Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Plutonian ode

One could argue that Dorchester is the first neighborhood to be annexed to Boston when the city took over Dorchester Heights to make South Boston (1804). Maybe again when Washington Village was annexed in 1855 as the third addition after Eastie. Conventionally speaking the date set for the Dot's surrender of sovereignty happened in 1870, the fifth neighborhood to be added to Boston proper. See the timeline maps about midway down this link.

Much like Dorchester, the planetoid Pluto has seen its status downgraded from a full-fledged entity to something a bit less than what it was once regarded. Pluto: the ninth mistress of the Sun. Comparing Pluto to Dorchester is like comparing Hyde Park to Mercury, the Earth, and Jupiter combined. In fact, Hyde Park is the ninth neighborhood annexed to Boston, in 1912 according to wikipedia, and it is the most remote from the golden dome of the State House.

That said, comparing Dorchester to Jupiter is apt. It's the fifth planet to our non-astronomy buffs. The Dot is the biggest part of Boston by far. Comparing Dorchester to the Earth is equally fitting (the third planet in the solar system, equivalent to Washington Village...Does anyone use that name anymore?). The Dot is the most fecund and lively part of the Boston universe. Comparing Dorchester to Mercury? We'll leave that part to Southie, which was the first and is the closest to the heat and flares that radiate from downtown. We aren't suggesting Dorchester's neighbor to the north is an inhospitable, lifeless wasteland by any means by making this comparison. Just pointing out that Southie was the first neighborhood to accrue and be trapped in orbit around the central city's gravity.

Dorchester gave up its independence during a popular vote in the summer of 1869 and its resolution was made binding on January 3rd, 1870. Some thought this day would live in infamy but people adjusted and now, Dorchester is the best part of Boston, adding its vitality and lending its boundless energy to the rest of the city. You don't need to look through a telescope to see Dorchesterites. They are all around our fair city, contributing value, keeping the whole shebang running in good, working order.

Have there been any regrets? Surprisingly few as one intrepid reporter discovered doing his due diligence.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

Pluto is a planet, not a planetoid. Try comparing Earth with Jupiter and then Earth with Pluto. Earth is far more like Pluto than it is like Jupiter.

Pluto did not stop being a planet because 424 astronomers made a controversial decision and adopted a vague, unusable planet definition. The requirement that an object "clear its orbit" was concocted specifically to exclude Pluto and keep the number of planets in our solar system low. The IAU definition makes no sense in stating that dwarf planets are not planets at all, a departure from the use of the term "dwarf" in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. Also, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto's orbit, according to this definition, it would not be a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another location is essentially useless.

The IAU should take responsibility for the highly flawed definition adopted by only four percent of its members, most of whom are not planetary scientists, in 2006. However, the IAU should not be viewed as the sole authority on the definition of planet. Many planetary scientists do not belong to the IAU. Should they not have a say in this matter? Something does not become fact simply because a tiny group that calls itself an authority says so. It is significant that hundreds of planetary scientists led by New Horizons Principal Investgator Alan Stern immediately signed a formal petition opposing the IAU definition.

There are other venues through which a planet definition can be determined, such as last year's Great Planet Debate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Audio and video proceedings from this far more balanced conference, which I was fortunate to attend, can be found at http://gpd.jhuapl.edu/ . You can also read more about this issue on my blog at http://laurele.livejournal.com .

Whalehead King said...

Thanks for keeping us abreast of this important matter Laurel. Keep fighting the good fight.


Related Posts with Thumbnails