets. However, other contenders for planetary status have come and gone and NASA said Sedna was different enough to be interesting. It appears to be in a steady orbit and to be at least as big as Pluto, the ninth planet - so it is bigger than most other contenders in the rock-strewn outer ring of the solar system, known as the Kuiper Belt, where it is located. "

"Size matters most when it comes to defining what a planet is, according to Sheffield University astronomer David Hughes. As far as he is concerned there are four terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, reading outwards from the Sun and four gaseous ones, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Prof. Hughes does not count Pluto because it is smaller than our own Moon, so he is not inclined to count "Sedna" either. The smallest planet he recognises, Mercury, is 500 times larger than the Moon. The trouble is, there is no agreed definition of the difference between a planet and any other collection of rock, water and gases, which orbits a star. Pluto was accepted as a planet because the Americans were so proud of finding it, in 1930, it seemed mean not to. Since then, however, a number of similar objects have been found, even further away, and there will be more."

"Astronomers talk in terms of Astronomical Units, using the average distance from Sun to Earth (149 million kilometres, or 93 million miles) as one. The six inner planets, from Mercury to Saturn, are contained in about 10 AUs. It is 10 more to Uranus, another 10 to Neptune, another 10 to Pluto and then at least 50 more to Sedna, which is 90 AUs away from us now and probably swings out to 900 away in the course of its 10,500-year orbit. But the whole solar system (everything that orbits the big star the Romans called Sol) probably has a radius of 200,000 AUs. So there is a lot more left to map."

"If the Americans push for planetary status for Sedna, they will revive the campaign for an international definition. On the face of it, this would either have to exclude Pluto or include several other big asteroids. "It won't affect the price of fish," comments Prof. Hughes. "But at some point we have to decide where to stop." If Sedna is accepted as a planet, its permanent name will be decided by the International Astronomical Union, which has so far stuck with the theme inherited from the Romans."

"Astrologers are taking notice of the new find. But it will take them years to work out what they think it means, according to Robert Currey, who produces charts for The Astrology Shop (in London and on-line). Although the signs of the zodiac are named after distant stars and constellations, western astrologers believe the main influences on human fate are the sun and the planets in our own solar system, plus our own Moon, because it is so close, he says.

Uranus was not discovered until 1871 and Neptune and Pluto came afterwards. Most astrologers now think they are the ruling influences for Aquarius, Pisces and Scorpio. And they believe there are other pieces still missing from their jigsaw, because some of the other 12 signs are sharing rulers."

"Mr Currey said yesterday: "It will be necessary to discover the orbital elements of this new object and plot its position over many years in the past. With this data, astrologers can test theories. But it will take at least 10 years before there is any consensus, if it is possible to find one."

"At first, we were reluctant to use Pluto. But now we feel, from observation and discussion over many years, that it is important, even though it is small. "There is another object, called Chiron, between Saturn and Uranus, which is not counted as a planet but which astrologers have come to take seriously." Mr Currey noted that Uranus was discovered at about the time of the French and American revolutions and was still associated with struggles for freedom. He wondered if "Sedna" would turn out to have an association with terrorism."

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