atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#2542: TENTH planet possibly discovered, finally.

Fuck those guys. In my book, Pluto's still a freakin' planet.

The planet which may be out in the Oort Cloud is four times larger than Jupiter. Yeah, that's big. It's also so freakin' far away from the sun that we'd probably do better to look for it in infrared, as the leftover heat of its formation that it's radiating is probably more energy than it receives from the sun, much less reflects back into space.

What made me comment on this--because the article is extremely preliminary, and has no details about this potential TENTH planet in the solar system--is the image accompanying it.

See, Pluto's a long way out. At perihelion, it's 30 astronomical units (AU) from the sun--30 times the distance that Earth is--and that's when it's closest; Pluto's got a highly eccentric orbit and its perihelion is actually inside Neptune's orbit. At aphelion it's a lot farther out.

Pluto's orbit is regarded as being the inner boundary of the Kuiper belt, which is a vast field of comets and asteroids. The volume of space is immense, and the density of objects is ectoplasmic--Han Solo could fly the Millennium Falcon through the Kuiper Belt at full speed and never have to touch the control panel--yet there's probably a few Jupiter masses of stuff out there.

If you look at the diagram of the Oort Cloud, then, you see how tiny the Kuiper Belt is. The Kuiper Belt is that tiny blue blot in the middle of the Oort Cloud. The outer edge of the Oort Cloud is the outer edge of the solar system; beyond that, you're truly in interstellar space.

Niven and Pournelle did the best job of giving a good impression of the scale of this in Lucifer's Hammer. When the comet Hamner-Brown was falling towards its destined rendesvous with Earth, early on in the book, they describe its distance from the sun by saying that Pluto's orbit appeared about the size of a quarter held at arm's length.

...see, then you do it, and think, That quarter represents an orbit 60 AU in diameter, and then you think, FUCK that's a long way out from the sun!

The idea that there was a TENTH planet in the Oort Cloud, stirrin' the puddin', is not a new one. This article mainly points out that we may actually now have data proving it.

* * *

Mike Flynn links an interesting story about a kid who shouldn't be alive. At least, not "alive" in the conventional sense; at best--according to everything medical science says--this kid should be capable only of laying in bed and drooling. (And quite possibly not even that, not at age 3.)

His brain lacks a cerebellum, the apple-sized lump at the back which basically lets us move like we have a purpose. One of its most important functions is to act as the control system that lets us balance; but it also concentrates the kinetisthetic functions of the body (that is, all the control functions for the skeletal muscles) in a small volume in order to minimize propagation delays. Nerve impulses travel pretty slowly.

Because it has to be close to the spinal cord, the cerebellum is very well-protected, too; it sits right on top of the spinal column, around the brain stem; the rest of the brain connects through it. It's really hard for a blow to the head to damage the cerebellum; usually any non-penetrating impact sufficient to damage the cerebellum is also enough to pop the skull off the top vertabra, severing the spinal cord and killing the victim.

A person whose cerebellum is damaged tends to do a lot of sitting. Certainly he's not going to get up and run a marathon; walking with help would be miraculous.

But this kid was born without it--his cerebellum never developed--so in theory he shouldn't be able to learn how to move; certainly he shouldn't be able to learn to crawl and learning to walk ought to be right out.

But the brain has an incredible ability to adapt. The parts that we apparently don't really use for anything can be repurposed, on the fly, and reprogrammed to provide different functions. It certainly doesn't happen quickly--we're built to develop a certain way, and taking any other path is a lot harder--but it happens.

If you really think that science is the do-all, be-all of human achievement, I invite you to answer the questions this raises. How does the brain know how to do that? No other organ in the human body can reconfigure itself that way; it's like your nose being repurposed to hear as well as smell. There is no blueprint, no switching diagram, no DNA that says, "In case you're born without a cerebellum, route around the missing part and use [parts X and Y] to provide motor function." The brain just does it.

How?

The point is, science doesn't understand everything; in fact, it understands very little. We know quite a bit about the universe, but being able to describe the way something works doesn't mean we understand how and why. Just saying, "The brain is a highly adaptable organ," doesn't cut it; that's just an acknowledgement of reality. "Water is wet," is the same kind of statement, as is "Fire is hot."

The theory of evolution doesn't explain it. Absent civilization and advanced medicine, this kid would be dead. There's no way for this kind of adaptability to evolve, because a kid born in the wild without a cerebellum would die in pretty short order. You can hem and haw about "healing injuries" but the simple fact is that severe head trauma--anything that injures the brain enough to damage it, requiring this kind of reconfiguration--kills you pretty quickly absent things like medicine and society. If you're a monkey who's been incapacitated by falling out of a tree onto his head, if you don't get up and climb back into the tree, you're going to die. If you're a member of homo habilis and someone hits you over the head with a rock, if you're not able to stand up the next day, you're probably already dead.

"Natural selection" can't select for things like this. So where does it come from? Anyone?
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