Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Open Letter to Organizers of the 2013 Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF)

Dear Ed Siemenn, Keith Murdock, and Mies Hora,

As a writer and amateur astronomer, I am contacting you to urge you to add a speaker to the NEAF 2013 program who represents the opposing view to that of Mike Brown, specifically, the position that Pluto and all dwarf planets are a subclass of planets that never have been "killed" along with the broader case for a geophysical planet definition.

I find it disappointing that NEAF would invite Brown specifically referring to him as the "plutokiller." This is a very unprofessional designation he has bestowed upon himself, and it really has nothing to do with science. It is about selling books and seeking money and fame. Significantly, even Neil de Grasse Tyson has moved away from referring to himself as a "plutokiller" and from the notion that Pluto is not a planet, toward a more neutral position in which he admits the debate over what a planet is remains very much ongoing.

Brown, on the other hand, regularly misinforms his audiences by stating that the debate is over and that no astronomers except a few "fringe" types still view Pluto and dwarf planets as planets. This is blatantly untrue, and it is misleading and unprofessional for him to state it as fact! Brown also engages in ridiculous practices such as beheading stuffed Disney Pluto dogs before his talks. Is this the way an astronomer should present himself to the public, including children?

Brown has also engaged in other unprofessional behavior, such as belittling the accomplishment of Clyde Tombaugh in discovering Pluto by saying "Tombaugh just got lucky," and by wrongly guiding astronomers interested in finding undiscovered large Kuiper Belt Objects in telling them that no such objects are left to be discovered when this is not the case.

Because of my active opposition to his position, he has also made personal attacks against me online and maligned me to other astronomers, referring to me as a "nutter" and a "stalker." I have never stalked anyone. All I have ever done is tried to get fair and balanced coverage of Pluto and the planet debate.

Why not present Brown as "Eris discoverer" instead of as "plutokiller?" Too few people are aware of Eris' existence because Brown has so focused the issue on "killing" Pluto rather than on the discovery of additional planets like Eris in our solar system.

Since you are inviting Brown to speak at NEAF, I respectfully request you add a speaker representing the other, pro-Pluto as a planet side. There are plenty of fantastic speakers and accomplished astronomers who can do a great job of this on short notice. One is Dr. Kenneth Kremer, who has given presentations at prior NEAF events. More than 300 professional astronomers, led by New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, signed a formal petition rejecting the IAU definition, adopted by four percent of its members. You can find their names here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/planetprotest/ . Please consider inviting one of them to present the other side of this issue, the case for a geophysical planet definition. Other good speaker choices are Alan Boyle, author of the book The Case for Pluto, Dr. Ken Croswell, author of Ten Worlds, Dr. David Aguilar, author of Thirteen Planets, and New Jersey's own Alan Witzgall, an outstanding speaker and knowledgeable astronomer who has been doing presentations locally in the tri-state area for more than 25 years and is a leading member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. (AAI) club.

I would be happy to get you in touch with any of the above potential speakers and/or any of the astronomers who signed the petition rejecting Pluto's demotion. I would also be happy to do such a presentation myself, as I have done for AAI and for various astronomy groups on quite a number of occasions.

I invite you to visit my Pluto Blog, advocating a geophysical planet definition and the planet status of Pluto and all dwarf planets, at http://laurelsplutoblog.blogspot.com .

NEAF is a terrific program, and its attendees deserve a fair and balanced discussion that presents them with both sides of this issue so they can draw their own conclusions after hearing all legitimate viewpoints on this subject, which continues to fascinate so many people. I therefore, in the strongest possible terms, urge you to add a speaker to this year's event who can and will present the view that our solar system has created many more planets than eight or nine, and that Pluto is one of them.

Sincerely,

Laurel Kornfeld, Highland Park, NJ, aka @plutosavior on Twitter and Facebook

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Could Pluto Have 15 Moons?

Today is the 83rd anniversary of the announcement of Pluto's discovery by the Lowell Observatory. The date was chosen because it is the birthday of Percival Lowell, who first started the search for a Trans-Neptunian planet and founded the Lowell Observatory, and because it is the anniversary of the discovery of the planet Uranus by William Herschel in 1781. Significantly, Herschel first thought his discovery was a comet because no one could conceive of the idea of planets beyond Saturn.

This anniversary is an especially appropriate time for the latest research on Pluto, which shows that the small planet may have up to 10 more moons, which could bring its total number of moons to 15! More information can be found here: http://www.space.com/20181-pluto-moons-new-horizons.html


The paper discussing this can be found at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1303.0280.pdf

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Discovery of the New Moons of Pluto - Mark Showalter (SETI Talks)



In a Google+ Hangout, Dr. Mark Showalter discusses the process by which P4 and P5, Pluto's fourth and fifth moons, were discovered, and worldwide participation in the contest to name them. This is very informative and definitely worth watching.