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Women in Astronomy

The Limits of Labels, Categories, and Classifications

27 Apr 2015, 13:33 UTC
The Limits of Labels, Categories, and Classifications
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Today’s guest blogger is Rebecca Oppenheimer. Rebecca is Curator, Professor, and Chair of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Her optics laboratory in the Rose Center is the birthplace of a number of new astronomical instruments designed to dissect and analyze the light from a continuously growing population of exoplanets.  I am a half-Jew, white, private-schooled, astronomer from the Upper West Side of Manhattan who loves exoplanets and pizza. I am quite certain I am not unique in holding all those labels. In fact I know a few others who do. Except I am also a transgender woman.  Human beings have had a need, since Aristotle’s fundamental writings, to label and categorize everything. It makes it easier to discuss phenomena.  One might, for example, examine the contentious notion of whether Pluto is a planet. The word "planet" is so loaded that few even know what the word originally meant—a wanderer among the stars, the etymological meaning of the word from ancient Greek. Pluto is part of a huge population that really bears no resemblance to Earth, Venus, Mars, or Jupiter. Our current understanding of Pluto is so much deeper and more interesting simply to call ...

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