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CMYK YELO MAG CYAN BLK 3 7 15 25 50 75 85 93 97 ID NAME: Nxxx,2005-10-04,F,001,Bs-4C,E1 N F1 TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2005 ESSAY 9 Planets? 12? What’s a Planet, Anyway? Christoph Niemann Depends what you mean by ‘Pluto.’ Trolling for definitions in a 21st-century solar system. mittee was ready to propose dumping the The solar system is much more compli- not? Some astronomers have long argued By DENNIS OVERBYE bare term “planet” in favor of an expanded, cated now, astronomers say, than in 1930 that its small size, less than one-fifth the di- more embellished set of terms like “terres- when Clyde Tombaugh added Pluto to the ameter of Earth, and a weird tilted orbit In my daughter’s circle of friends, one trial planets,” “trans-Neptunian planets” inventory of wandering lights circling the that takes it inside Neptune every couple 3-year-old named Jared can reel off the and so forth. Sun. In addition to Earth, Mars, Venus, Jupi- hundred years make Pluto more like a Kuip- names of all the planets. He and his parents But that turned out to be a false alarm, ac- ter, Saturn, Mercury, Neptune, Uranus and er Belt body than a full-fledged planet. are pretty proud, justly in my estimation, of cording to the committee’s chairman, Iwan Pluto, schoolchildren now learn that there A furor arose five years ago when my col- this achievement. Little does he know, how- Williams of Queen Mary College in London. are also comets and asteroids bumping league Kenneth Chang reported that the ever, that the lords of astronomy are work- He said in an e-mail message that although about in the night. new Rose Center for Earth and Space at the ing against him. a majority favored the redefinition many But there are also the Oort cloud, a hy- American Museum of Natural History in For the last 18 months, a committee ap- other ideas were blooming and contending pothesized halo of cometary bits hibernat- New York had demoted Pluto, calling it a pointed by the International Astronomical so fractiously that he despaired of ever ing in deep, deep space, and the Kuiper Belt, “Kuiper Belt object” rather than a planet. Union has been pondering in frustrating ex- reaching general agreement. a ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit. actitude whether the word “planet” means Dr. Williams said, “Up to this point I have Not mention the dozens of moons circling The controversy became more desperate anything anymore. been hoping for a consensus, but I guess we the planets. this summer when astronomers discovered Last month Nature reported that the com- might need to go for a majority vote.” Pluto is the big problem. Is it a planet or Continued on Page 4 FINDINGS I Love My Bike, but . . . How your bicycle seat can The Truth About Quicksand Is Beginning to Sink In affect your sex life (really). By Sandra Blakeslee Page 5 Harry Campbell Personal Health: Aging Spinal stenosis, the price we pay for standing upright. A New Measure of Well-Being By Jane E. Brody Page 7 From a Happy Little Kingdom A Lost City Is Found leaders and bureaucrats are trying to de- By ANDREW C. REVKIN velop measurements that take into account Solving the mystery of a not just the flow of money but also access to missing Maya ruin. health care, free time with family, conser- What is happiness? In the United States vation of natural resources and other non- By John Noble Wilford Page 3 and in many other industrialized countries, it is often equated with money. economic factors. Economists measure consumer confi- The goal, according to many involved in Coastal Retreat dence on the assumption that the resulting this effort, is in part to return to a richer def- inition of the word happiness, more like Rebuild after the hurricanes? figure says something about progress and public welfare. The gross domestic product, what the signers of the Declaration of Inde- Maybe not, some experts say. or G.D.P., is routinely used as shorthand for pendence had in mind when they included By Cornelia Dean Page 4 “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1959)/Photofest the well-being of a nation. “the pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable right equal to liberty and life itself. But the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhu- Real quicksand, the kind that is al- holding the grains together. tan has been trying out a different idea. The founding fathers, said John Ralston most impossible to extricate yourself Hit with sudden force from, say, a Saul, a Canadian political philosopher, de- In 1972, concerned about the problems af- from, is not just water and sand. Salt hapless victim, the quicksand gel turns fined happiness as a balance of individual flicting other developing countries that fo- and clay are also major ingredients in to liquid. Then salt causes clay parti- and community interests. “The Enlighten- cused only on economic growth, Bhutan’s this B-movie plot device, scientists re- cles to stick to one another instead of ment theory of happiness was an expression newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye port in the current issue of Nature. the sand grains, with the result that a of public good or the public welfare, of the Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s Their study began when Dr. Daniel victim ends up surrounded by densely contentment of the people,” Mr. Saul said. priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or And, he added, this could not be further Bonn, a professor of physics at the Uni- packed sand. gross national happiness. from “the 20th-century idea that you should versity of Amsterdam, was in Iran a The force needed to pull out a person Bhutan, the king said, needed to ensure smile because you’re at Disneyland.” few years ago and saw signs warning immersed in quicksand is about the that prosperity was shared across society Mr. Saul was one of about 400 people from of quicksand. Naturally, the warning same needed to lift a car, Dr. Bonn and that it was balanced against preserving more than a dozen countries who gathered prompted him to collect samples and said. The trick for escaping is to slowly cultural traditions, protecting the environ- recently to consider new ways to define and he sank in to his ankles. wiggle the feet and legs, allowing wa- ment and maintaining a responsive govern- assess prosperity. He quickly escaped, but even shal- ter to flow in. People float in quicksand ment. The king, now 49, has been instituting The meeting, held at St. Francis Xavier low quicksand can be hard to step out so it is also impossible to sink all the policies aimed at accomplishing these goals. University in northern Nova Scotia, was a of. Back home, Dr. Bonn and his col- way in, but quicksand usually forms at Now Bhutan’s example, while still a work mix of soft ideals and hard-nosed number leagues found out why. Sand grains in river estuaries, so a captive could in progress, is serving as a catalyst for far crunching. Many participants insisted that quicksand are usually loosely packed, drown at high tide. Wildlife Conservation Society with the clay acting as a fragile gel KENNETH CHANG broader discussions of national well-being. the focus on commerce and consumption Around the world, a growing number of In Iran, a rare encounter with economists, social scientists, corporate Continued on Page 6 Asiatic cheetahs. Page 4.