Betting On The Tenth Planet

By 2003, it seemed obvious that someone was going to find a world bigger than Pluto. Mike Brown was betting on it. Literally. The Caltech astronomer had five bottles of good champagne Veuve Clicquot riding on his bet with a fellow astronomer, Sabine Airieau. If an object more massive than Pluto was found beyond Neptune's orbit by the end of 2004, Brown would win the bet. If not, Airieau would get the champagne.1 If anyone was in a good position to find the planetary prize, it was Brown himself....

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He cosmos seemed so much simpler in ancient The word planet traces its origins to the Greek word for wanderer, but the underlying concept goes back much further. When the earliest humans looked up at the lights in the sky, it didn't take them long to notice that most of them formed unchanging patterns like the Big Dipper and the three-star belt of Orion. Other lights, however, changed their position relative to these fixed stars. The sun and the moon were the most obvious of these wanderers....

The Battle Of Prague

F there's still someone out there who thinks science and politics never mix, the story behind the Battle of Prague should change your mind. Some have cast the debate that took place in the Czech capital during the summer of 2006 as a battle against American scientists who wanted to keep the only planet discovered by an American on an unreasonably high pedestal. On the other side of the argument, there are those who suspect that the rest of the world wanted to see Pluto demoted to punish America...

There Goes The Neighborhood

I _ olden anniversaries are traditionally a time for celebration but for astronomer Brian Marsden, the golden anniversary of Pluto's discovery was a reminder of how much of a misfit the planet had become. Marsden, a British-born expert on celestial mechanics, was head of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, the same office that had sent out the news of Pluto's discovery fifty years earlier. Since then, the bureau had been relocated from Copenhagen to Percival Lowell's old stomping...

Alien Plutos

What if a world as small as Pluto were found in another planetary system What if its orbit were as tangled up as those of the dwarf planets in our own solar system Alan Boss, for one, would be absolutely thrilled. We'd be happy to call it a planet candidate and just leave it at that, said the Carnegie Institution of Washington astronomer, who is a member of the International Astronomical Union committee focusing on alien planets and has served on the science team for NASA's Kepler...

Haumea

Equatorial diameter 1,225 by 950 by 622 miles 1,960 by 1,518 by 996 kilometers Mass 4.2 X 1021 kilograms, or 32 percent of Pluto's mass Orbital period 285 years The dispute over naming Haumea isn't the only thing that's controversial about the ice dwarf formerly known as Santa. It doesn't look spherical at all, but more like a squat loaf of sourdough bread. So how can Haumea possibly meet the roundness standard for dwarf planets The reason is that Haumea rotates six times a day, creating a spin...

The Great Planet Debate

For Alan Stern, the problem with Prague wasn't merely about what happened to Pluto it was also about what happened to the scientific process. For decades, the International Astronomical Union had worked by consensus, ruling on matters that already had been largely settled in the scientific community. The flap over Pluto and planethood was different, however, because the astronomical establishment had to deal with a basic question on a time scale that didn't fit the usual schedule for scientific...