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What we're talking about Pluto, King of the Underworlds Wednesday, July 29, 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

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…

The Smithsonian has a traveling exhibit based on the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. It’s going to be put up at libraries all across the country (but nowhere in Minnesota!), so lots of people will get a look at some of the evidence for human evolution. Can you guess who is not happy…

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…

Physical Science

When you close your eyes and picture a galaxy, what pops into your mind? For most people, it’s a beautiful, spiral shape, where a bright central region fans out with arms that wind around and around, over and over, littered with brilliant, glittering stars. And in almost all the pictures you see, there are two…

“Our knowledge of stars and interstellar matter must be based primarily on the electromagnetic radiation which reaches us. Nature has thoughtfully provided us with a universe in which radiant energy of almost all wave lengths travels in straight lines over enormous distances with usually rather negligible absorption.” –Lyman Spitzer, Jr. There’s nothing quite like looking…

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” -Neil Armstrong This past week was the 46th anniversary of the first Moon landing…

Environment

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…

What is not new Ultimately sea levels will rise several feet, given the present levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. We already knew this by examining paleo data, and finding periods in the past with similar surface temperatures and/or similar atmospheric CO2 levels as today. I put a graphic from a paper by Gavin Foster…

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” –Sylvia Plath The modern world can often make you feel like you’ll never find anything good “playing by its rules” in it. This feeling is evoked, tremendously, in the songs of Bonnie “Prince”…

Humanities

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…

Dr. Donald Rasmussen, 87, spent more than 50 years in Appalachia treating coal miners with lung disease. He was at the forefront of efforts during the 1960’s to challenge the establishment’s views that exposure to coal mine dust damaged miners’ lungs.

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.

Education

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…

Having mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’ll be on sabbatical for the next academic year, this would probably be a good time to point out that this means I’m somewhat more flexible than usual in terms of going places and giving talks. And I enjoy going places and giving talks. About

Politics

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…

Because there can never be enough research to illustrate the positive impact of public health policy on people’s health, here’s another one. This one found that comprehensive smoke-free indoor air laws resulted in a lower risk of asthma symptoms and fewer asthma-related doctor’s visits.

Medicine

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…

Dr. Donald Rasmussen, 87, spent more than 50 years in Appalachia treating coal miners with lung disease. He was at the forefront of efforts during the 1960’s to challenge the establishment’s views that exposure to coal mine dust damaged miners’ lungs.

Many are the lies and epic is the misinformation spread by the antivaccine movement. For instance, they claim that vaccines cause autism, autoimmune diseases, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), cancer, and a wide variety of other conditions and diseases when there is no credible evidence that they do and lots of evidence that they don’t.…

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

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.

In a hospital “Code Blue” will shift staff into high gear. “Code Silver” will get their adrenaline pumping, too, but for a very different reason.

The fatal work-related injuries that killed Jason Strycharz, 40 could have been prevented had his employer followed worker safety regulations.