UPDATE: Pluto is NOT a planet!!

So the big dogs met today, and surprise—Pluto is NOT a planet after all! Aw, poor thing. (Read the full story from the Washington Post)


''Yes, Virginia, Pluto is a planet.''

Next week in Prague, a group of astronomers are planning to tell the International Astronomical Union--the body that decides, officially, what is or is not a planet--that there are not nine planets, but 12.
(Read the full story.) Here's what a few Johns Hopkins astronomers had to say about the whole affair (p.s.--dontcha just love nerdspeak?)

Richard Conn Henry, physics and astronomy professor:
"I think the notion that Pluto is a planet is absurd. When it was initially discovered,it was thought to be vastly more massive than it turned out to be. Its orbit is radically different from that of all the other planets. Down with Pluto, is what I say!"

Karl Glazebrook, physics and astronomy professor:
"...if I were in charge, I would insist on a diameter of greater than 1,000 kilometers to define a 'planet' in order to remove Ceres from the list. But that would be an arbitrary cut to preserve the order of the main nine and to save the hassle of rewriting textbooks...Definitions and naming really matter little physically, anyway."

William P. Blair, research professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and chief of observatory operations for NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer Satellite:
"This is really not a burning issue for most astronomers. It really is a 'classification' problem more than an issue of science...From what I can tell, they have tried to come up with a consistent definition: an object roughly spherical under its own gravity, orbiting a star, and not orbiting something else. OK, so far. Then they are apparently willing to immediately bend this relatively simple definition and allow Charon to itself be called a planet, with Pluto and Charon being a 'double planet' system. This goes too far and seems inconsistent to me."

Harold A. Weaver Jr., project scientist at Applied Physics Laboratory:
"...we must not forget that any attempts by us to pigeonhole objects in the universe are bound to have shortcomings. The classification schemes that we invent help us to place diverse objects in context, but we must also recognize that nature often doesn't adhere to our attempts to categorize things...In any case, I doubt that the IAU could come up with a resolution that would please everyone."

Andy Cheng, Applied Physics Laboratory:
"...the new definition of planet does not work for me, because 'hydrostatic equilibrium' is an idealization -- it is approximately correct for planets like Earth but is not exact. There is still no criterion for deciding how far from hydrostatic equilibrium an object can be and still qualify as a planet."


The latest in looking for life on the Red Planet

It's been three months since I finished my thesis on the hunt for life on Mars. Here's a great lil story I picked up on digg about what's next on the horizon...but I'll betcha those sturdy rovers will still be kickin' around up there when the Lander arrives... "The launch of the Mars Phoenix Lander is just a year away. The spacecraft will be aiming for the martian north pole, and if it lands successfully it will dig in snow and ice in one of the few places on Mars where scientists think life could be preserved." read more | digg story


Have we all gone nano-crazy?

Seems like every product in the CVS aisle is trying to jump on the nanotechnology bandwagon. And thanks to a website created by the nonprofit group Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies earlier this year, anyone with a computer can browse the 200+ nano-products now commercially available. (The list includes, among the somewhat mundane face creams and household cleaners, the more surprising odor-eating shoe inserts, foam neck-support pillows, and even chocolate-flavored bubble gum.)

Here are a few of my favorite products, along with the hype they tout on their websites about those teeeeny tiny nano-ingredients (in no particular order):

Fullerene C-60 Day and Night Cream
Zelens, UK

“Fullerene C60 is a naturally occurring microscopic form of carbon, of the same purity as a diamond, which was found to have remarkable anti-oxidant properties. The key to the power of Fullerenes C60 lies in its shape. Its 60 carbon atoms are arranges like a soccer ball, with 32 surfaces. Each of these surfaces attract, and neutralise, the damaging free radicals, leading scientists to call Fullerene C60 the ‘radical scavenger.’”

Rénergie Microlift
Lancome, France

“Microlifters are made of nano-particles of silica and proteins form a network to immediately lift and tighten skin.”
(http://www.lancome-usa.com/_us/_en/skincare/animations/renergiemicrolift/ discover.aspx?CategoryCode=AXESkincare&&&&)

Nanosilver Antibacterial and Deodorant Insole
Goodweave textiles Co. Ltd., Taiwan

(NB: for this one, I only wonder how much hype was lost in translation…)
“Nanosilver textile fiber has the ultra strong bacteriacidal power. Sterilization rate reaches as high as 99.99%. It may deodorize, stop itching and effectively prevents the athletic foot blood circulation, a moisture absorption and release of perspiration. The high permeable material quality, it can often guarantee the foot dry and neat.”

Nanoceuticals Slim Shake Chocolate
RBC Life Sciences, USA

“NanoCeuticals™, with nanoscale ingredients, allow RBC to create products that:
-Scavenge more free radicals
-Stimulate the source of energy
-Increase hydration
-Balance the body’s pH
-Reduce lactic acid during exercise
-Reduce the surface tension of foods and supplements to increase wetness and absorption of nutrients

Contour-Foam Silver Neck-Support Pillow
Sharper Image, USA

“Ultra-fine silver particles are infused throughout Sharper Image's exclusive space-age Contour-Foam Silver products. Created by advanced nanotechnology ("nano" indicating one billionth), these silver nanoparticles average only about 25nm (nanometers) in diameter — one 200 thousandth of a human hair — invisible to the eye but adding immeasurably to you well-being by making this pressure-free, comforting part of your home environment cleaner, fresher and healthier.”

Nanover Hair Care
GNS Nanogist, Korea
“NANOVERTM Shampoo using nanosilver technology, ingredients go into hair quickly and deeply, has outstanding moisturizing and dandruff removing effect.”

NDMX Golf Balls
Nanodynamics, Inc., USA
“The much-anticipated launch of the revolutionary ball based on patented NDMX™ hollow metal core technology is ready for fairways and greens worldwide. Not only that, NanoDynamics™ has added a nano-enhanced polymer companion ball, the NDLiNX™, to its offering!”



Secret Sharing...

My West Wing wife, crossword puzzle partner, and deepest-secret sharer just moved to California. For five years. So I’m feeling so blue. But! There’s always writing….and Ben & Jerry’s. And! I’ve just discovered a website that made me smile: Share Your Secret. In case you don’t live in NYC and haven’t seen the site’s HUGE metro advertisements, Share Your Secret is a place where anyone can anonymously post any secret (sponsored, of course, by Secret deodorant).  Below are a few goodies…

“I want to keep having babies so I don’t have to go back to work.”

“I am addicted to peanut M&Ms.”

“I want to get over him, but I can’t.”

“I sleep with a teddy bear.”

“Sometimes I pretend I am a cook on a T.V. show in my kitchen.”

“I talk to myself.”


Plan B: Pros and Cons

In 2003, medical advisors at the FDA declared that Plan B--Barr Pharmaceuticals' morning after pill--was safe and effective enough to sell over the counter, to women of any age.

Three years pass.

This Tuesday the FDA met with Barr and finally decided to make the drug available to women 18 or older. It could be on pharmacy shelves in a matter of weeks.

But not everyone thinks this is such a good idea...pro-lifers, overprotective parents, and The Onion have all formed strong objections. Read The Onion's piece if you're in the mood to laugh.