Saturday, July 30, 2005

A new planet?

NPR reported today that scientists believe they've discovered a 10th planet out beyond Pluto, that has the additional interesting quality that it rotates on a very different plane from the rest of the known planets. Other scientists question the claim; some said there were even more planets, but they are counted as asteroids.

All this points out how much influence the business of how things are classified -- how reality is "sliced-and-diced" -- has on our perception of reality. Philosophically, Immanuel Kant latched onto this with his distinction between the thing-as-perceived, and the thing-in-itself. (But don't ask me too many questions about Kant; it was late in the academic year when we got to him, the instructor was clearly out of his depth, and a bit bored as well, and so were we seminarians, and the improving weather outside had its distracting effects...)

An example: when did the Roman Empire "fall"? Well, there are many possible answers, but the one that is best known is almost certainly invalid. Post a comment to find out why.

Well anyway, I really wanted to suggest something interesting: a "Name the Planet Contest." What should we call it. (And, does anyone know who actually gets to decide?)


Darwin said...

Okay, I'll bite and put the fall of the Roman empire at 1453. :-)

Sky and Tel has an article on the 10th planet:

Given the size, they may well get the planet designation.

Darwin said...

Oh, forgot to add, the naming body is the International Astronomical Union Nomenclature Committee:

Father Martin Fox said...


I'd defend AD 1453 as a very valid date for the fall of the Roman Empire; I may be wrong, but there's another date routinely given, much earlier; and it's least defensible -- but when people say they know when Rome fell, they cite that date -- which is wrong. (You may be too eddykated for this question!)

I haven't mentioned the date yet, just to keep the suspense going...

Father Martin Fox said...

About the planet...

Since I already kind of have a planet associated with my name, I can't play that card...

But since we have planets named for Greek and Roman gods, what would be a suitable name?

Should we branch out into Norse gods? How about going outside Europe?

Anonymous said...

OK Father, I will bite. The Western Empire fell in 476. The Ostrogoth Odoacer simply took the crown from the callow Romulus Augustulus. Italy was ruled by Ostrogoths until the coming of Belisarius in the 6th century.

Father Martin Fox said...


Well, there's the date I was thinking of: AD 476. No offense, but that is almost certainly wrong.

Why do I say that?

Well, because Romulus Augustolus was not recognized, in the East, as a valid emperor in the West!

I can't recall, just now, the name of the valid, western emperor, but you can easily look it up; the valid one continued, until AD 480, when -- if memory serves me right -- he died, and was not replaced.

So: if the key would be the end of the last western emperor, then it should be AD 480.

But then, why should that be the demarcation line for the "fall" of the Western Empire? I think you could choose either an earlier date, pegged to social or military collapse, or later, and have a better argument.

So, where does the "AD 476" date come from? It was arbitrarily picked by historians, centuries later, as a convenient "break."

Just food for thought.