Sun No Longer Largest Object in Solar System

According to this link, our puny sun is no longer the largest object in the solar system.

[Puts on nitpicking hat]

I have real problems accepting that a cometary halo is actually a single object. ISTR that at this point the gases and dust of the halo are actually only in approximately the same orbit as the comet - and steadily being pushed away by the solar wind. For me to consider something to be a single object on a planetary scale it really should be gravitationally bound.

The solar wind is detectable out beyond Pluto’s orbit (in 2005 Voyager II, IIRC, passed into the termination shock zone) so, wouldn’t that count as part of the sun’s size, if we’re going to count cometary halos?

[Removes nitpicking hat]

Very cool. I don’t understand what they mean by “eruption” or “outburst” though. How does something so tiny “erupt” with such a huge coma?

Hit the sun, whatever, get ejected whatever, run out of gas whatever, hit a planet, whatev… WHAT?

Comets most easily understood if you think of them as dirty snowballs. That’s a simplification, of course, but it does capture the essence. They’re a couple of miles of water ice, and other relatively light elements frozen out. With a smattering of heavier dirt and rocks frozen in the matrix. As a comet approaches the sun the outer layers heat, and sublimate, to provide the halo and tail that we see.

Because the comet is not uniform in its composition, the heating is often uneven. If, for example, a “crust” forms over more volatile elements, it can hold in gasses, until the pressure gets high enough to break the crust - when this sudden release of pent up gasses occurs, it’s seen as an eruption. The jet of gas can often be enough to actually affect the comet’s orbit - they’re that violent.

As for running out of gas - a lot of the periodic meteor showers are theorized to be the remains of ‘exhausted’ comets - just the dirt and dust that was in a comet that are all that remains now that the volatile elements have been boiled off.

I see your point. But if the U of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy accepts it, that’s good enough for me.

Yikes! Science has become a religion. :frowning:

Temple high up on Mauna Kea.

Pfft… I´ve seen egos bigger than that.

Let’s face it, astronomy won the title of Most Worthless Science with the whole Pluto debacle. First they admitted that, after hundreds of years of studying planets, they actually never had any clear definition of “planet.” Now they’re confessing that they don’t even know what constitutes an “object.” Next year they’ll be telling everybody that the Sun no longer qualifies as a “star,” or that the Moon ought to be renamed “Dennis.”

Remember, these are the people who we as a society have entrusted to keep a watch out for giant asteroids. "Warning! Warning! The Hawaiian Institute of Astronomy has discovered that a ten-mile-wide object is on a collision course with Earth! And by ‘object,’ we really mean ‘cloud of dust.’ "

It’s their own damn fault, of course. By its very nature, astronomy is doomed to ever decreasing significance. Credit where credit’s due; the heliocentric theory effectively killed God, which is a damn impressive opening act. But how do you follow that up? It’s been all anticlimax since then. Advancing technology ensures that any major discoveries will inevitably be further and further away. Sadly, it turns out that the general public isn’t too overwhelmed by the discovery of a Jupiter-sized planet (Moon? Object?) orbiting a blue dwarf star fifty kajillion light years away. So they have to pull these kinds of stunts with stuff people already know about, in order for anyone to notice them at all anymore. “We’re still important! Look, we’ve redefined the Solar System as a type of vegetable! Textbooks will need to be rewritten! Please don’t cut our funding.”

Astronomy may be the only science in history whose knowledge base is actually decreasing. “We astronomers used to study the stars and other celestial bodies, but then we realized we had no idea what ‘stars’ were. Or ‘planets.’ Meteors aren’t really meteors after they touch the ground, either. That’s another rule. Now we’re really not sure about anything, or even what we’re supposed to be doing. Where am I?”

Correction where correction’s due. Obviously, there are far more people of faith than there are atheists. Religion and science are not opposites or mutually exclusive.

A scientist can be a person of faith. Plenty of scientists believed in God for a long time after Copernicus, and plenty, if not the majority, still do. And scientists who grasp the underlying philosophy of their discipline, it seems to me, have a much better understand of all this. One example is Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, who is perhaps the nation’s most prolific and accomplished fighter for evolution against creationism and ID. She even engages churches directly to explain to them that their faith in God need not conflict with a grounding in science. She is an atheist herself, but she has produced materials to help reconcile science and religion, including her famous Congregational Study Guide for Evolution (PDF) that helps teach evolution to church congregations.

Quite honestly, a person who thinks that science has in any way “effectively killed God” simply may not understand the nature of either science or faith.

Pardon the hijack, but since this comet is supposed to possibly be visible with the naked eye, does anyone have a link as to the where/when times to be able to look? GMT-5 area would be lovely.

Triffids not withstanding, of course…

I guess that would put Biology in a solid second, since we still don’t have a universally accepted definition of life.

Here’s a link.

If you scroll down about mid-way, on the right hand side there is a clickable star chart showing it’s position.

Ahyes, many’s the time we’ve gathered around the old upright piano singing a chorus of “By the Light of the Silvery Dennis.”

Good times, good times.

Allow me to amend my remark for greater clarity:

I hope that helps.

Yeah seriously, Liberal, I sort of read that as hyperbole intended to increase the distance that astronomy has fallen. Sure astronomy didn’t literally kill God, but it sure as hell made a lot of religious people nervous. It was a big freaking deal. It essentially kicked the church out of the science business once and for all, which is a good thing. That is, until we got “creation science.”

Where’s that egg-on-your-face smiley when you need it? Sorry. :frowning:

Still, I got to give some cool information about Eugenie Scott, one of the scientists whom I most admire for both her great intellect and good character, atheist or otherwise.


(Being non-Catholic, I was never impressed by the Vatican’s interpretation of the Biblical metaphor that allegedly contradicted a heliocentric solar-system anyway. Man is the center of the universe not because of where he is, but because of what he is.)

Do you actually think astronomy is about discovering and cataloging objects in the sky, or am I being whooshed here?

It kicked the church out of science? It’s not that black & white.

Are you aware that many of the pioneering astronomers of the Renaisance were churchmen of one stripe, or another? Including both Copernicus and Kepler. For that matter, I’m not going to be trying to disown Brahe, for all his errors.

If you want to bring up Gallileo’s trial, don’t forget to include that the great scientist screwed the pooch. Even the kangaroo court that was convened had at least one skilled, and respected, astronomer in its members. A valid proof for the earth moving would have been a valid defense. And Gallileo flubbed it, badly.

There is a long, and illustrious history of church supported scientific inquiry, running through both the Catholic and Protestant churches.