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14 July 2015


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William R. Cumming

Thanks TTG for this POST and Congrats to NASA! I forget is PLUTO a planet still?

The Twisted Genius


No, it's considered a dwarf planet because of it's size... about the size of our moon. Pluto was defined out of planethood in 2006 by a vote of the International Astronomical Union. It caused quite a stir among us nerds back then.


I think Pluto was declared dwarf planet because it has not "sufficiently" cleared the debris in its orbit and not because of its size. The three rules for a body in solar system to be categorized as a planet are

1) Has to be spherical (requires a certain mass)
2) Has to be in orbit around Sun (Pluto's orbit is elliptical but it is still in orbit)
3) Has to sufficiently clear the debris in its orbit.(Pluto and Charon both revolve around a center of revolution that lies outside of Pluto)

here is the IAU's definition



Makes this old Martin Marietta/Lockheed Martin employee feel good. We just needed the Dead singing What A Long Strange Trip It's Been as the craft sailed past Pluto.


The insufficient cleared is the excuse. The real reason is that Pluto isn't the largest of its type as Eris is bigger and that there are probably hundreds of those round, rocky minor planets circling the sun. (they already found dozens big enough to be round.) So the choice was between demoting Pluto or adding Eris + any other planet bigger than Pluto (probably non-zero) and the size of Pluto is itself a very arbitrary number.


Latest observations from New Horizon have provided more accurate diameter of Pluto's which makes it bigger than Eris.


However you are right that if Pluto was kept as planet then it would have been hard to not classify other "plutoids" as planets without causing confusion.


But Eris is heavier and that calculation is easy for any system with a moon so it is unlike to change much while diameter is hard with reflectiveness of the surface more a guess than a measurement and Eris being so damn cold. IIRC the New Horizon found that the diameter of Pluto was 10% bigger but they didn't changes mass as the moon methode measurement is more precise than the measurement out of the fly-by



I have to disagree with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He left out Sputnik and men like Yuri Gregarin, they did get the show on the road. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin

The Twisted Genius


Perhaps Tyson would include Gagarin and Sputnik in the kindred programs of discovery. After all, it was just a tweet. But I agree with you. The early Soviet space program was pretty awesome. I was rereading the story of Laika a few days ago... inspiring and poignant at the same time. She led the way for Gagarin, Glenn and all the others. We owe dogs a lot more than we give them.

SAC Brat

Laika Star music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHV_O_m75gI

I was trying to find an image of the Soviet cosmonauts with Laika at their feet, but here are some Laika statues:

Mark Logan

I expected it to be all cratered up but neither Pluto or its moons appear to be particularly pock-marked in the way our moon is. Seems like it should be way too cold out there for much surface activity on planets and they would be so cold at assembly they would have little geothermic activity and it would fade quick. We judge surface age by how cratered it is and that is supposed to be an extremely old surface so...??

Mark Logan


Looks more like Snoopy to me.


This is quite amazing for a lot of reasons. When New Horizons was launched, there was a 'launch window' of about 30 days in early 2006. If the launch could not be made during that time, a significant amount of time- in years- would pass before it could be launched again. The key was that the satellite would 'bounce' off the atmosphere of Jupiter, giving it an added impetus, like a thrown rock skipping off waves. Jupiter had to be aligned just so for the launch to employ the skip tactic. The longer the wait into the launch window, the longer the New Horizons would take to get to Pluto. I recall that if it took to the end of the launch window, it would add about two years to the time to reach Pluto. Amazing math and physics to figure this out. Also the New Horizons is powered by a generator powered by a radioactive-thermal generator (RTG). The satellite cannot be powered by solar power due to the distance from the sun. Fascinating stuff


A most riveting account from the history of soviet space program. Truly shows the true grit of their astronauts



Yes the mass didn't change with new observations. Density is now thought to be less than what it was believed to be.

Given how "planets" vary from tiny to huge(varying from 0.05 times earth mass for Mercury to 318 times earth mass for Jupiter) and rocky to gas giants, it is really a catch all term and problematic. If someone says there is a planet around a star, that tells you very little except that there is an object in an orbit around that star. Not very useful in that sense.


FYI, a tv special on the Pluto flyby images...

And when those historic images arrive on Earth, they are set to star in a new hour-long special, "Direct from Pluto: The First Encounter," premiering on the Science Channel on Wednesday, July 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.


What is your real point, TTG? The conspicuous presence of the irrelevant deGrasse media person in your post matches your conspicuous absence when matters of black riot are being discussed, unless it is to present some aspect you see as a mitigating factor in favour of Ferguson rioters, Baltimore rioters, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown...

What is the tale here? You do not refer to the overwhelmingly white New Horizons team. The real people behind the deed is not of your interest, but a media figure with absolutely no weight in hard scientific matters is? Because he is sort of black, wanted Pluto out and had a dream? What's going on? You keep silent when things go wrong but tries to steal the show when things are good? With a buffoon?

You're not an ethnic activist, so what is the tale? Why do you behave as one?


I thought eccentricity was a big part of the decision to demote Pluto. All the major/"real" planets have much more circular orbits. Pluto's orbit is almost comet-like - it's perihelion is inside the orbit of Neptune. That makes Pluto seem more like the other junk-balls out there in the Kuiper belt that a Real Planet.

The Twisted Genius


That's what you take out of this simple post about a remarkable NASA achievement? That this is some secret dogwhistle kill YT message? That's just sad and a little unhinged. Leave it to you to extend the coming race war out to the edge of the solar system.

You see Tyson as nothing more than an overexposed media figure. Well, you're not alone in that assessment. Many share your opinion of him and his scientific views. It's only due to his oversized media presence that he became the public face of the "Pluto is not a planet" controversy. But I'm surprised you don't see him as an Uncle Tom for heaping such high praise on the predominantly white NASA. The nerve of him! He ain't no brother.

As far as my "tale" goes, I am neither obliged or inclined to comment on every controversy appearing in SST. I suppose I should feel flattered that you take such an avid interest in my opinions. I'm not. Read them or do not read them. It matters not to me.



Good points. Twitter does have a significant draw back of brevity. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has done a good job of keeping things in the public eye that would otherwise be lost in the business of our everyday lives.



Thanks for the link.


The Laika images bring back my sputnik memory. At the time my family resided in a small subdivision just off Route 1 and surrounded by woods in Woodbridge, VA. Soon after sputnik was in orbit the newspapers published information on when and where it would be visible. Armed with this information, my father took me out a woods road near our house at night to get away from lights so we could watch for sputnik. We were successful - which was most impressive for a wonky sixth-grader just beginning to read science fiction.

Sputnik opened up an exciting new world, leading to the first manned orbital flights - which seemed such a positive step forward for the world at that time. I remember my school interrupting classes by broadcasting Alan Shepard and John Glenn's launches over the school PA system.

One great aspect of SST is that it has once again has led to important, but long-forgotten memories!

SAC Brat

The statue I was looking for was I think of the cosmonauts who lost their lives in the Soviet space program, and the statue has Laika with them. Google wasn't helping me and I couldn't find the name to find the Russian name to search with. There is a lot of interesting stuff to study from all Soviet research.

My friends and I were kids who were fascinated by the Apollo program. Even now we always try to think of all the contingencies aerospace parts and procedures can have as we work on airplanes. One skipped or bad step and your satellite might not make orbit.

We like to send each other NASA news as we find it, usually with a title "Is it a good day for NASA news? It's always a good day for NASA news!"



For those of you who have worked in government have you ever heard anything relating to the government's knowledge or lack of knowledge of UFO's and extraterrestrials?

Just curious.


TTG, in my study of american thought I found out that the enfatuation with psychotic savants is as american as the search for Hitler impersonators in foreign policy. In the case of black psychotic savants, there is the aggravating factor that people do think of them as possessing magical qualities. Maybe DeGrasse has more substance in him than I can see from afar.

The race war you mention can only be avoided if the setting up of blacks against whites and vice versa is ended. There is an intentional effort to make things worse, that goes beyond the manipulations for vote gain by the Democratic Party. I think that the media should be the one and only target in a so called race war. It could end tomorrow, if only people ceased to go after the innocent on both sides.

But the tale... I have the natural tendency of trying to understand someone by the kind of thought he consciouly avoid. Unhinged, as you say. Duality is important to me, so I look at the shadow of things to see if they are really there, poor Anonymous is given the holes of the cheese for meal. I think there is an important tale out there and I think people are important.

And I'm thankful I'm beyond the range. I see I overstepped in my eagerness. I apologize. I'm a nuisance... but at least I'm not asking about UFOs. Right now Babak has his UFO abductees list at hand and is watching those who dare volunteer something under GCP's inquiry. Can't be too careful!

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