Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NEAF 2014 Hosts Pluto Advocate, New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern


Last year, I posted an open letter to the organizers of the annual Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) urging organizers to enlist a pro-Pluto, pro-dwarf planets as planets speaker as a counterpoint to Mike Brown, who gave his “I killed Pluto” talk at this event.

At that time, it was already too late to put an additional speaker in the forum’s busy schedule. However, I was encouraged to hear from Keith Murdock, member of the board of the Rockland Astronomy Club, which organizes, NEAF, also Lecture Series Coordinator for NEAF, respond confirming that the forum takes no stand on Pluto and would welcome a pro-Pluto-as-a-planet speaker in 2014.

Murdock wrote, “We are already considering our speaking slate for next year and will strongly consider a planetary scientist with a geophysical perspective for next year's schedule.”

This year, Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission, also acknowledged as a “Pluto Advocate,” will be a keynote speaker at NEAF, which takes place on Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13 at SUNY Rockland Community College, 145 College Road, Suffern, NY 10901. The college is located approximately 28 miles north of New York City.

Dr. Stern’s talk about the New Horizons mission is scheduled for 4:45-5:45 PM on Saturday, April 12.

There will also be many other interesting presentations, including one by Dr. Rick Fienberg, Public Relations Director of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) on “The New Era of Professional-Amateur Collaboration in Astronomy.” In the last two years, AAS has made a concerted effort to reach out to amateur astronomers at its conferences and enlist their assistance in research projects.

Fienberg will give his talk from 1-2 PM on Saturday, April 12.

Also speaking is Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson in a video presentation from 3:30-4:30 on Saturday, April 12. Tyson will discuss the new “Cosmos” TV series.

NEAF hours for Saturday, April 12 are 8:30 AM-6 PM. For Sunday, April 13, they are 10 AM-5 PM. Tickets are $25 for one day and $42 for both. Children under 15 accompanied by parents can attend free.

In retrospect, it is actually more appropriate for NEAF to host Dr. Stern in 2014 than in 2013. As noted before, members of the New Horizons mission and mission fans have dubbed this year “Pluto Eve.” One year before the actual flyby is an ideal time to build anticipation for the event and to get people once again thinking about Pluto, its nature, and options for its classification.

I want to personally thank NEAF and the Rockland Astronomy Club for welcoming my feedback and hosting a planetary scientist who advocates a geophysical perspective. It doesn’t matter whether this decision was made in response to my individual request or completely apart from it. What does matter is that by hosting speakers representing both sides of the planet debate, NEAF is taking the high road, featuring fair and balanced discussion, allowing participants to hear all sides and draw their own conclusions in an informed manner.

For more information about NEAF, including the entire schedule of speakers and events, please visit http://www.rocklandastronomy.com/pages/neaf/neaf.html .

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