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Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics: Lecture 4 Transcript January 25, 2007 << back Professor Charles Bailyn: We were talking last time about the objects in the Solar System. And we'd gone through kind of two of the three stages of the scientific method as it's applied to observational science rather than experimental science. And the first thing was just making observations, finding a bunch of things. And so I gave you a little slide show depicting some of the objects in our Solar System. And after observations the next thing to do is classification, and we did some of that too, and I divided all these objects that had been discovered into six categories. And then, once you've done that, once you have some categories that kind of make sense, then the next thing is to interpret these results and to try and explain where these categories come from, how they arise, and actually figure something out. And I've described that as interpretation, and I want to offer you a little bit of interpretation about what we've found about the Solar System. Now, I only want to explain some of the classifications. This is actually a common thing to do. When you find a whole bunch of different things and you've got twelve classes and three sub-classes and two exceptions, you kind of want to explain the big features first and then worry about the little things later. This is commonly done. So, what I'm going to do is I'm going to talk about only the inner terrestrial planets. You'll recall that these are small, rocky things in relatively short orbit, and contrast them with the outer planets, the Jovian, the Jupiter-like planets, which are large and have not only rocks, but also lots of ice and gas. And these things are in wider orbit, but the orbits of both of these are, basically, more or less circular. Not precisely circular, they're actually elliptical, but quite close, and they're all in the same plane. That is to say, they're all going around the same way. There's nothing that's going this way instead of this way. So, they're circular and co-planar. And let's try for an explanation of those particular features. Okay, so this would be something like a Theory of Planetary Formation: how the planets formed, why they get that way. This word, "theory," is a serious problem. This is one of the foremost examples of a word that means something different when scientists use it than when normal people use it. In scientific parlance, a theory is something which has a lot of support, which explains a lot of observed or experimental fact. In everyday life, of course, a theory means a wild guess. So, there's a pretty stark difference between those two definitions. This gets our friends the evolutionary biologists, in all kinds of trouble because they keep talking about the theory of evolution. And a certain segment of society interprets that as the wild guess of evolution and this creates various kinds of difficulties. The problem is, there isn't another word that one can readily use for what the science definition of this--you could use "paradigm," you could use "scenario." These are kind of
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