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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
IAU statement on 2003 UB313 & the issue of defining the term 'planet'
IAU statement on Sedna (2003 VB12) & the issue of naming planets
IAU formally announce approval of the name 'Sedna'
IAU statement on the status of Pluto as a planet
NASA's 2003 UB313 press release:
NASA's Sedna (2003 VB12) press release:
Discovery team's page on 2003 UB313:
Caltech's 2003 UB313 press release:
Caltech's Quaoar (2002 LM60) press release:
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