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What we're talking about Pluto, King of the Underworlds Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pluto, King of the Underworlds

Short answer: Pluto has only two of the three necessary characteristics to be called a planet. Pluto has not cleared its neighborhood, or orbit. But, of course, there are additional details. The simplest reason that Pluto is not a planet is that planet experts say so, and this is their job. But you may be…

“Words are the source of misunderstandings.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Back in 2006, the International Astronomical Union officially defined the word “planet” for the first time, claiming that as long as something met all three of the following criteria: It was in hydrostatic equilibrium (pulled itself into a spherical/spheroidal shape under its own gravity), It didn’t orbit…

“Movin’ right along. You take it, you know best. Hey, I’ve never seen the Sun come up in the West?” –The Muppet Movie Few things in this world are as regular as sunrise and sunset. With the application of a little physics, you can predict exactly where and when the sun will rise or set from…

New measurements from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft revealed that Pluto, named for the Greco-Roman god formerly known as Hades, is a little more swollen with ice than previously thought, making it the biggest trans-Neptunian object—more voluminous than rival dwarf planet Eris, which is nevertheless more massive.

While Eris orbits the Sun within the 'scattered disc,' Pluto orbits in the Kuiper Belt, a collection of gravelly snowballs that Ethan Siegel says outnumber all the planets in our galaxy. The Kuiper belt begins beyond Neptune, encircling all the planets in our solar system and extending outward for a distance equal to the gap between the Sun and Uranus. It took New Horizons more than nine years to fly to Pluto from Earth, after setting a record for highest launch speed of any man-made object, after getting a massive speed boost from the gravity of Jupiter, and without any need to slow back down.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

It is that time of year again to vote for your favorite “Ugliest dog”. I have a feeling it will be a close contest. To pick your favorite contender, click here. Honestly some of them are rather cute in their own way. I am rather partial to Rascal Deux and Icky…this will be a tough decision.…

Oh, joy. Deepak Chopra is mad about being called an evolution denialist, and to disprove the accusation, he fires back with a whole long letter full of misconceptions about evolution. As usual, he relies on painting himself as the brave pioneer at the very edge of science, with a hooting mob of regressive scientific dogmatists…

For people with missing limbs, here’s a prosthetic interface that allows them to customize it…with Lego. Hoping to build the confidence of children living with a missing limb, Carlos Arturo Torres Tovar, of Umeå University in Sweden, has designed a prosthetic arm that’s compatible with Lego so kids can swap its gripping attachment for their…

Physical Science

I’m writing this from my New Jersey office, which is to say that I am visiting the ‘rents. But it’s a very short visit. In fact, I’m mostly just using them for their garage. I’m stashing my car there for a few days while I go galavanting around to various math conferences, with a little…

“A cosmic mystery of immense proportions, once seemingly on the verge of solution, has deepened and left astronomers and astrophysicists more baffled than ever. The crux… is that the vast majority of mass of the universe seems to be missing.” –William J. Broad When we look out at the Universe, the other things we see…

When it comes to dark matter, the mysterious substance that makes up the vast majority of the mass in the Universe, there’s a whole lot we don’t understand or know about it. You might think that there are so many unknowns that are so huge that — quite reasonably — perhaps it doesn’t exist at all,…

Environment

It is that time of year again to vote for your favorite “Ugliest dog”. I have a feeling it will be a close contest. To pick your favorite contender, click here. Honestly some of them are rather cute in their own way. I am rather partial to Rascal Deux and Icky…this will be a tough decision.…

The fatal work-related injuries that killed Timothy Todd Winding, 50, could have been prevented had his employer followed worker safety regulations.

Exposing Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) to shorter photoperiods (think winter) for about two months causes the animals to spontaneously undergo daily bouts of torpor during which time they decrease metabolic rate to conserve energy.  New research published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology was designed to examine whether decreases in growth hormone secretion…

Humanities

It is that time of year again to vote for your favorite “Ugliest dog”. I have a feeling it will be a close contest. To pick your favorite contender, click here. Honestly some of them are rather cute in their own way. I am rather partial to Rascal Deux and Icky…this will be a tough decision.…

Reporters investigate worker exploitation and abuse in the H-2 visa program; U.S. labor secretary speaks out on the “on-demand” economy; recycling workers face hazardous conditions and unnecessary injury risks; and some businesses say good-bye to the raise.

Exposing Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) to shorter photoperiods (think winter) for about two months causes the animals to spontaneously undergo daily bouts of torpor during which time they decrease metabolic rate to conserve energy.  New research published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology was designed to examine whether decreases in growth hormone secretion…

Education

It is that time of year again to vote for your favorite “Ugliest dog”. I have a feeling it will be a close contest. To pick your favorite contender, click here. Honestly some of them are rather cute in their own way. I am rather partial to Rascal Deux and Icky…this will be a tough decision.…

Exposing Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) to shorter photoperiods (think winter) for about two months causes the animals to spontaneously undergo daily bouts of torpor during which time they decrease metabolic rate to conserve energy.  New research published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology was designed to examine whether decreases in growth hormone secretion…

New research from Dr. Scott Boback and colleagues at Dickinson College (Pennsylvania) shows that boa constrictors do not use suffocation as a primary means of killing their victims. Rather, by measuring blood pressure and heart activity of the prey, they were able to determine that the snakes restrict blood flow in their victims causing circulatory arrest and a…

Politics

Reporters investigate worker exploitation and abuse in the H-2 visa program; U.S. labor secretary speaks out on the “on-demand” economy; recycling workers face hazardous conditions and unnecessary injury risks; and some businesses say good-bye to the raise.

Technically, the recession is over. So it may come as a surprise to learn that more U.S. children are living in poverty right now than during the Great Recession. To be more specific: About 1.7 million more children live in low-income working families than just a few years ago.

This is perfect: The latest polls are out, and just as I predicted, I’m leading the Republican presidential race by a wide margin. You might be wondering how that could be. After all, it’s hardly been a month since I entered the field and I’ve already alienated America’s largest immigrant population, seen dozens of my…

Medicine

A couple of weeks ago, I first took note of a new conspiracy theory that’s been brewing in the antivaccine crankosphere, namely the claim that big pharma has been systematically murdering alternative medical doctors, starting with autism quack Jeff Bradstreet, who committed suicide the day after the FDA raided his office. Of course, it didn’t…

Antivaccine activists amuse me. Obviously, I think they are a major risk to public health. Their relentless demonization of vaccines as causing autism, autoimmune diseases, “shaken baby syndrome,” and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) serves no purpose other than to frighten parents and discourage them from vaccinating. As despicable as some of their antics…

I hate stories like this, but what I hate even more is the way stories like this are all too commonly reported. Readers have been sending me links to stories about a woman named Alex Wynn that have been published over the last few days, in particular this story about her in the Daily Mail…

Brain & Behavior

Exposing Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) to shorter photoperiods (think winter) for about two months causes the animals to spontaneously undergo daily bouts of torpor during which time they decrease metabolic rate to conserve energy.  New research published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology was designed to examine whether decreases in growth hormone secretion…

New research from Dr. Scott Boback and colleagues at Dickinson College (Pennsylvania) shows that boa constrictors do not use suffocation as a primary means of killing their victims. Rather, by measuring blood pressure and heart activity of the prey, they were able to determine that the snakes restrict blood flow in their victims causing circulatory arrest and a…

If you happen to be in the Arctic this summer polar bears (Ursus maritimus) can be spotted spending their time on the sea ice or on the shore in areas where ice has melted. While it is difficult to study the physiology of bears living on the ice, it had been hypothesized that bears living on shore experience…

Technology

This 1925 Bugatti Brescia was found in a state of profound neglect in a garage, and was auctioned off for almost a million dollars. It’s a beautiful work of art. It doesn’t run, but still…that would be a fine vehicle for a Sunday drive, once it’s restored. But it’s the wrong model! Way, way back…

Problems with the Apple Magic Mouse I had been using the stock Apple Magic Mouse on an iMac. The right click often didn’t work properly. Also, selecting and dragging files in Finder, or the Finder replacement I use (PathFinder) often failed. I figured the former was related to the mouse but assumed the latter was…

Analyzing online searches and social media activity has often been suggested as a way to track and maybe even predict the spread of diseases. And it’s a great idea — if it’s done right, it could offer public health workers real-time surveillance and a jumpstart at containing dangerous outbreaks. But there’s a hitch. How can we attempt to decipher between online activity triggered by the possibility of actual disease symptoms and online activity triggered by simple curiosity?

Information Science

Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous is largely a laudatory history of the Anonymous hacker activist movement with some anthropological and political analysis. Whitney Phillips’ This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture on the other hand, is much more geared…

One of the central tensions of modern librarianship is how to allocate limited resources to both make the whole world a better place and to serve our local communities by providing them with the services and collections they need to support their teaching, learning and research. The particular way we try and change the world…

This year’s CWTS Leiden Ranking put the Weizmann Institute at number 10 — and number one outside of the US — for impact. What is impact? In dry terms, it is publications in excellent journals and citations, weighted for institute size and evaluated by subject. This prestigious ranking favors the Weizmann Institute, because it compares…

Jobs

The fatal work-related injuries that killed Timothy Todd Winding, 50, could have been prevented had his employer followed worker safety regulations.

Reporters investigate worker exploitation and abuse in the H-2 visa program; U.S. labor secretary speaks out on the “on-demand” economy; recycling workers face hazardous conditions and unnecessary injury risks; and some businesses say good-bye to the raise.

Technically, the recession is over. So it may come as a surprise to learn that more U.S. children are living in poverty right now than during the Great Recession. To be more specific: About 1.7 million more children live in low-income working families than just a few years ago.