Pluto, god of underworld, gets busted down to demigod 5

It’s old news now, but I haven’t had a chance to comment on this monumental change in our solar system’s family tree. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) this month demoted Pluto from planet to dwarf planet, supposedly removing it from the pantheon of bodies called planets. I told my students I’m thinking of holding a wake in Pluto’s honor. Of course, it would just be an excuse to have a party. I’m not really all that upset. Science, after all, is all about change. And what a tiny change, at that. Here are the facts. Way back in the early part of the 20th century, Percival Lowell, who had some pretty odd ideas about the solar system and a lot of other things, insisted on the basis of those odd ideas that there had to be a ninth planet outside the orbit of Neptune, the so-called Planet X which fringers still talk about. After Lowell died, Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, using a blink comparator, discovered a tiny speck on his photographic plates that was eventually identified as a new planet. (Tombaugh discovered 14 other tiny specks this way, all of them asteroids.) It was quite an achievement, given the tiny ...

I’m still here, just real busy 6

School started the 16th, and I hit the ground running. Once the dust settles, I have a few posts to put up. Please come again.

T minus 2 days and counting …

School here starts Wednesday, so I am in the midst of preparing for that very important first day of class. This year, for the first time, we will be teaching physics in the 9th grade as part of our new sequence of science courses (phys-chem-bio), so not only do I have to worry about the first day of school, but also the first day of high school science for a bunch of impressionable freshmen. I don’t want to blow it, in other words. So, my presence here will be limited this week. I will pop in (as I hope you will) to the now-lengthy discussion about “gravity deniers” here. We are getting into the real nitty-gritty of physics — and science in general — so take a look and comment if you have something to say. Wish me luck!

Nevada teen says she agreed to edited speech, but regretted it later 1

Brittany McComb, the Henderson, Nevada, valedictorian whose graduation address was censored by school officials, told the Los Angeles Times that she agreed to school officials’ editing of her speech only because she felt intimidated by them. She and her parents attempted to forestall the editing out of McComb’s religious references, but could not contact lawyers to seek a solution, she said. Her parents were out of town, so she gave in when a school official insisted that she not deviate from the edited speech. Instead, McComb gave her original address, resulting in school officials pulling the plug on her microphone in the middle of the valedictory. She has since filed a discrimination suit in federal districty court, alleging her rights of free speech and equal protection under the law were infringed, and asking for $1 in damages. The conservative legal organization, the Rutherford Institute, is representing McComb in her suit. In her interview with LA Times reporter Richard Abowitz, McComb comes off as an idealistic young woman who wanted to resist what she saw as censorship of her valedictory, but who lacked the resolve to stand up to school officials on her own. Yes. The actual situation was that the ...

Tangled Bank, numero cincuenta nueve

My gloss on “gravity deniers” is in the latest Tangled Bank, number 59, now available for your enjoyment at Science and Reason. There’s a lot to read there, so prolific are we science bloggists. Maybe we need to develop a Tangled-Bank-on Tape product.
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