Pluto: dwarf planet

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pages: 242 words: 81,209

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown

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indoor plumbing, Kuiper Belt, Pluto: dwarf planet

It even included a footnote that clearly stated, “The eight planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune,” and that Pluto and Xena, along with the asteroid Ceres, were to be called “dwarf planets,” a term no one had ever heard before. The resolution was clear to point out that dwarf planets are not planets, which I found an odd use of the English language. The first question from the press: “Dwarf planets are planets, right?” No, I explained. The resolution was pretty clear. There are eight planets; dwarf planets, of which there might be hundreds, were clearly not planets. But how could something be called a dwarf planet yet not be a planet? they wanted to know. A blue planet is a planet, right? A giant planet is still a planet. A dwarf tree is still a tree. How can a dwarf planet not be a planet? Such is the beauty and frustration of definitions, I suppose.

Particularly amusing to me was the complaint about the phrase dwarf planet. By the simple rules of grammar, a dwarf planet is a planet, they would say. The fact that the IAU would say that a dwarf planet is not a planet demonstrates that the entire decision must be wrong. What no one making these arguments remembers—or admits to remembering—is that the only people who liked the phrase dwarf planet at first were the ones who hoped that it would save Pluto when the other planets were renamed “classical planets.” Yet Resolution 5B was a specific vote on this issue, and it clearly stated that dwarf planets are not planets—just as Matchbox cars are not cars, stuffed animals are not animals, and chocolate bunnies are not bunnies. I don’t particularly like the phrase dwarf planet, either, but it is serviceable. I’ve heard the argument that the definition is unworkable because it is inconsistent with the rest of astronomy.

If the astronomers voted yes on Resolution 5A, Pluto was clearly dead. “But what about Resolution 5B?” someone asked. I hadn’t gotten around to reading that one yet. I turned to the screen. Resolution 5B: Definition of Classical Planet Huh? “Classical” planet? It was the Pluto escape clause! Resolution 5B simply changed the word planets in the previous resolution to classical planets. There would now be eight classical planets and four dwarf planets. With the quick addition of one word—classical—in front, dwarf and classical simply became different but equal subsets of the overall category of planets. Suddenly, dwarf planets were planets after all. The committee had indeed tried to sneak Pluto back in. The odd phrase dwarf planet had been invented in the previous resolution to allow the possibility that Pluto could rise from the underworld to live again.


pages: 221 words: 61,146

The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets by Alan Boss

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Albert Einstein, Dava Sobel, diversified portfolio, full employment, if you build it, they will come, Kuiper Belt, Mars Rover, Pluto: dwarf planet, Silicon Valley, wikimedia commons

Resolution 5A stated in essence that yes, planets had to be round, but they also had to be massive enough to have cleared their surroundings of any competing pretenders to planethood. Given that Pluto had lots of similar-sized siblings in the Kuiper Belt, Pluto would not be a planet if Resolution 5A passed, and it did in a landslide. Yellow cards were everywhere, and there was no need to try to count the cards in favor and against. Resolution 5B would insert the word classical in front of the word planet in Resolution 5A, effectively leaving Pluto a planet, but not one of the eight planets discovered by classical times (the last planet discovered before Pluto was Neptune in 1847). Resolution 5B was voted down by a margin of about 3 to 1. General applause arose once Resolution 5B was pronounced dead on arrival. Pluto was no longer a planet after that second vote. Now there were only eight. Resolution 6A proposed that Pluto should be called a “dwarf planet,” and this resolution passed by a vote of 237 to 157.

Given the low mass of the central object, it was not clear whether this “planet” should be called a planet, but the fact that planetary-mass objects orbited even brown dwarfs was a strong indication that super-Earths could form just about anywhere there was a disk of raw material. June 11, 2008—The IAU decided to tidy up some remaining business from the 2006 vote in Prague to demote Pluto from planethood to a new category of dwarf planets. Henceforth, Pluto and Eris would be officially known as plutoids, the IAU name for dwarf planets in the outer solar system. Ceres would remain as simply a dwarf planet, with no further laurels for its résumé. June 12, 2008—The reaction to the IAU’s plutoid decision was swift and harsh, as might be expected for such a high-stakes issue. Mark Sykes and Alan Stern declared that the IAU’s decision should be ignored, and Stern hinted that the IAU could be replaced with a new organization, in effect equating the IAU with the League of Nations, which was replaced by the United Nations after World War II.

Alan Stern and Mark Sykes, director of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, and a co-investigator on NASA’s Dawn Mission to Ceres and Vesta, launched a petition drive protesting the IAU’s decision. Within a few days, they had garnered the support of 400 irate planetary scientists, students, and engineers and were planning to bring up the question of Pluto again at the next IAU General Assembly, scheduled for 2009 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ceres had been provisionally promoted to full planethood for a little over a week in Prague, but now Ceres was merely a dwarf planet, along with Pluto and several others, while Vesta remained a lowly minor planet. It was an outrageous turn of events for the Dawn Mission team. September 13, 2006—If Pluto was now a dwarf planet, so was Xena. Michael Brown was thus free to suggest proper names for Xena and Gabrielle. He suggested Eris and Dysnomia. Eris was the Greek goddess of discord and strife, and Dysnomia was her daughter.


pages: 310 words: 89,653

The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell

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Albert Einstein, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, en.wikipedia.org, Eratosthenes, gravity well, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, Mars Rover, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, polynesian navigation, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, V2 rocket

But the next day when the images were beamed back: For some examples of the photos of Earth taken from the surface of Mars, see photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA05547 and also pancam.sese.asu.edu/pancam_instrument/projects_3.html. Chapter 9. The Edge of Interstellar Space their “planet” status: For lots more background and detail on the controversy over the demotion of Pluto, see Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Pluto Files (New York: W. W. Norton, 2009); Mike Brown, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012); and the details about the IAU’s decision to demote Pluto to dwarf planet status, online at iau.org/public/themes/pluto. maybe 50,000 years ago or more: See astronomer and science evangelist Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog entry titled “The Long Climb from the Sun’s Core” at badastronomy.com/bitesize/solar_system/sun.html for information on how long it takes photons to escape the sun’s core.

While Pluto itself may end up showing some similarities with its possible cousin Triton, my bet is that the Pluto system overall will turn out to be just as new, strange, and alien as every other place that we’ve encountered in our travels out into the solar system. Planets, dwarf planets, moons . . . it really doesn’t matter what we call them. They are a diverse, interesting, and just plain cool lot of neighbors that we share our solar system with. With so many hopes pinned on the fast-approaching flyby of Pluto, I can’t help but think back to the Voyager 2 Neptune flyby where almost instantly so much was revealed. And yet we all felt a mixture of exhilaration and regret as we looked in the rearview mirror, wanting more. Larry Soderblom recalls, “Our feelings as Voyager 2 completed its last solar-system encounter and receded from Neptune toward the deep void of interstellar space were wistful and depressed.

The glut of Pluto-sized bodies being recently discovered beyond Neptune is what gave Pluto itself all that trouble, of course. Rather than accepting the fact that there are indeed many hundreds of newly discovered planets out there, and countless more still to be found, some astronomers chose to be “splitters” instead of “lumpers.” In 2006, after some contentious debate, the International Astronomical Union (IAU)—the world’s governing body tasked with giving planets and moons and asteroids and comets (as well as craters and mountains on those worlds) their names—decided to strip Pluto, and other places like it, of their “planet” status. Instead, such worlds were demoted to “dwarf planet” status, and the number of true planets in the solar system was decreased to eight, throwing textbooks and elementary school science-fair projects into chaos and disarray.


pages: 257 words: 66,480

Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System by Ray Jayawardhana

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Arthur Eddington, cosmic abundance, dark matter, Edmond Halley, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, Louis Pasteur, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Solar eclipse in 1919

The new defnition sounds innocuous enough: A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has suffcient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. The cause of all the frenzy was the implication from part (c) that Pluto, considered a planet for more than seventy-fve years, is no longer. In fact, the IAU made it explicit: Pluto is a dwarf planet by the above defnition and is recognized as the prototype of a new category of trans-Neptunian objects. The reactions to this apparent demotion ranged from the emotional to the humorous, from the somber to the silly. Schoolchildren wrote letters to prominent astronomers calling them heartless or worse. Cartoonists and late-night comedians poked fun at Pluto being sent to the cosmic doghouse. The self-styled “Friends of Pluto,” including the widow and son of its discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, protested in Las Cruces, New Mexico, carrying placards that read “Size Doesn’t Matter.”

Isotopes: Different types of atoms of the same chemical element, each harboring a different number of neutrons. Some isotopes are radioactive and thus decay into other types of atoms by spontaneously emitting particles and radiation. Kuiper Belt: The region beyond the orbit of Neptune (i.e., 30–55 AU from the Sun) that contains tens of thousands of small bodies, as well as a handful of known dwarf planets like Pluto, left over from the era of solar system formation. Light-year: The distance that light travels in a year, just under 10 trillion kilometers (or about 6 trillion miles). Magma: Molten rock. Main-sequence star: A star that fuses hydrogen into helium in its core. Stars spend the bulk of their lifetime in this phase, the length of which depends on the star’s mass. The Sun’s main-sequence lifetime is about 10 billion years.

Since then, astronomers have identifed over a thousand other such bodies, and it became increasingly clear that Pluto belongs to the same population. With the discovery of several large Kuiper Belt objects in recent years, some more than half the size of Pluto and harboring moons just like it does, Pluto’s special status was under threat. The issue came to a head in 2005, when Michael Brown at Caltech and his colleagues found a body, later (fttingly) named Eris after the Greek goddess of discord, estimated to be not only bigger than Pluto but also more massive. Now the scientifc community had little choice: they had to either elevate Eris (and others like it) to planet status or drop Pluto. If they chose the frst option, the ranks of solar system planets might swell into the dozens pretty quickly. So it made sense to demote Pluto, for the sake of consistency and simplicity.


pages: 369 words: 80,355

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger

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airport security, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, book scanning, Cass Sunstein, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, David Brooks, Debian, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, future of journalism, Galaxy Zoo, Hacker Ethic, Haight Ashbury, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, invention of the telegraph, jimmy wales, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, linked data, Netflix Prize, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, openstreetmap, P = NP, Pluto: dwarf planet, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, slashdot, social graph, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

The importance of this shift from the old private-then-public publishing model to a continuous now is visible in the confusion it causes in other spheres. Bradley points to a controversy over who discovered a dwarf planet called Haumea, as recounted in Alan Boyle’s book The Case for Pluto.43 It seems that the astronomer Michael Brown discovered a series of dwarf planets starting in December 2004 but kept them under wraps until July 20, 2005, when he posted a notice that he would announce the discoveries at a conference in September. On July 27, 2005, Jose Luis Ortiz Moreno filed a claim with the Minor Planet Center that his team had discovered one of those dwarf planets. Controversy ensued because Moreno had used some of Brown’s published data—his telescope logs—to find the contested dwarf planet. Brown says that he’d assumed people wouldn’t run with the data because generally it’s not official until you’ve checked and analyzed it sufficiently to let you submit it to a peer-reviewed journal.

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And to understand that number, we could point out that it would take light 2.9 days to travel from the front cover of the first volume to the back cover of the last—ignoring the relativistic effects the gravity of this new 250 billion–ton object would create (assuming each volume weighs a pound). Or, put differently, if we divided the novel into two equal parts, War would stretch the length of eight trips from the sun to Pluto and Peace would stretch eight trips back. Our little simian brains just can’t make sense of numbers like these. But we don’t have to have a firm sense of how long a zettabyte would stretch or how much it would weigh, or even how much it could earn just by saving a penny a day, in order to suspect that the change we’re seeing in knowledge is not primarily due to the massive increase in the amount of information.


pages: 360 words: 110,929

Saturn's Children by Stross, Charles

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augmented reality, British Empire, business process, gravity well, indoor plumbing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, loose coupling, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, Plutocrats, plutocrats, theory of mind

Silent Movie MERCURY, UNIQUELY AMONG the planets, is locked in a spin/orbit resonance with the sun; it revolves on its axis and has days and nights, but it takes three of its days to orbit the sun twice. At noon, things get a little hot on the surface—even hotter than down among the half-melted valleys of Venus. At midnight it’s as cold as Pluto or Eris. They build power plants here, vast beampower stations that fly in solar orbit, exporting infrared power to the shipyards of the dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt, out beyond Neptune. To build and launch those power plants, they need heavy elements—mined locally. And guess what? Someone needs to run those mines. To avoid the extremes of temperature, the city of Cinnabar rolls steadily around the equator of Mercury on rails, chasing the fiery dawn. Thermocouples on the rails drain the heat of daylight into the chill of the wintry night, extracting power to propel the city at a fast walking pace, year in and year out.

“Let me handle this,” Juliette tells me, raising the chip to her lips: I feel her crunch down on it with her strong jaws, crushing the internal contacts, before she slides it back into the slot in my neck, broken and dysfunctional. But she told me not to, I think—and then everything goes dark. Long-Lost Sibs ERIS IS ONE of the largest dwarf planets in our home solar system, and also one of the chilliest and most isolated, for it spends most of its time well outside the Kuiper Belt, drifting in the darkness beyond the frosty edges of planetary space. It’s also spectacularly hard to get home from; its orbit is steeply inclined, almost forty-five degrees above the plane in which the rest of the planets and dwarf planets orbit. Unless you’re going to hitch a ride on one of the starships they build and launch every decade or so, this is the end of the line. These attributes make it an ideal place of exile for those who don’t want anything to do with the state of the inner system, or want to conduct spectacularly dangerous experiments, or are just plain guilty of committing the number one crime in any age: offending the money.

But now I am embarking on a voyage into the outer system aboard the Indefatigable, and it makes all that has gone before seem like the lap of luxury. Our archipelagic economy obeys certain fixed rules, according to Jeeves. The inner system is rich in energy and heavy elements, with short travel time but middling-deep gravity wells. The moons of the outer-system gas giants are replete with light elements and shallower gravity wells, but their primaries are far apart. Finally, the Forbidden Cities scattered through the Kuiper Belt’s dwarf planets are loosely bound—and very far apart. Consequently, Mercury exports solar energy via microwave beam, hundreds and thousands of terawatts of the stuff, and uranium and processed metals via slow-moving cycler ship and magsail. Venus exports rare earth metals—albeit in smaller quantities, at greater cost—while Mars contributes iron, carbon dioxide, and other materials. But beyond the asteroid belt, solar cells perform too poorly to be of much use; transmission loss raises the cost of energy beamed from the inner system; and travel times stretch out exponentially.


pages: 624 words: 104,923

QI: The Book of General Ignorance - The Noticeably Stouter Edition by Lloyd, John, Mitchinson, John

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Admiral Zheng, Albert Einstein, Barry Marshall: ulcers, British Empire, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Fellow of the Royal Society, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, invention of the telephone, James Watt: steam engine, Kuiper Belt, Magellanic Cloud, Mars Rover, Menlo Park, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, placebo effect, Pluto: dwarf planet, trade route, V2 rocket, Vesna Vulović

On 24 August 2006, the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union finally agreed its long overdue definition of a ‘planet’. Planets must fulfil three criteria: they have to orbit the sun, have enough mass to be spherical, and to have ‘cleared the neighbourhood’ around their orbit. Pluto only managed the first two, so was demoted to the status of ‘dwarf planet’. It’s not perfect – some astronomers argue that neither Earth, Jupiter or Neptune have cleared their orbits either – but it does resolve the anomalous position of Pluto. Even the planet’s discoverers in 1930 weren’t fully convinced of its status, referring to it as a trans-Neptunian object or TNO– something on the edge of the solar system, beyond Neptune. Pluto is much smaller than all the other planets, a fifth the mass of the Moon and smaller than seven of the moons of other planets. It isn’t much larger than its own main moon, Charon (two more, smaller, Plutonian moons, Nix and Hydra, were discovered in 2005).

Now Pluto, Eris and Ceres – the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – have been officially adopted as the first three dwarf planets. This change isn’t unprecedented. Ceres, like Pluto, was considered a planet from its discovery in 1801 until the 1850s when it was downgraded to an asteroid. The American Dialect Society voted ‘to pluto’, meaning ‘to demote or devalue someone or something’ their Word of the Year for 2006. ALAN [Pluto is] really, really big, and it goes around the sun! BILL Yes, well, so does my aunt Wilma. STEPHEN Yes, well, it’s not really big at all. It’s tiny. ALAN Well, that’s why it took so long to find it; don’t be hard on it because it’s small … How would you fly through an asteroid belt? Keep an eye open, but it’s really unlikely you’ll collide with anything. Despite what you may have seen in bad sci-fi films, asteroid belts are typically quite desolate places.

The four innermost planets are medium-sized and rocky; the next four are gas giants. Pluto is a tiny ball of ice – one of at least 60,000 small, comet-like objects forming the Kuiper belt right on the edge of the solar system. All these planetoid objects (including asteroids, TNOs and a host of other subclassifications) are known collectively as minor planets. There are 371,670 of them already registered, around 5,000 new ones are discovered each month and it is estimated there may be almost 2 million such bodies with diameters of over a kilometre. Most are much too small to be considered as planets but twelve of them give Pluto a run for its money. One of them, discovered in 2005 as 2003 UB313 and now named Eris, is actually larger than Pluto. Others, such as Sedna, Orcus, and Quaoar, aren’t far off. Now Pluto, Eris and Ceres – the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – have been officially adopted as the first three dwarf planets.


pages: 313 words: 95,077

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

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Andrew Keen, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, Brewster Kahle, c2.com, crowdsourcing, en.wikipedia.org, hiring and firing, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, Internet Archive, invention of agriculture, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, jimmy wales, Kuiper Belt, lump of labour, Mahatma Gandhi, means of production, Merlin Mann, Nash equilibrium, Network effects, Nicholas Carr, Picturephone, place-making, Pluto: dwarf planet, prediction markets, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, profit motive, Richard Stallman, Ronald Coase, Silicon Valley, slashdot, social software, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, The Nature of the Firm, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, transaction costs, ultimatum game, Yogi Berra

Wikipedia’s Content Mere volume would be useless if Wikipedia articles weren’t any good, however. By way of example, the article on Pluto as of May 2007 begins:Pluto, also designated 134340 Pluto, is the second-largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the tenth-largest body observed directly orbiting the Sun. Originally considered a planet, Pluto has since been recognized as the largest member of a distinct region called the Kuiper belt. Like other members of the belt, it is primarily composed of rock and ice and is relatively small; approximately a fifth the mass of the Earth’s Moon and a third its volume. It has an eccentric orbit that takes it from 29 to 49 AU from the Sun, and is highly inclined with respect to the planets. As a result, Pluto occasionally comes closer to the Sun than the planet Neptune. That paragraph includes ten links to other Wikipedia articles on the solar system, astronomical units (AU), and so on.

And not all edits are improvements: added material can clutter a sentence, intended corrections can unintentionally introduce new errors, and so on. But every edit is itself provisional. This works to Wikipedia’s benefit partly because bad changes can be rooted out faster, but also partly because human knowledge is provisional. During 2006 a debate broke out among astronomers on whether to consider Pluto a planet or to relegate it to another category; as the debate went on, Wikipedia’s Pluto page was updated to reflect the controversy, and once Pluto was demoted to the status of “dwarf planet,” the Pluto entry was updated to reflect that almost immediately. A Wikipedia article is a process, not a product, and as a result, it is never finished. For a Wikipedia article to improve, the good edits simply have to outweigh the bad ones. Rather than filtering contributions before they appear in public (the process that helped kill Nupedia), Wikipedia assumes that new errors will be introduced less frequently than existing ones will be corrected.

That paragraph includes ten links to other Wikipedia articles on the solar system, astronomical units (AU), and so on. The article goes on for five thousand words and ends with an extensive list of links to other sites with information about Pluto. This kind of thing—a quick overview, followed by broad and sometimes quite lengthy descriptions, ending with pointers to more information—is pretty much what you’d want in an encyclopedia. The Pluto article is not unusual; you can find articles of similarly high quality all over the site. The Okeechobee Hurricane, or Hurricane San Felipe Segundo, was a deadly hurricane that struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Florida in September of the 1928 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the first recorded hurricane to reach Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale in the Atlantic basin.


pages: 284 words: 79,265

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Andrew Wiles, bioinformatics, British Empire, Chelsea Manning, Clayton Christensen, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, conceptual framework, David Brooks, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Galaxy Zoo, guest worker program, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, index fund, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, life extension, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, Nicholas Carr, p-value, Paul Erdős, Pluto: dwarf planet, randomized controlled trial, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, social graph, social web, text mining, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation

We are then forced to confront the difference between them. This is true of what’s currently happening with Pluto. If you ask young children in 2012 to name the planets, they go up to Neptune, and they finish by saying that Pluto is a dwarf planet, or distinguish Pluto in some other way. But this is likely a temporary condition. Those teaching want these kids to know about Pluto and its curious status. But soon enough, it will just fade away into a strange footnote, paralleling what happened back in the nineteenth century: Just as Ceres and the other large asteroids were once counted as planets (marked as such on charts and taught to schoolchildren for decades) until the discovery of the abundant minor planets of the asteroid belt, Pluto’s special place will likely fade away. Of course, what generation means needn’t be literal, although it is often the case that the facts in our brain—and their lifetime—are tied to childbirth.

Russell published a tongue-in-cheek paper in Eos, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. In it, they examined the estimated mass of Pluto’s size over time. We still don’t know Pluto’s mass, at least not exactly. Since it vents gases, astronomers often have trouble telling its size, sometimes viewing its self-generated haze as part of the surface. Since Pluto’s first sighting, when it was judged to be about the size of the Earth, estimates of its mass have dropped greatly over time. Dessler and Russell explained this by arguing something simple: Pluto itself is actually shrinking. By fitting the curve of Pluto’s diminishing size to a bizarre mathematical function using the irrational number π, they argued that Pluto would vanish in 1984. But don’t worry! According to their function, Pluto would reappear 272 years later (its mass would go from being mathematically imaginary to real again).

But Planet X was a slippery thing. By the time Pluto was discovered (the presumed heir to Planet X, though Planet X is an anomaly distinct from Pluto), the mass of Planet X had been calculated no fewer than four times. As the estimating continued, based on aberrations in Neptune’s orbit, it kept getting smaller. The first estimate was in 1901, and it showed that Planet X should be nine times the size of Earth. By 1909, it was down to only five times the size of the Earth. By 1919, Planet X was expected to be only twice the Earth’s mass. Of course, we now know that Pluto, as mentioned earlier, is small compared to these estimates. While it’s not likely to evaporate anytime soon, whatever Dessler and Russell might say, Pluto is far smaller than the expected Planet X. So, even after Pluto’s discovery, astronomers continued to examine the unexplained properties of Neptune’s and Uranus’s orbits, each time recognizing that Planet X didn’t have to be as large as previously thought.


pages: 476 words: 118,381

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Avis Lang

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Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, asset allocation, Berlin Wall, carbon-based life, centralized clearinghouse, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, dark matter, Gordon Gekko, informal economy, invention of movable type, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Karl Jansky, Kuiper Belt, Louis Blériot, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Pluto: dwarf planet, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, space pen, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, trade route, V2 rocket

As e increases from zero to one, your ellipse gets more and more elongated. Of course, the greater your eccentricity, the more likely you are to cross somebody else’s orbit. Comets that plunge toward Earth from the outer solar system have highly eccentric orbits, whereas the orbits of Earth and Venus closely resemble circles, with very low eccentricities. The most eccentric “planet” (now officially a dwarf planet) is Pluto, and sure enough, every time it goes around the Sun, it crosses the orbit of Neptune, behaving suspiciously like a comet. Space Tweet #15 When asked why planets orbit in ellipses & not some other shape, Newton had to invent calculus to give an answer May 14, 2010 3:23 AM The most extreme example of an elongated orbit is the famous case of the hole dug all the way to China. Contrary to the expectations of our geographically challenged fellow Americans, China is not opposite the United States on the globe.

ALSO BY NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON The Pluto Files Death by Black Hole Origins To all those who have not forgotten how to dream about tomorrow CONTENTS Editor’s Note Prologue Space Politics PART I • WHY 1. The Allure of Space 2. Exoplanet Earth 3. Extraterrestrial Life 4. Evil Aliens 5. Killer Asteroids 6. Destined for the Stars 7. Why Explore 8. The Anatomy of Wonder 9. Happy Birthday, NASA 10. The Next Fifty Years in Space 11. Space Options 12. Paths to Discovery PART II • HOW 13. To Fly 14. Going Ballistic 15. Race to Space 16. 2001—Fact vs. Fiction 17. Launching the Right Stuff 18. Things Are Looking Up 19. For the Love of Hubble 20. Happy Anniversary, Apollo 11 21. How to Reach the Sky 22. The Last Days of the Space Shuttle 23. Propulsion for Deep Space 24.

That’s where all your budget options come in above the funding threshold for heavy scrutiny, and you have no choice but to appeal to these great drivers in the history of culture. As far as basic research goes, we’ve got the Hubble telescope; we’re going to have a laboratory on Mars in a few years; we have the spacecraft Cassini in orbit around Saturn right now, observing the planet and its moons and its ring systems. We’ve got another spacecraft on its way to Pluto. We’ve got telescopes being designed and built that will observe more parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Science is getting done. I wish there was more of it, but it’s getting done. MP: But not the Large Hadron Collider, which is getting done by the Europeans. JG: There’s one other potential case for space travel that we haven’t really talked about. Earlier you alluded to the idea that if we become a spacefaring people, we might need to use the Moon and Mars as a sort of Quik Mart.

Wireless by Stross, Charles

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anthropic principle, back-to-the-land, Benoit Mandelbrot, Buckminster Fuller, Cepheid variable, cognitive dissonance, colonial exploitation, cosmic microwave background, epigenetics, finite state, Georg Cantor, gravity well, hive mind, jitney, Khyber Pass, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, peak oil, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, security theater, sensible shoes, Turing machine

CUT TO: A shark the size of a Boeing 727 falls away from the open bomb bay of the monster. Stubby delta wings slice through the air, propelled by a rocket-bright glare. VOICE-OVER: A modified Navajo missile—test article for an XK-PLUTO payload—dives away from a carrier plane. Unlike the real thing, this one carries no hydrogen bombs, no direct-cycle fission ramjet to bring retaliatory destruction to the enemy. Traveling at Mach 3, the XK-PLUTO will overfly enemy territory, dropping megaton-range bombs until, its payload exhausted, it seeks out and circles a final target. Once over the target it will eject its reactor core and rain molten plutonium on the heads of the enemy. XK-PLUTO is a total weapon: every aspect of its design, from the shock wave it creates as it hurtles along at treetop height to the structure of its atomic reactor, is designed to inflict damage.

These will not be good times for humanity; the vast interior deserts are arid and the coastlines subject to vast hurricanes sweeping in from the world-ocean. As the sun brightens, so shall the verdant plains of the Earth; but the Stasis have long-laid plans to deflect the inevitable. Deep in the asteroid belt, their swarming robot cockroaches have dismantled Ceres, used its mass to build a myriad of solar-sail-powered flyers. Now a river of steerable rocks with the mass of a dwarf planet loops down through the inner system, converting solar energy into momentum and transferring it to the Earth through millions of repeated flybys. Already, Earth has migrated outward from the sun. Other adjustments are under way, subtle and far-reaching: the entire solar system is slowly changing shape, creaking and groaning, drifting toward a new and more useful configuration. Soon—in cosmological terms—it will be unrecognizable.

“That is minimally correct, sir, although countervailing weapons have been developed to reduce the risk of a unilateral preemption escalating to an exchange of weakly godlike agencies.” The congressman in the middle nods encouragingly. “For the past three decades, the B-39 Peacemaker force has been tasked by SIOP with maintaining an XK-PLUTO capability directed at ablating the ability of the Russians to activate Project Koschei, the dormant alien entity they captured from the Nazis at the end of the last war. We have twelve PLUTO-class atomic-powered cruise missiles pointed at that thing, day and night, as many megatons as the entire Minuteman force. In principle, we will be able to blast it to pieces before it can be brought to full wakefulness and eat the minds of everyone within two hundred miles.” He warms to his subject.


pages: 489 words: 148,885

Accelerando by Stross, Charles

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call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, cognitive dissonance, Conway's Game of Life, dark matter, dumpster diving, Extropian, finite state, Flynn Effect, glass ceiling, gravity well, John von Neumann, knapsack problem, Kuiper Belt, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, means of production, packet switching, performance metric, phenotype, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, reversible computing, Richard Stallman, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, slashdot, South China Sea, stem cell, technological singularity, telepresence, The Chicago School, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, web of trust, Y2K

Ten million kilometers out and Hyundai +4904/-56 looms beyond the parachute-shaped sail of the Field Circus like a rind of darkness bitten out of the edge of the universe. Heat from the gravitational contraction of its core keeps it warm, radiating at six hundred degrees absolute, but the paltry emission does nothing to break the eternal ice that grips Callidice, Iambe, Celeus, and Metaneira, the stillborn planets locked in orbit around the brown dwarf. Planets aren't the only structures that orbit the massive sphere of hydrogen. Close in, skimming the cloud tops by only twenty thousand kilometers, Boris's phased-array eye has blinked at something metallic and hot. Whatever it is, it orbits out of the ecliptic plane traced by the icy moons, and in the wrong direction. Farther out, a speckle of reflected emerald laser light picks out a gaudy gem against the starscape: their destination, the router.

As long as the original Amber and her incarnate team can keep it running, the Field Circus can continue its mission of discovery, but they're part of the posthuman civilization evolving down in the turbulent depths of Sol system, part of the runaway train being dragged behind the out-of-control engine of history. Weird new biologies based on complex adaptive matter take shape in the sterile oceans of Titan. In the frigid depths beyond Pluto, supercooled boson gases condense into impossible dreaming structures, packaged for shipping inward to the fast-thinking core. There are still humans dwelling down in the hot depths, but it's getting hard to recognize them. The lot of humanity before the twenty-first century was nasty, brutish, and short. Chronic malnutrition, lack of education, and endemic diseases led to crippled minds and broken bodies.

At the far end of a wormhole, two hundred light-years distant in real space, coherent photons begin to dance a story of human identity before the sensoria of those who watch. And all is at peace in orbit around Hyundai +4904/-56, for a while … Chapter 3 Nightfall A synthetic gemstone the size of a Coke can falls through silent darkness. The night is quiet as the grave, colder than midwinter on Pluto. Gossamer sails as fine as soap bubbles droop, the gust of sapphire laser light that inflated them long since darkened. Ancient starlight picks out the outline of a huge planetlike body beneath the jewel-and-cobweb corpse of the starwisp. Eight Earth years have passed since the good ship Field Circus slipped into close orbit around the frigid brown dwarf Hyundai +4904/-56. Five years have gone by since the launch lasers of the Ring Imperium shut down without warning, stranding the light-sail-powered craft three light-years from home.


pages: 361 words: 111,500

Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

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Albert Einstein, Berlin Wall, call centre, cuban missile crisis, Exxon Valdez, happiness index / gross national happiness, indoor plumbing, Mikhail Gorbachev, place-making, Pluto: dwarf planet, science of happiness, Silicon Valley, Transnistria, union organizing

When he replies, he speaks slowly and deliberately. “The sun? Oh, I don’t think you’ll be seeing the sun today.” He says this like it’s an obvious fact, as in, “Oh, it’s Sunday, so of course the shops are closed today.” Not see the sun? I don’t like the way this sounds. In the past, the sun has always been there for me, the one celestial body I could count on. Unlike Pluto, which for decades led me to believe it was an actual planet when the whole time it was really only a dwarf planet. I had plenty of time to ponder celestial bodies on the long flight from Miami. Flying from Florida to Iceland in the dead of winter is at best counterintuitive and at worst sheer lunacy. My body sensed this before the rest of me. It knew something was wrong, that some violation of nature was taking place, and expressed its displeasure by twitching and flatulating more than usual.

Typically, they tell me, Icelanders start drinking at home, where the booze is cheaper and then, once sufficiently prelubricated, head to the bars. Some people, those on an especially tight budget, will park a bottle of booze on the sidewalk near the bar and then step outside for a nip every few minutes. It is this kind of resourcefulness, I think, that explains how this hardy band of Vikings managed to survive more than one thousand years on an island that is about as hospitable to human habitation as the planet Pluto—if Pluto were a planet, that is, which it’s not. The music is loud. Eva and Harpa are sloshed. I am jet-lagged. These three facts conspire against coherent conversation. “I’m a writer,” I tell Eva, trying to break through the fog. She looks confused. “A rider? What do you ride, horses?” “No, a WRITER,” I shout. This scores me points. In Iceland, being a writer is pretty much the best thing you can be.


pages: 412 words: 122,952

Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Arthur Eddington, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, Copley Medal, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, horn antenna, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Occam's razor, Pluto: dwarf planet, Solar eclipse in 1919, William of Occam

Analyzing discrepancies in the motions of Uranus and Neptune, he had come up with a predicted location for the missing planet, in the farthest realm of the comets some four billion miles from the Sun. The observatory's new director, Vesto M. Slipher, continued to administer the search. In 1930 a newly hired staff member, twenty-four-year-old Clyde Tombaugh, at last made the discovery. The new planet was named Pluto. The first two letters—PL —honored the man who initiated the planetary hunt. In 2006 Pluto, always considered an oddball because of its small size and eccentric orbit, was demoted to dwarf planet (a type of solar system body now called a plutoid), no longer one of the pantheon of classical planets. Though detecting the swift speeds of the spiral nebulae was his most heralded accomplishment, Slipher made other notable discoveries during his long career. He played an important role in finding that interstellar space was not pristine but rather littered with faint wisps of gas and dust; connected certain features of auroras with solar activity; and accurately determined a number of planetary rotations.

In 1856 the famous Scottish theorist James Clerk Maxwell had theoretically proven on paper that Saturn's rings were not solid, akin to a phonograph record, but rather composed of innumerable particles, little “moonlets” circling around in independent orbits. Saturn's immense gravitational pull, avowed Maxwell, would have torn apart any sort of solid disk. If true, then Newton's law of gravity would predict that the myriads of tiny chunks located in the outer part of the ring would be traveling slower than those closer in, nearer to Saturn's gravitational grip—just as Pluto, far from the Sun, orbits at a slower velocity than the solar system's inner planets. A spectrum, taken on the night of April 9, 1895, gave Keeler the direct proof. The spectral lines indicated that the ring's particles were circulating around Saturn according to the rules of Sir Isaac. The ring was not a rigid plate after all. Within days, Keeler dispatched a report to the newly established Astrophysical Journal, and a torrent of newspaper and magazine articles about his triumph followed.


pages: 360 words: 101,636

Engineering Infinity by Jonathan Strahan

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augmented reality, cosmic microwave background, dark matter, gravity well, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, post scarcity, Schrödinger's Cat, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski

Babylon City 1:1 5" N:1 16" / 34822.7.18 7:15 "All cities' prayers with Lord of Lagash" "Police seek nomad agents in Babylon" "Lord Shamash asks Lord Anshar to restore order" - Headlines, temple newspaper Mardukna?ir, Babylon City Babylon City 4:142 113" S:4 12" / 34822.7.16 1:3 "An eye for an eye" "Nativist witch-hunt" "Ashur to invade Sippar" - Headlines, radical newspaper Iïnshushaqiï, Babylon City 5. Machines At Lagash they had drilled a double dozen scenarios: city-sized habitats, ramship fleets, dwarf planets threaded with ice tunnels like termite tracks in old wood. When the cities fought among themselves the territory was known and the weapons were familiar. The vacuum armour Ish had worn as a Surface Tactical was not very different from what a soldier of Lagash or Ashur or Akkad would wear although the gear of those warlike cities was usually newer and there was more of it. The weapons the Surface Tacticals carried were deadly enough to ships or to other vacuum troops, and the soldiers of the interior had aircraft and artillery and even fusion bombs although no one had used fusion bombs within a city in millennia.

And the lights and the polisher stop working. The Lansford Hastings is a starship, one of the fastest mecha ever constructed by the bastard children of posthumanity. From one angle, it may take us centuries to crawl between stars; but there's another perspective that sees us screaming across the cosmos at three thousand kilometres per second. On a planetary scale, we'd cross Sol system from Earth orbit to Pluto in less than two weeks. Earth to Luna in under five minutes. So one of the truisms of interstellar travel is that if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a split instant, too fast to respond to. Except when it doesn't, of course. When the power goes down, I do what anyone in my position would do: I panic and ramp straight from slowtime up to my fastest quicktime setting. The water around me congeals into a gelid, viscous impediment: the plugs and anti-leak gaskets I wear abruptly harden, gripping my joints and openings and fighting my every movement.


pages: 458 words: 135,206

CTOs at Work by Scott Donaldson, Stanley Siegel, Gary Donaldson

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Amazon Web Services, bioinformatics, business intelligence, business process, call centre, centre right, cloud computing, computer vision, connected car, crowdsourcing, data acquisition, distributed generation, domain-specific language, glass ceiling, pattern recognition, Pluto: dwarf planet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart grid, smart meter, software patent, thinkpad, web application, zero day

The autonomy/ robotics community needs to decide what portion of autonomy—versus reachback communications for human control—we should apply for given applications. You can't tie up a whole crew to remotely control a vehicle—it's not particularly scalable to a lot of vehicles. We need to have systems that can ‘think' for themselves at some level. We have experience with that at APL. Consider our New Horizons spacecraft that is on its way to Pluto—we spent a lot of effort on autonomy because it can't ‘phone home' during the short time it goes by the dwarf planet after nine years of travel. It takes hours for the speed of light to get the message back to us, and a human response would arrive too late. The spacecraft has to act on its own if anything is amiss. So we believe that autonomous operations are going to be important for this country. It may also play a substantial role in the future of spaceflight.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton

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anti-communist, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, centre right, colonial rule, Colonization of Mars, cosmic microwave background, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, double helix, East Village, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Frank Gehry, germ theory of disease, Golden Gate Park, Google Earth, Haight Ashbury, horn antenna, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, index card, Jacques de Vaucanson, Kowloon Walled City, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, mutually assured destruction, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, Tunguska event, urban sprawl, Vesna Vulović, wikimedia commons, working poor

Get a tram or bus to Nordiska museet/Vasa. 59.327285 18.097611 Sadly, the winged rabbit does not occur in nature. Sweden Solar System STOCKHOLM Created at a scale of 1:20 million, this country-spanning model is the world’s largest representation of the solar system. It is anchored by Stockholm’s spherical Globe Arena building, which represents the sun. The inner planets, all appropriately scaled, are dotted around Stockholm and its suburbs. Further north are Pluto—still part of the lineup, despite its 2006 reclassification as a dwarf planet—and fellow trans-Neptunian objects Ixion, Sedna, and Eris. A plaque in Sweden’s northernmost city of Kiruna, 592 miles (950 km) away, marks the spot for “termination shock,” the point at which solar wind slows down and causes changes in the magnetic field. In 2011, vandals snatched Uranus from the town of Gävle, 100 miles (1,600 km) from Stockholm. But in October 2012, a new model of Uranus appeared a few miles south, in the village of Lövstabruk.

The pyramid is open on Sundays for tours and available to rent for private events. 42.413287 87.941167 The 24-karat-gold–plated house is surrounded by a moat and guarded by a 64-foot-tall pharaoh. Also in Illinois Peoria Solar System Peoria · Go on an interplanetary journey via this 99,000,000:1 scale model of our solar system, starting with a 46-foot-wide (14 m) sun and ending 62 miles (100 km) away with an Eris dwarf planet the size of a quarter. Phone Booth on a Roof Lincoln · Before the widespread adoption of Doppler weather radars, this phone box, perched on the roof of a fire house, was once used for observing—and sheltering from—major storms. A firefighter would climb up to it, survey the skies, and pick up the receiver to deliver updates to colleagues below. INDIANA Rotary Jail Museum CRAWFORDSVILLE In the spring of 1881, architect William H.