The travelling astronomer in Prague 6

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Voting card for the planet vote

A long time ago the Seekers sang “The Carnival is Over” and so is the Prague General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union. Wednesday night saw the farewell dinner which itself ended spectacularly with a light show to the music of Czech composer Smetana at the Krizik fountain. On Thursday after more scientific sessions came the final business session with the eagerly awaited planet vote.

In an atmosphere more akin to football final than a scientific conference a number of resolutions were put to the meeting. Though there was intense discussion there was no heat due to the skilful chairmanship of Dr Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who had discovered pulsars while a postgraduate student. The result of the vote was that we now have an excellent scientific definition of a planet and that all the planets remain as planets except that Pluto together with the asteroid Ceres becomes a “dwarf planet”. Pluto is to be the first of a new yet to be named category of similar dwarf planets.

I will not go through the new definition here except that it is similar to what was mentioned in the last post. And in answer to Michael’s comment regarding the Moon, satellites are in a different category and are explicitly excluded from the new planet and dwarf planet definitions.

The Stefanik Observatory

The Stefanik Observatory on Petrin Hill

Today instead of resting after yesterday’s excitement I walked all over Prague. This included climbing the 327 meter high Petrin Hill and then the climbing the spiral staircase to the 60 metre high lookout tower for a magnificent view of Prague. The reson for climbing the hill was that the funicular railway that normally operates is currently under maintenance until 1 September. Plus, and more importantly, Prague’s public observatory, the Stefanik Observatory is on the hill.

This observatory has many similarities to Sydney Observatory including having two domes open to the public – one with a modern Zeiss reflecting telescope while the other has a hundred year old twin Zeiss lens telescopes. As at Sydney on clear days they observe the Sun, though today all I saw was a close up of an upside down visitor on the nearby lookout tower.

And now a footsure astronomer is signing off from Prague, which is surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Where will he go next? Find out in the next thrilling episode….

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3 responses to “The travelling astronomer in Prague 6

  • I am glad Pluto got the flick. I am sorry it upset Mikayla but to be honest it was a mistake that Pluto was given planetary status in the first place.

    There is now way, had it been discovered in the last 20 years, that it would have been called a planet in the first place.

    I think it is important for scientist to step up to the plate and say “We got it wrong, but we will do our best to get it right this time!”

    …and now there are 8!

  • My name is Mikayla and I am in year one at school. When my mum told me about Pluto, I started to cry. How can people just decide that poor Pluto is not a planet anymore, when it has been for so long and it is in all the books too. Poor little Pluto.

  • Very excited to find out more about the Stefanik Observatory – and I note they have a third dome.
    How many astronomers actually voted on the planet definition and Pluto?

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