Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, July 16, 2015



This week, Houston does NOT have a problem! After a slew of failures, including a failed launch and a fantastic atmospheric explosion, astronomers at NASA have a reason to cheer. The fastest spacecraft EVER, the New Horizons probe, reached Pluto and sent back images to Earth. For the first time, Earthlings can view the numerous canyons, valleys, mountains and craters on the distant celestial body. Even STEPHEN HAWKING is excited, tweeting: "We explore because we are humans and long to know." Nice work, NASA!

However, the most important discovery about Pluto isn't about terrain. Nope, we here at the DUNER BLOG are excited about the measurements of the planet's Equator. The probe indicates it is 1,470 miles across; quite a bit larger than previously thought. The total surface are is also bigger. At 1107 kilometers, it's slightly larger than Russia. We are also learning that Pluto's atmosphere is much thicker than previously thought, rich in possible nitrates.

So the question begs to be asked: Does this mean Pluto can be re-instated as a full-fledged PLANET again? "Not so fast!" say the astronomers. The reason why Pluto was demoted from planetary status to dwarf-planet status was the discovery of Eris in 2005. Located in the Kuiper Belt, this celestial body is 27% larger than Pluto. After much debate, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted the next year to re-define the terms, with only eight planets making the cut.

Sigh. Even with the new findings, Pluto is still smaller than Eris. Nonetheless, New Horizons has re-opened this debate. The more we learn about Pluto, the more important Pluto becomes. Eris might be larger... But does it have any moons? Pluto has five: Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Charon & Hydra. (Cool names too!) It's got gravity, a defined orbit and isn't located in some silly Asteroid Belt like Eris. C'mon, people! Let get Pluto back in the planetary club!

Pop Astronomer Neil de Grasse Tyson still disagrees. "To call Pluto a planet would be an insult to the other planets," he quipped. Does he really think planets have feelings? The real issue here has nothing to do with Astronomy and everything to do with Geography. When Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930, he called it a planet. When Abel Tasman discovered Australia in 1642, he called it a continent. Likewise, there are no measurements to determine the difference between a creek or a river. THEY ARE JUST NAMES!

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