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Astronomers Take Up Planet Debate At International Congress

Artist's impression of Pluto and it's moon Charon.
by Staff Writers
Prague (AFP) Aug 14, 2006
Some 2,500 astronomers are meeting in the Czech capital to debate inter-galactic issues like what constitutes a planet, as the 26th congress of the International Astronomical Union opened Monday.

"This congress will be without a doubt more important than the one held in Sydney three years ago. It also will be very open to young scientists," said Jan Palous, head of the national organizing committee for the IAU event which runs to August 25.

The experts from 75 countries are expected to take up the debate over the official definition of a planet, which arose after astronomers found that Pluto is much smaller than an enigmatic object, 2003 UB313, which its discoverers claim is the Solar System's 10th planet.

UB313, found some 15 billion kilometres (nine billion miles) from Earth, ignited a huge row after its finding was announced in July 2005 by an American team.

Pluto's defenders blasted UB313, saying it was not a planet, just a rock, or KBO -- Kuiper Belt Object -- which is the term for the estimated 100,000 pieces of icy, primeval debris that slowly encircle the sun on the outskirts of the solar system.

The 11-day congress will host six symposiums, 17 debate sessions and 52 specialized conferences.

A special theme of this year's event will be women and astronomy with some 300 women astronomers joining the discussion, Palous said.

The IAU, which was founded in 1919, meets every three years to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy through international cooperation.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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