Too Many Moons
The contentious issue of moon definition has been resolved by an official organization of experts.
After a two-week long debate full of sudden reversals and scientific intrigue the Interplanetary Union (IPU) today passed, by a narrow vote, an official resolution that officially defines the word “moon”.
The issue was forced by the discovery, with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, of a disturbingly large number of moon-like objects orbiting Saturn – “trillions and trillions” as one Cornell University astronomer put it, with most of the smaller ones herded into a colossal, flattened ring system by their larger companions. Further complicating the issue was the realization that planets around other stars are surely sporting innumerable moon-like objects of their own, instilling panic among those responsible for naming moons. After quickly voting down more than two dozen proposed resolutions and amendments, the IPU finally agreed on the following hastily written proclamation:
Henceforth, an object orbiting a ‘Planet’ is to be considered a ‘Moon’. These bodies will be further sub-divided into Major Moons, Mini Moons, Moon Units, Nuggets, Tailings and Shake. Mini Moons are not actually Moons at all and it should in no way be assumed that they are due any of the rights and privileges of full moonhood.
“We simply must know how many moons we are dealing with” Said the IPU’s Dr. Nat deGrasse. “We need to have answers, and rather than wait to find out, we decided to proactively issue a definition that settles the matter forever.”
Scientists interviewed about the decision expressed relief. “Look, we need to maintain standards” explained Dr. Alice Strung of the Planetary Research Institute “Take Hyperion. It orbits Saturn alright, but its shape is strange to say the least, it rotates chaotically and it looks like a sea-sponge. What kind of a moon is that? Besides, NASA needs us to have concrete exploration plans. When Congress asks us how many moons we want to explore, we can’t just say ‘gee, there’s a whole lot of them’”.
The decision however could be costly for astronomy textbook publishers who are alarmed that after the new editions now being rushed into print, they will never again need to update the chapter on moons.
When asked if this seemingly arbitrary and self-contradictory system of classification might not be confusing to school children, the lay public and even professional planetary scientists, Dr. deGrasse explained “science is confusing and not always simple. We are not going to hide this from kids. If they want to study the solar system they are going to have to deal with reality. And the reality is that we have chosen this definition and now it is official. But at least now when kids ask us how many moons there are, we don’t have to waffle. We can tell them that the answer will always be 42.”
Asked about the fact that only 23 astronomers remained at the meeting when the 4 AM final vote was passed, Dr. deGrasse pointed out that the 17 of them who actually voted for the measure represented a clear majority of those in the room who were still conscious.