Saturday, May 24, 2008

Streator, Illinois, Honors Tombaugh; More Good News for Pluto

This weekend, Streator, Illinois, birthplace of Clyde Tombaugh, is once again celebrating his life and accomplishments as part of the town's Heritage Days Celebration from May 23-26.

The celebration features a carnival, crafts, food, vendors, and entertainment.

Most significantly, the Streatorland Historical Society will dedicate a mural honoring Clyde Tombaugh tomorrow, Sunday, May 25, at 2:00 pm in the 300 block of East Main Street, downtown Streator.

Local artist John Betken designed the mural as a tribute to Tombaugh’s accomplishments. The mural depicts early astronomers, Tombaugh as a young stargazer on the family farm, his days at the Lowell Observatory where he discovered Pluto, and the New Horizons space mission currently on its voyage toward the planet Pluto.

Guest speakers from New Mexico, Annette Tombaugh-Sitze and Alden Tombaugh, (daughter and son of Clyde Tombaugh) will offer insight into their father’s life and discoveries. The public is encouraged to attend.

While I am unable to make it to this event, I want to thank Streator for honoring Tombaugh and hope to someday meet and speak with his daughter and son personally. Pluto supporters Kevin and Siobhan Elias will attend this event and get the chance to hear firsthand insights into Tombaugh's life and accomplishments, and I look forward to hearing about their experience.

As a followup to my previous message, I'm happy to state that after back and forth emails with astronomer Dr. Ethan Tecumseh Vishniac, it turns out that far from being "flabbergasted," regarding public concern about Pluto, he regards public attention to this issue as "all good." His main focus is having a consistent planet definition rather than outright support for or opposition to the IAU demotion. That means if Pluto is counted as a planet, other KBOs and small objects like Ceres that have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium should be counted as planets too.

In his own words, "I do think that if you're going to count Pluto, then you should go ahead and add a bunch of objects of similar or slightly smaller mass.
In the end that would probably up the count by a few dozen. I'm also OK with that. In effect, this would use as a definition the criterion that a planet has to have enough self-gravity to be spherical."

Being the idealist I am, I personally asked him to support and vote for such a proposal at the next IAU General Assembly, which he agreed to consider if can stay long enough for the vote (or if the IAU finally institutes electronic voting).

During the last week, I have also had the honor of speaking with another Pluto supporter, Steve Kates, aka Dr. Sky, an astronomer and astronomy journalist who has done numerous television, radio, and Internet broadcasts on astronomy-related topics. A former resident of New Jersey now living in Arizona, Kates was a student of Tombaugh when he attended New Mexico State University and has very fond memories of him.

Kates, too, is doing public outreach aimed at getting the IAU decision reversed and Pluto officially reinstated as a planet. His web site, http://www.keepplutoalive.com/ , contains interviews he conducted with Tombaugh, with Tombaugh's widow Patsy, and with Dr. Mark Sykes, the planetary astronomer coordinating the Great Planet Debate conference in Laurel, Maryland, later this year.

I personally urge all Pluto supporters to visit this site, listen to the interviews, and find out more about what we can do for Pluto.

Pluto IS a planet, and this debate is definitely NOT over.

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