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Saturday, August 25th, 2012
11:49 pm - Neil Armstrong, RIP

From the BBC's website:-

US astronaut Neil Armstrong dies, first man on Moon

US astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, has died aged 82.

A statement from his family says he died from complications from heart surgery he had earlier this month.

He set foot on the Moon on 20 July 1969, famously describing the event as "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

US President Barack Obama said Amstrong was "among the greatest of American heroes - not just of his time, but of all time".

Last November he received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian award.

He was the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft. More than 500 million TV viewers around the world watched its touchdown on the lunar surface.

Armstrong and fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs.

"The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said.

'Reluctant hero'

Mr Aldrin told the BBC's Newshour programme: "It's very sad indeed that we're not able to be together as a crew on the 50th anniversary of the mission… [I will remember him] as a very capable commander."

Apollo 11 was Armstrong's last space mission. In 1971, he left the US space agency Nasa to teach aerospace engineering.

Born in 1930 and raised in Ohio, Armstrong took his first flight aged six with his father and formed a lifelong passion for flying.

He flew Navy fighter jets during the Korean War in the 1950s, and joined the US space programme in 1962.

Correspondents say Armstrong remained modest and never allowed himself to be caught up in the glamour of space exploration.

"I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer," he said in February 2000, in a rare public appearance.

In a statement, his family praised him as a "reluctant American hero" who had "served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut".

The statement did not say where Armstrong died.

He had surgery to relieve four blocked coronary arteries on 7 August.

current mood: crushed

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5:51 pm - Pluto Is A Planet - The Website

Just thought I'd make sure to share the link to this site ...

It's important to know that the heresy continues ...

With thanks to laurele.

current mood: accomplished

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Friday, August 24th, 2012
9:12 pm - "Don't Mess With My Weltanschauung!"

Science that threatens a person's 'world view' can backfire: researcher

Behind hereCollapse )

current mood: aggravated

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8:44 pm - Pluto Comments I Made On Facebook

Six years ago, on August 24 2006, the IAU forsook all scientific method and threw their weight behind a charismatic Tea Partyesque political decision - Pluto Is Made Of Cheese.

(It might as well have been that!)

So today, Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote a post kind of gloating about it. ("RIP Pluto - Rotate In Peace.") I made a mildly snarky reply (along the lines of "I don't believe that science can be properly decided by a popular vote, swayed by some charismatic and citing authority, any more than science can be decided by consultation of the Bible.") - looks like he's withdrawn his post. Interesting.

Anyhow, I made comments elsewhere on Facebook. Take a look at some of them ...

I noticed a few posts gloating about the political decision to downgrade Pluto on Facebook. I'll post some of my comments and replies on The Pluto Heresy, but I'll share them here ...

On the "Our Solar System" post:-

"Pluto's bigger than Eris. It has a rich system of five moons, and we haven't even seen New Horizons' evidence yet.

"So the scientific evidence around Pluto has not stopped coming in, but that hasn't prevented a minority of the IAU, swayed by charisma, cajoling members into making a popular vote, ignoring evidence to the contrary, and deciding - not deducing, deciding - that Pluto should be relegated, like a poorly-performing FA football team.

"So it's really not so much what I think, as what they were thinking - if they were thinking at all.

"Whatever the decision they made, I seriously question their unscientific "methodology." Did they consult an astrologer's ephemeris or something?"

And beneath that:-

"You do not DECIDE that something is so with a popular vote - that's not science. That's politics. If the evidence refutes the science, then the science needs to be changed to fit the new evidence.

"Deciding a name change with a vote doesn't change its nature. How many times have scientists refuted that old horsewallop adage that "the true name is the thing," as if changing the name of a horse can turn it into a Porsche or a set of stairs or something.

"I dispute your mystical methodology. When did the IAU become more swayed by astrology and "What he said" than by evidence-based scientific deduction, logic and reason?

"Decide what you like. Decide that gravity is yellow, and that the universe should henceforth be referred to by the sobriquet "Eric." Your VOTES don't change the NATURE of what you're voting on, any more than King Cnut could repel the incoming tide with fervent prayer and Kingly authority!"

On my own Facebook:-

"Just seen Neil deGrasse Tyson's somewhat gloating post declaiming that Pluto ceased to be a planet five years ago.

"I replied that I don't believe that science can be properly decided by a popular vote, swayed by some charismatic and citing authority, any more than science can be decided by consultation of the Bible."

This was followed by:-

"Actually, not so popular. It was a 4% minority of the IAU that voted on that Sunday morning.

"And make no bones: they VOTED for Pluto's demotion. They did not publish findings in a scientific paper - and even if they did, the scientific evidence that has since emerged, such as Pluto's having a rich local system of five moons, is now casting SERIOUS doubts on this decision.

"They did not uncover evidence - they IGNORED evidence. They made up their minds, and voted accordingly, discarding the evidence that does not fit their theory.

"If the science does not fit the evidence, you CHANGE THE SCIENCE - NOT the other way around. Otherwise, you might as well just call yourselves sorcerers and live in a New Age colony, because what you'll be practicing won't be astronomy, but sideshow bunkum astrology."

Pluto was a planet before the IAU went mental. It's still out there, solid and real and planety. Waiting for the science to knock the Green Cheesers off their jumped - up moron pedestals and down to the pit reserved for astrologers and phlogiston chemists.

current mood: awake

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4:30 pm - An Open Letter to the 28th IAU General Assembly

Originally posted by laurele at An Open Letter to the 28th IAU General Assembly

August 22, 2012


Dear Dr. Williams, Members of the IAU Executive Committee, Members of the

Secretariat, Members of the Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature, Members of the Working Group on Small Bodies Nomenclature, and Delegates to the 28th IAU General Assembly,


For the second time, I am writing to respectfully request the General Assembly officially reopen the planet definition issue in order to address ongoing questions and controversy that resulted from the 2006 planet definition vote as well as to incorporate new data on objects in our own solar system and on exoplanets into a more broad, inclusive, and comprehensive understanding that streamlines the spectrum of sub-stellar bodies ranging from tiny asteroids and comets to the largest sub-brown dwarfs in this and in all stellar systems in the universe.


As I did in 2009, I ask specifically that you reconsider and add Resolution 5b from 2006, which would establish “planets” as a broad, umbrella category under which both classical and dwarf planets would be included; that the definition be expanded to include objects that orbit a star or are free-floating, to accommodate exoplanets and rogue planets; and that electronic voting be enabled to allow IAU members who are unable to physically attend General Assemblies to vote remotely.


In the six years since the 2006 vote, there have been significant discoveries in both our solar system and others that call into question the utility of the planet definition then adopted. Many exoplanets since discovered would not fit the planet definition adopted then even if it were expanded to include objects other than those that orbit the Sun. Astronomers have discovered exoplanet systems in which two planets share the same orbit; systems with two giant planets in 3:2 resonances; systems with as many as six planets all orbiting within a distance from their star comparable to Mercury’s orbit; planets that orbit their stars backward; and planets that formed directly from stellar nebulae the way stars do. Many exoplanets discovered have extremely elliptical, even comet-like, orbits.


In our solar system, the Dawn mission has revealed Vesta, which is not quite in hydrostatic equilibrium, to be far more like a terrestrial planet than like an asteroid. Vesta turns out to be a complex, geologically layered body with an iron core that formed in a process similar to the way terrestrial planets like Earth did. Dawn’s revelations have led some astronomers to question whether Vesta should be considered the solar system’s “smallest terrestrial planet. Vesta is not a simple ball of rock. This is a world with a rich geochemical history. It has quite a story to tell,” according to Dawn Principal Investigator Dr. Chris Russell.


As members of the IAU are well aware, Dawn is now departing Vesta and heading for Ceres, which it will study in similar detail.


The initial reason that prompted the 2006 General Assembly to determine a need for defining the term “planet” was the discovery of Eris, which was at the time believed to be larger than Pluto. However, in November 2010, when Eris occulted a star, a team of astronomers led by Dr. Bruno Sicardy determined that Eris is smaller than previously believed, marginally smaller than Pluto though about 27 percent more massive. This is significant because it calls into question the initial “need” for a definition since this “need” was based on erroneous information.


I am troubled by what appears to be an inflexible stand by the IAU, a determination to never reopen the planet definition discussion at any General Assembly, even into the indefinite future. This makes absolutely no sense. The 2006 discussion was based on new data discovered about Eris and the Kuiper Belt. Now, in 2012, we once again have more new data on bodies in this and other solar systems. Three years from now, we will have even more data on small planetary bodies via the Dawn mission to Ceres and the New Horizons mission to Pluto.


How can the IAU justify not reopening this discussion in light of all this new data? If this year’s General Assembly is determined to not take up the discussion, why not commit to putting it on the agenda for 2015? That would be an ideal time to take up the planet question again, as there will likely be a host of new information from the Dawn and New Horizons missions on two of the objects directly at the center of this debate.


As I did in 2009, I emphasize that this request is not about Pluto; it is about the need for a more useful, clear definition that encompasses both orbital dynamics and planetary geophysics, one that covers both our solar system and others.


The IAU considers communicating astronomy with the public as one of its essential tasks. I remind the organization that communication is a two-way street. Members of the public, astronomy enthusiasts, and amateur astronomers have consistently communicated dissatisfaction with the 2006 planet definition resolution. Isn’t it time the IAU hear them and respectfully respond to their concerns instead of ignoring and disenfranchising them?


Planetary science is constantly evolving with new discoveries, and in light of this, it makes sense that definitions will need to be updated and refined continuously. The 2006 vote was a first attempt at a definition, but it should not be considered a final one. This is not religion, where an authoritative body speaks once for all eternity, issuing a decree that can never be changed. By reopening the planet definition discussion, the IAU will affirm its relevance and flexibility through willingness to constantly reconsider previous decisions when new data call those decisions into question.


However, if the IAU continues to dig in its heals and refuse to even consider a new discussion on planet definition, the organization risks being viewed as emotional, bureaucratic, and dogmatic, and will become increasingly irrelevant as an authoritative body on the science of astronomy. At that point, other groups and individuals will very likely fill the void and take up the issue on their own, to the point that the matter may fall completely outside the influence of the IAU.


In order to further respectful two-way communication with the public, I urge the IAU to actively seek input on important issues such as this one from a broader population, including professional astronomers who are not IAU members, amateur astronomers and groups representing them, and astronomy students at all levels.


Regardless of the fact that no action on the planet classification issue has been planned for this General Assembly, I implore the IAU’s leadership, delegates to the GA, and members to do what needs to be done, to show courage and sensitivity to both scientists and lay people by admitting the planet definition issue remains unresolved and by adding a provision to this year’s GA reopening the planet definition discussion, or at least committing to putting it on the agenda of the 29th GA in 2015.


More specifically, I also ask that the Resolutions Committee place a resolution on the General Assembly floor for a vote on August 31, 2012, to officially reconsider resolution 5b of 2006, which if passed would establish dwarf planets as a subclass of planets. I also ask that a second resolution be put to the GA floor to include exoplanets in all further planet definition discussions. Finally, I ask that a resolution allowing for electronic voting be adopted before any other resolutions are considered to allow the IAU’s full membership to vote on all relevant issues, a provision badly needed in these difficult economic times when so many cannot afford the expense of travel and lodging to attend the GA in person.



Laurel E. Kornfeld

Highland Park, NJ, USA

Writer, amateur astronomer, astronomy student and blogger








current mood: awake

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11:14 am - We've Kept Planet Pluto Alive

Originally posted by laurele at We've Kept Planet Pluto Alive

On the website http://www.plutoisaplanet.us/ , the count of Pluto’s time taken away already read six years in the afternoon of what was still August 23 in Eastern Daylight Time. That count has been running continuously since “that day,” August 24 six years ago, when four percent of the IAU rushed through a hastily thrown together planet definition resolution that they expected the rest of the world to blindly follow.


“Eight around the Sun they roll. One we just had to let go. Too small is Pluto,” the band One Ring Zero sang in “International Astronomical Union,” a song recorded within months of that controversial decision.


Six years ago, an astronomer who is not an IAU member, who should be taking pride in having discovered several planets, followed this vote with the premature declaration that “Pluto is dead.” That line has evolved over time into “Pluto is still dead,” but more and more, this particular astronomer seems to be trying to convince himself rather than the rest of the world, of the little planet’s “demise.”


On this sixth anniversary of that “embarrassment to astronomy,” as Dr. Alan Stern accurately described the 2006 vote, Planet Pluto is very much alive, and the debate is very much ongoing.


Planet Pluto is alive because of us—all of us, astronomy enthusiasts, members of the public, amateur astronomers, professional astronomers, geologists, planetary scientists, teachers, writers, even kids—would not let it die, would not accept a bad decision simply because 423 people who claimed to be “authorities” dictated it.


I say 423 rather than 424 because my research into the events of 2006 uncovered at least one person, a scientist who spoke only on condition of anonymity, but at the same time a very credible source, who admitted they were bullied into going to Prague just to vote against Pluto, threatened with serious career “consequences” if they did not comply. This is the sort of thing one would expect in the most corrupt circles of the political world, but certainly not in science.


Supporters of the IAU decision decried public opposition to it as based on emotion and sentiment, often contrasting the demoting of Pluto with the demoting of Ceres in the 19th century. Why did no one at that time mount a campaign to save Ceres, they asked. Why are all those “Save Pluto” advocates not also advocating planethood for Ceres?


I believe the answer is the Internet. In the 19th century, chances are many lay people didn’t even know about the existence of Ceres when it was demoted. No one knew what Ceres looked like other than a point of light in the sky, one of many between Mars and Jupiter, none of which could be resolved into disks. And even those who did know Ceres was demoted and might have objected to the decision did not have a way to organize, come together, share information, and influence what was largely a closed, elitist academic world.


Today, academic elitism is a thing of the past. Astronomy is not specialized, privileged knowledge reserved only for a small, exclusive club. The resources to learn the subject, discuss it with others who share an interest, even to pursue formal education online, bring once coveted exclusive knowledge into every living room. People who share not just interests, but particular viewpoints on the subjects of their interest, can organize and create hubs online through which they can quickly disseminate those viewpoints.


When news first came of the IAU decision, many people reacted negatively, refusing to accept what they inherently understood as making little sense. In another time, such people may not have had much power to do anything other than complain about the decision. Today, things are very different. Today, one man or 423 can claim “Pluto is dead,” and an equal or larger number of people can read or hear the transcripts of the debate where the decision was made, research the arguments used, tear those arguments apart in a venue accessible to huge numbers of people, and literally keep the debate—and the little planet—alive.


Because we are asking for it, manufacturers of solar system models, curators of museums and planetariums, programmers designing online solar system simulations, book publishers, teachers, etc. are keeping Pluto in these solar system models or adding it back in after having previously removed it. Some are adding the other dwarf planets as well. Astronomers who write books, articles and blog posts or who embark on lecture tours with the message that “Pluto is dead” can be confronted and have their arguments refuted by anyone who has sufficiently researched the issue and understands the weakness of those arguments.


And when people who are not professional astronomers need help understanding a particular idea or phenomenon, they can turn to almost any expert via email and often gain quick answers to their questions.


Even more significantly, today, amateur astronomers with a computer and Internet connection can take part in actual astronomical research through online programs such as Zooniverse, which can be found here: https://www.zooniverse.org/ . These programs offer opportunities for citizen scientists to take part in a huge range of research activity including classifying galaxies, identifying features on the Moon, finding exoplanets, observing variable stars, and much more.


Today, any of us can search for Kuiper Belt Objects through the Ice Investigators program, the successor to the Ice Hunters program. These searches have been established to assist the New Horizons mission in searching for small nearby KBOs the spacecraft can study after the Pluto flyby. Anyone interested in KBO hunting can get started here: http://cosmoquest.org/iceinvestigators/ .


The Lowell Observatory, site of Pluto’s 1930 discovery, has now established the Lowell Amateur Research Initiative, which offers a wide range of research opportunities for amateur astronomers. More information is available here: http://www.lowell.edu/LARI_welcome.php .


Whether the PhDs like it or not, today, members of the public not only can do astronomical research but can also have a say in matters like planet classification. The attempt to demote Pluto failed at least in part because a huge contingent of the public rejected it, and those of us who did have been able to obtain easy access to the data that supports our position. We have been able to connect with one another online, share information and contacts, post actively in forums, write blogs, give teachers and students resources to support our position, and respond as equals to those in the highest level of professional astronomy.


Of course, if our position were erroneous or untenable, this would not have been possible. It is actually because the IAU definition is so flawed and so weak that we have been so successful in challenging it. But challenge it we did, signaling at least to some the dismaying thought that defining planets is no longer just the province of “experts,” that every interested person has a say in this and other science questions.


We draw the charts and maps,” IAU members are portrayed as declaring in One Ring Zero’s Pluto song. Maybe once upon a time, that was true. Maybe way back when, “experts” made decisions, and everyone else blindly followed.


But not today, not any more. Planet Pluto lives, and the debate over its status and over planet classification and definition is more alive and active than ever. Six years after what was supposed to be the final word, the end of the debate, the fight for Pluto and for a better planet definition has only just begun.


current mood: awake

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Saturday, September 3rd, 2011
9:01 pm

Video - Space.com: Primordial Matter On Pluto

This video, according to laurele, may cause problems when attempting to view it with Windows Internet Explorer.

current mood: busy

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Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
6:12 pm - New Horizons Workshop

New Horizons workshop, day 1: Chemistry & climate on Pluto & other cold places

Behind the cutCollapse )

current mood: busy

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Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
4:38 pm - Five Years On

Originally posted by laurele:-

Five Years Later: Pluto Hasn't Been Killed and Doesn't Have It Coming

It’s August 24, 2011; five years have passed since the debacle in Prague, and a few vocal people who insist our solar system has only eight planets are still acting like broken records, endlessly repeating “get over it.”

That’s because the decision that was supposed to be final, that was intended to once and for all end the debate over Pluto’s status and over how to define the term planet continues to be a huge #FAIL, as new discoveries keep the little world front and center and continue to amaze us.

Being a procrastinator is usually not considered a positive thing. Yet for me, as I continue to work on my book and on several other Pluto-related writings, the delays have resulted in unexpected benefits, specifically, a continual influx of new information about Pluto, dwarf planets, proto-planets, and exoplanets that, in each case, compels revisions and new topics of discussion.

As often said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and discoveries in just the last year, never mind the last five years, powerfully illustrate the mistake made by four percent of the IAU in rushing through a resolution based on only a little knowledge, a resolution accurately and amusingly described by Alan Boyle in his book The Case for Pluto as looking like “it was stitched together by Dr. Frankenstein.”

Except Dr. Frankenstein’s monster “took.” The IAU definition, to the dismay of those who threw it together and then proclaimed victory in the debate, did not “take.”

Here is some of the knowledge 424 astronomers voting in Prague in 2006 did not yet have:

Pluto’s lower atmosphere contains methane gas, as revealed in March 2009 by ESO’s Very Large Telescope. This lower atmosphere is significantly warmer than Pluto’s surface, where the average temperature is –180 Celsius. Unlike Earth, Pluto has an “upside down” atmosphere where temperatures increase at higher levels by 3-15 degrees Celsius per kilometer.

Pluto might harbor a subsurface ocean that could host microbial life and could also drive a weak magnetic field. Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, may also host a subsurface ocean and shows evidence of cryovolcanism.

Contrary to popular belief, Pluto is once again the largest Kuiper Belt Object, as Eris’ occultation of a star in November 2010 helped astronomers obtain a more accurate measurement of its size, which was determined to be marginally smaller than Pluto’s. There currently are no known objects in either the Kuiper Belt or the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter that are larger than Pluto. Eris is slightly more dense than Pluto, but if density is all that counts for planets, then Saturn should be demoted, as it is the solar system’s least dense world, to the point that it could actually float in water.

Outside our solar system, an incredible range of exoplanets has been found, most of which would never fit the IAU planet definition even if it specified planets have to orbit a star rather than our Sun. These include planets that orbit their star backwards (in the direction opposite the star’s rotation); a planet believed to have been formed the way stars form, directly from a molecular cloud, orbiting a brown dwarf; a Sun-like star with six planets all orbiting within a space equal to the orbit of Mercury; rogue planets not orbiting any stars; at least two systems with giant planets orbiting in the same 3:2 resonance as Neptune and Pluto, and even a star system with two planets that share a single orbit.

Such unexpected findings prompted planetary scientist Dr. Jack Lissauer to admit the data is “sending me back to the drawing board” when it comes to theories of solar system formation.

Those who exclude Pluto from planethood due to its eccentric orbit should study exoplanets, many of which have orbits far more inclined and elliptical than Pluto’s. Apparently, astronomers’ theory that most solar systems formed the way ours did is being proven incorrect, as can be seen here: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Interstellar_Crashes_Could_Toss_Out_Habitable_Planets_999.html

In 2011, Pluto twice occulted a star, allowing astronomers to obtain more accurate measurements of its atmosphere’s pressure, density, and temperature via NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Contrary to expectations, Pluto’s atmosphere has not become thinner as the planet recedes from its closest point to the Sun, which it reached in 1989. No one knows why.

Pluto’s atmosphere changes very quickly, as can be distinguished from changes in the coloring on its surface. More on this can be found here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1104.3014

Vesta, a main belt body known as an asteroid since the mid-19th century, now being visited by the Dawn mission, is showing itself to be a highly complex, geologically differentiated world. It is not quite spherical, not quite in hydrostatic equilibrium but clearly very different from any asteroids except Ceres, which is not an asteroid at all, but a small planet, and Pallas, which is somewhat similar to Vesta. Some astronomers now refer to Vesta and Pallas as “protoplanets” to distinguish them from tiny, shapeless asteroids.

If having a tail makes an object a comet, then Mercury joins the ranks of the comets, as it has an elongated tail of glowing gas, as found by NASA’s Stereo mission.

Pluto has been found to have a fourth moon, P4, estimated to be 8-21 miles in diameter. Current thought is the Pluto system was formed via a giant impact. If that sounds familiar, it should. That is how Earth’s moon is believed to have formed.

Three new dwarf planets were discovered in the Kuiper Belt, objects smaller than Pluto but large enough to be over the threshold for hydrostatic equilibrium, 250 miles or 400 kilometers wide. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute of Washington, who led the study that found these bodies, recently noted, “There could still be Mars- or even Earth-sized objects way out there, at hundreds of AU (astronomical units; one AU is the distance between the Earth and Sun, or 93 million miles), that would be too faint for us to detect.”

In spite of this, Mike Brown continues to discourage the notion of searching for more KBOs Pluto-sized or larger, claiming that if such objects existed, they would have already been found.

A most encouraging development, begun only two months ago, is Ice Hunters, a Zooniverse project in which citizen scientists can actively take part in the search for KBOs; discoveries made through this program could end up being targets for New Horizons after it flies by Pluto. No longer is KBO hunting or even planet hunting restricted to professional astronomers who can obtain coveted time on large telescopes. Anyone reading this who wants to take part in this exciting project, which is being run in conjunction with the New Horizons mission, should visit http://www.icehunters.org.

All these developments have served to strengthen support for Pluto’s planet status and for the planet status of all dwarf planets. Online discussions clearly show a tide turning in small planets’ favor. Arguments such as the claim that we cannot have too many planets because it would be too hard for kids to memorize all of them, or that the term “planet” is devalued by having a large number, or that “the experts have spoken, and it’s over,” or that support for keeping small round objects as a subclass of planets is based on sentiment and emotion are more and more frequently falling flat on their faces.

Scientific principles rise and fall over time, not through a vote. For more than 100 years, people have failed in attempts to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity false. In just five years, the IAU planet definition has not only failed to take hold, but has lost ground and continues to do so as new evidence shows just how premature the decision was.

Of Pluto and the IAU’s increasing irrelevance in the discussion, Alan Stern recently said, “I believe that most planetary scientists know it’s a planet, and we don’t need the IAU to tell us it is.” Neither, for that matter, does the general public need that.

From a cultural standpoint, support for Pluto’s planet status is as strong as ever. While teaching of the solar system is not standardized, the best teachers continue to teach the controversy. Students of all ages have eagerly embraced Pluto as an exciting topic for research. Two personal examples are noteworthy here. One member of my astronomy club, who just completed her freshman year in high school, proudly informed me of the A+ she received for her paper discussing the controversy. In July, when I met the family of my brother’s fiancée, I was impressed to hear her niece, who had just completed seventh grade, emphasize that her teacher absolutely would not come down on either side of the issue, instead teaching it as an ongoing debate.

Elon University Physics Professor Tony Crider has combined astronomy with another favorite interest of his and of mine—role-playing games—to create a game in which students role play astronomers at a 1999 debate and at the 2006 IAU General Assembly. As a new school year begins, I encourage teachers and students to use this original, fun, and informative lesson, which was introduced earlier this month at a meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The game can be found at http://facstaff.elon.edu/acrider/acrider/The_Pluto_Debate.html, and I hope to post a
review of it shortly.

Constantly enticing us with new data, Pluto is proving more popular than ever. In spite of a recession, Pluto-themed objects, including T-shirts, amazingly continue to sell online, even after five years. At a recent podcast I did about Pluto for the Online Astronomical Society, significant support was expressed for establishing an organization of amateur astronomers that could operate as an auxiliary to the IAU, enabling substantially more public input into decisions and facilitating better communication between professional astronomers and the public.

I am thrilled to announce that I am now a co-administrator for the Facebook Cause “Bring Pluto Back,” whose membership now stands at 1,634, nearly four times the number of people who voted to demote Pluto. If you’re on Facebook and want to join, please visit http://www.causes.com/causes/241322-bring-pluto-back.

Psychologist Carl Jung believed that symbols and myths connect people with subconscious levels of meaning that transcend logic and reason. Such symbols and myths inspire art, literature, music, and imagination. I believe Pluto has become one of those enigmas larger than itself and larger than life, compelling, motivating, inspiring people of all ages and levels of education. This is the je ne sais quoi phenomenon that those who keep repeating louder and louder that Pluto is dead and that we should “get over it,” do not comprehend.

Having performed in two Renaissance festivals, I’ve lately become fascinated with all things from that time, the age from which modern astronomy emerged. So on this fifth anniversary, my message to the IAU, whose members clearly made a premature decision based on a little knowledge and insufficient data five years ago, I will convey some Renaissance wisdom, from William Shakespeare:

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” A good number of them are planets.

current mood: busy

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Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
5:49 pm - Article: Take A Tour of The Solar System

An article rehashing the cobblers spurious argument set up by 4% of voters at the IAU conference almost five years ago.

Another Solar System article on "dwarf planets"

If IUPAC took leave of its senses and decided by a 4% vote to rename the elements of carbon, copper and sodium as "coalium," "redmetallium" and "bloodyhellwhatwasthatium," it ought to have no effect on what the rest of the world calls these elements - so all these articles trying to rationalise the ISU's specious nonsense are all propaganda, in a way.

We need to keep the flame going for the time being, until New Horizons arrives and we can get a good look at Pluto - then we can make our case and press the IAU for a proper vote on declaring Pluto a planet again.

Meanwhile, enjoy the article above.

current mood: busy

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Friday, August 5th, 2011
11:53 pm - Cosmos Rebooted ... Seth McFarlane Directing

Cosmos Rebooted, Seth McFarlane Directing, Neil deGrasse Tyson To Host


current mood: amazed

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Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
12:42 pm - New Plutonian Moon Discovered!

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new satellite – temporarily designated P4 -- was uncovered in a Hubble survey searching for rings around the dwarf planet.

link and remainder of article under hereCollapse )

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Thursday, July 14th, 2011
2:25 pm - Happy Orbital Anniversary, Neptune!


Depending on which calculation system one uses, the planet Neptune reached an important milestone somewhere between July 9 and 12 of this year. It has finally completed a single orbit of the Sun since its discovery on September 23, 1846.

For Neptune, one orbit around the Sun takes nearly 165 Earth years!

For most of the 165 years since its discovery, we have known precious little about this distant planet. In 1989, Voyager II changed that by sending back glorious detailed up- close photos of the blue world, which has
the fiercest winds in the entire solar system. We saw the Great Dark Spot, a storm akin to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, found thin rings circling the planet, and discovered six new small moons. Neptune was long thought to have only two moons, the large Triton and much smaller Nereid.

The story of Neptune’s discovery is inextricably linked with that of Pluto’s discovery. In the early 19th century, astronomers studying Uranus, which was discovered in 1781, found that its actual orbit did not match the orbit they predicted for it. Uranus’ orbit was “perturbed,” suggesting the planet was experiencing gravitational influence from yet another large object even more distant.

A lot of the same issues we see today in the field of astronomy loomed large in the mid-19th century regarding Neptune. Independently of one another, a young British astronomer named John Couch Adams and a young French astronomer named Urbain Leverrier mathematically calculated the position of the supposed planet affecting Uranus. Both faced ambivalence from the established community of astronomers. Adams tried three times to get England’s Astronomer Royal to look at his calculations and each time was unsuccessful. Leverrier finally turned to the Berlin Observatory with very specific coordinates for where the planet should be found, a feat accomplished within an hour by observer Johann Gottfried Galle.

Later, some astronomers came to believe that Neptune, too, was experiencing perturbations in its orbit, and this notion led directly to the search for yet another planet even further out. It turns out there were no
perturbations, just human error in calculating Neptune’s orbit. This was not known until the 1989 Voyager II flyby. Yet the erroneous notion of perturbations directly set in motion the sequence of events that led to the
discovery of Pluto, prototype of a third class of solar system planets.

Galle turns out to not be the first person to have observed Neptune. The planet happened to be near Jupiter when Galileo turned his telescope on the giant planet. Neptune actually was recorded by Galileo as a star,
probably because it moved so slowly against the other background stars. There is some question as to whether Galileo recognized Neptune as something other than one of the “fixed” stars.

Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, is compositionally similar to Pluto. It orbits Neptune in the direction opposite Neptune’s orbit around the Sun, suggesting it was once a planet in its own right orbiting the Sun directly that was somehow captured by Neptune. Triton is believed to have originated in the Kuiper Belt, driving home the notion that Pluto is not a loner, that there have always been Kuiper Belt planets.

The sequence of events leading to Neptune’s discovery in 1846 also illustrate that the rivalries and personality conflicts so prominent in the Pluto debate are hardly new. The players are different now, but the
behaviors are very much the same—professional rivalries between individual scientists, astronomy being drawn into political conflicts between nations (England, France, and Germany in the case of Neptune), and an elitist attitude by “established” scientists when faced with challenging ideas by newcomers viewed as “upstarts.”

While many people know me online as the “Pluto lady” or “Plutogirl,” my first planetary fascination was actually Neptune, that hypnotically beautiful aqua-blue world, when the Voyager II pictures were
initially released. I was captivated by the strange, faraway world and still am. I kept every Voyager II photo of Neptune from the headlines and even started painting the planet with watercolor. To this day, images of Neptune, including a painting I copied from the front cover of Newsweek magazine, still adorn the walls of my bedroom.

It was Neptune that first brought me to Amateur Astronomers, Inc., the club I would join many years later. Back in 1989, I did not own a car and had to ask a friend to drive me to the club’s observatory on one of its
open public nights. As the volunteers led everyone to the club’s two telescopes for observations, I turned to one of them and specifically asked that he show me Neptune. The stunned volunteer acted as if I had asked to see a planet orbiting another star. In all his years of volunteering, no one had come in asking to view Neptune, he said. My request was not possible.

In retrospect, it is unlikely that no one ever asked to view Neptune. Experienced observers in the club likely had seen it many times while newcomers are usually shown the most common and frequently visible objects,
which for planets means Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. More likely, Neptune was not visible from Earth at that particular time.

Twenty years later, as a club member, I finally fulfilled my wish. Through the eyepiece of a member’s telescope, on a clear night, I took my first direct look at the tiny blue dot that was a world that had captured my heart.

Depending on where it is in its orbit in relation to Earth and the Sun, Neptune can be observed though not with the naked eye. Binoculars or a telescope are needed. This article in Universe Today shows its
current position, the position in which it was first discovered: http://www.universetoday.com/87392/happy-anniversary-neptune/ , Special photos of Neptune taken by Hubble for the occasion can be seen here: http://www.universetoday.com/87416/hubbles-new-views-of-neptune/

Just about every one of the books about Pluto I have reviewed discusses the discovery of Neptune in various degrees of detail. Anyone who wants an even more in-depth account can find it in the book The Neptune File by Tom Standage, published in 2001 and available through Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/NEPTUNE-FILE-PENGUIN-PRESS-SCIENCE/dp/0140294643/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I2477XL9Z6QZJF&colid=I2I4WCVK3I5Y

Happy Anniversary of Discovery, Neptune!


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Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
7:53 pm - Pluto the Player

memes - Pluto the Player

current mood: amused

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Friday, June 24th, 2011
4:15 am - Pluto

Nat Geo - Pluto to Make a Star "Wink Out" Twice This Week

Just in case the link goes awayCollapse )

With thanks to laurele for the original link.

current mood: occult

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Friday, June 10th, 2011
7:49 am - Surprises From The Voyager Probes

As you may know, the Voyager probes have reached the heliosheath that forms the edge of the solar system. Yesterday, readings from the Voyagers have prompted the scientists to come up with a surprising theory about the boundary of the solar system.

Big Surprise

Text of the article behind hereCollapse )

Pics behind hereCollapse )

current mood: cheerful

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Saturday, March 12th, 2011
11:27 pm - Reposted from laurele


current mood: accomplished

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Sunday, March 6th, 2011
12:50 pm - Tyche - Planet X?

An article in the Journal of Cosmology on the purported discovery of a "rogue" gas giant planet in the outer Oort cloud, which astronomers have theoretically called Tyche:-

Tyche: Rogue Planet Discovered in Oort Cloud (article)

current mood: busy

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Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
12:34 am - The Contributions of Laurel Kornfeld

A correspondent on LJ, laurele, maintains a pro-Pluto planet blog of her own on LJ and also on Blogspot. Here are her most recent posts. The news articles to which she has provided links will be posted in following entries here.

February 2 2011 post

February 18 2011 post celebrating the anniversary of the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh

Mercury Has A Tail? Refutation of one of Mike Brown's arguments

A link to a report debating the pros and cons of the Pluto argument

A link to a report on an exoplanet system with two planets sharing the same orbit - more evidence knocking down Mike Brown's argument against Pluto having planet status

Read Laurel's blog, here or on Blogspot. And spread the word. Pluto deserves the title of planet.

current mood: cheerful

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Friday, December 24th, 2010
1:41 pm - More Pluto News - 2010 12 21, Discovery News

Pluto May Host an Ocean - Discovery News

current mood: bouncy

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