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Home -> Astronomy -> Discovery of a '10th planet'

Discovery of a '10th Planet'


A press conference was held on 29th July 2005 wherein the claim was made by a team of astronomers working at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) in the USA had discovered 'the 10th planet', temporarily assigned the name 2003 UB313.

This has been and is being reported by some media companies as a definite discovery of a planet. Readers should note that as yet this solar system body has not been officially classified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is the only institution with the authority to do so.

Therefore reporting that it is a 'planet' is very much premature. In terms of journalism, these reports are factually incorrect.

With Mercury (data, names, the media) in opposition to Neptune (confusion, blurring lines, leaks, factual errors) at the time of the press conference - which was hastily arranged due to a data leak - announcing the discovery, it seems like a good time to clarify how newly-discovered objects such as these get named and categorised.

Quaoar

Not so long ago, on 5th June 2002, a planetoid now called Quaoar was discovered by the astronomers who've recently discovered 2003 UB313. The discovery was announced on 7th October that same year. The discoverers did not claim that Quaoar was a planet, but they did release their preferred name into the public domain before the IAU had confirmed it, breaching IAU protocol.

Sedna

A year and a half later, on 15th March 2004, the discovery of a planetoid now called Sedna was announced by this same team of astronomers. The media reported it as a possible 10th planet, even though the discoverers were of the opinion that it was not, in fact, a planet. However the group broke protocol again by releasing their preferred name to the media before the IAU had had chance to check it.

As it happened, the name had been requested by another discoverer for another object. The IAU again decided not to uphold its internationally agreed protocols, and instead, on 28th September 2004, it officially accepted the name 'Sedna' for this group, thus denying the name to the astronomer who'd originally requested it. This understandably provoked controversy amongst astronomers around the world.

2003 UB313

Returning to the discovery of 2003 UB313, it's good to see that the discoverers have publicly committed themselves to not releasing their preferred name for the object until the IAU have accepted it. However, they are insisting that they have discovered 'the 10th planet', despite the protocol being that categorisation and designation is done by the IAU. It seems that, perhaps because they have the backing of NASA (which partially funds them) on this issue, they feel able to subvert the IAU's protocols.

As the saying goes, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern.

NASA

The websites of both Caltech and NASA both still make this claim to 10th planethood, at the time of writing. However,
according to space.com:

'NASA's Paul Hertz said, "It's not NASA's job to decide what is and what is not a planet." Hertz, chief scientist in the agency's Science Mission Directorate, acknowledged the task falls to the International Astronomical Union (IAU).'


Which is quite right, however NASA knew this when they put up their press release "NASA-Funded Scientists Discover Tenth Planet", which is still there now. One wonders, why the mixed messages? Who benefits from these breaches of international professional scientific protocol?

Eight.....Twenty-Four.....More?

Amusingly, other astronomers who agree that 2003 UB313 is a planet disagree that it is the 10th; the definition of 'planet' they would like to see adopted by the IAU would mean that various other planetoids would be re-classified as planets, and so 2003 UB313 would come later than 10th in the list. Various schemes of planetary categorisation have been put forward, some reducing the number of planets in our solar system to 8 (removing Pluto from the list of planets), others increasing the number to around 24.

Two things are clear. The first is that our concept of our solar system is changing rapidly, and our terminology needs to reflect that evolution. The second is that the team at Caltech in conjunction with NASA are determined to force the IAU into taking certain actions. Why they do not choose a more mature, respectful, and cooperative method - suggest, make a formal request, make a case, persuade, negotiate - is unknown.

Conclusion

The Mercury-Neptune opposition appears very clearly in the story of the discoverers' announcement (as does Mercury's trine to Pluto which shows issues of power and force).
The opposition is an aspect where there is a head-on collision and something comes to a head, and that is exactly what has happened with 2003 UB313. The fact that Mercury, Neptune and Pluto were all retrograde during this event adds in the need to review and reconsider the blurry lines (Neptune) of planetary nomenclature (Mercury).

In conclusion, the classification of this new discovery is a hot issue that is now going to have to be resolved somehow. For the time being it is classified by the IAU as a Trans-Neptunian Object. The IAU already has a working group that has been addressing the definition of 'planet' for around a year now. Originally it was going to be at August 2006's IAU General Assembly in Prague that the definition would be voted on, however Nature magazine reported that it may now be brought forward. From an astrological point of view, when Mercury turns direct there may be progress on the definition. The date for this is 16th August, so from that date onwards developments may be made known. Mercury will then re-traverse the degree it was at during the 29th July press conference, and this may mark another significant date - perhaps an announcement of some kind - in relation to these issues. The date for this is 29th August, and from this date onwards developments should be able to become much clearer.

If the IAU classification means that 2003 UB313 is indeed to be designated a planet, the astrological question then becomes what sign of the zodiac does it rule? The discoverers have hinted at their line of thinking for naming their discovery - Persephone/Proserpina, and Vulcan - but said that the name they have proposed to the IAU is not Greek, Roman, Native American, or Inuit. These names point to Virgo, however only time will tell if they have followed the Virgoan train of thought into another mythological system of gods and goddesses.

Zodiac Positions of 2003 UB313 from 1900 to 2019

For those who would like to know where 2003 UB313 is in their birth chart, the table below lists its position for every year from 1900 to 2019.

Find the 1st January nearest to your birth date and look up the corresponding position of 2003 UB313. The position of it at your birth will be within approx. 1 degree of that shown for the nearest 1st January.

It's possible to narrow it down further, however until we know whether or not this is going to be classified as a planet, knowing its position to within a degree should suffice, especially as its orbital calculations will be refined after continued observations.

Positions are from calculations made by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the USA.

Date
Position
Date
Position
01/01/1900
21º 35' Pisces
01/01/1960 08º 55' Aries
01/01/1901 21º 55' Pisces
01/01/1961 09º 10' Aries
01/01/1902 22º 15' Pisces 01/01/1962 09º 25' Aries
01/01/1903 22º 35' Pisces 01/01/1963 09º 40' Aries
01/01/1904 22º 55' Pisces 01/01/1964 09º 56' Aries
01/01/1905 23º 14' Pisces 01/01/1965 10º 11' Aries
01/01/1906 23º 34' Pisces 01/01/1966 10º 26' Aries
01/01/1907 23º 53' Pisces 01/01/1967 10º 41' Aries
01/01/1908 24º 13' Pisces 01/01/1968 10º 56' Aries
01/01/1909 24º 32' Pisces 01/01/1969 11º 11' Aries
01/01/1910 24º 51' Pisces 01/01/1970 11º 25' Aries
01/01/1911 25º 10' Pisces 01/01/1971 11º 40' Aries
01/01/1912 25º 29' Pisces 01/01/1972 11º 55' Aries
01/01/1913 25º 48' Pisces 01/01/1973 12º 10 Aries
01/01/1914 26º 07' Pisces 01/01/1974 12º 24' Aries
01/01/1915 26º 25' Pisces 01/01/1975 12º 39' Aries
01/01/1916 26º 44' Pisces 01/01/1976 12º 54' Aries
01/01/1917 27º 03' Pisces 01/01/1977 13º 08' Aries
01/01/1918 27º 21' Pisces 01/01/1978 13º 23' Aries
01/01/1919 27º 39' Pisces 01/01/1979 13º 37' Aries
01/01/1920 27º 57' Pisces 01/01/1980 13º 51' Aries
01/01/1921 28º 15' Pisces 01/01/1981 14º 06' Aries
01/01/1922 28º 32' Pisces 01/01/1982 14º 19' Aries
01/01/1923 28º 50' Pisces 01/01/1983 14º 34' Aries
01/01/1924 29º 08' Pisces 01/01/1984 14º 49' Aries
01/01/1925 29º 25' Pisces 01/01/1985 15º 03' Aries
01/01/1926 29º 43' Pisces 01/01/1986 15º 17' Aries
01/01/1927 29º 59' Pisces 01/01/1987 15º 32' Aries
01/01/1928 00º 18' Aries
01/01/1988 15º 56' Aries
01/01/1929 00º 35' Aries 01/01/1989 16º 00' Aries
01/01/1930 00º 52' Aries 01/01/1990 16º 15' Aries
01/01/1931 01º 09' Aries 01/01/1991 16º 29' Aries
01/01/1932 01º 26' Aries 01/01/1992 16º 43' Aries
01/01/1933 01º 43' Aries 01/01/1993 16º 58' Aries
01/01/1934 02º 00' Aries 01/01/1994 17º 12' Aries
01/01/1935 02º 17' Aries 01/01/1995 17º 26' Aries
01/01/1936 02º 34' Aries 01/01/1996 17º 40' Aries
01/01/1937 02º 51' Aries 01/01/1997 17º 53' Aries
01/01/1938 03º 07' Aries 01/01/1998 18º 08' Aries
01/01/1939 03º 24' Aries 01/01/1999 18º 22' Aries
01/01/1940 03º 40' Aries 01/01/2000 18º 36' Aries
01/01/1941 03º 57' Aries 01/01/2001 18º 50' Aries
01/01/1942 04º 13' Aries 01/01/2002 19º 04' Aries
01/01/1943 04º 29' Aries 01/01/2003 19º 18' Aries
01/01/1944 04º 45' Aries 01/01/2004 19º 32' Aries
01/01/1945 05º 01' Aries 01/01/2005 19º 46' Aries
01/01/1946 05º 17' Aries 01/01/2006 19º 59' Aries
01/01/1947 05º 33' Aries 01/01/2007 20º 14' Aries
01/01/1948 05º 49' Aries 01/01/2008 20º 28' Aries
01/01/1949 06º 04' Aries 01/01/2009 20º 42' Aries
01/01/1950 06º 20' Aries 01/01/2010 20º 56' Aries
01/01/1951 06º 36' Aries 01/01/2011 21º 10' Aries
01/01/1952 06º 52' Aries 01/01/2012 21º 24' Aries
01/01/1953 07º 08' Aries 01/01/2013 21º 38' Aries
01/01/1954 07º 23' Aries 01/01/2014 21º 51' Aries
01/01/1955 07º 38' Aries 01/01/2015 22º 05' Aries
01/01/1956 07º 54' Aries 01/01/2016 22º 19' Aries
01/01/1957 08º 10' Aries 01/01/2017 22º 33' Aries
01/01/1958 08º 25' Aries 01/01/2018 22º 46' Aries
01/01/1959 08º 40' Aries 01/01/2019 22º 59' Aries

References:

IAU statement on 2003 UB313 & the issue of defining the term 'planet'
http://www.iau.org/IAU/FAQ/2003_UB313.html

IAU statement on Sedna (2003 VB12) & the issue of naming planets
http://www.iau.org/IAU/FAQ/sedna.html

IAU formally announce approval of the name 'Sedna'
http://cfa-www.harvard.edu/mpec/K04/K04S73.html

IAU statement on the status of Pluto as a planet
http://www.iau.org/IAU/FAQ/PlutoPR.html

NASA's 2003 UB313 press release:
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/newplanet-072905.html

NASA's Sedna (2003 VB12) press release:
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/planet_like_body.html

Discovery team's page on 2003 UB313:
http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/planetlila/index.html

Caltech's 2003 UB313 press release:
http://pr.caltech.edu/media/Press_Releases/PR12724.html

Caltech's Quaoar (2002 LM60) press release:
http://pr.caltech.edu/media/Press_Releases/PR12296.html
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