Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Video: NOVA on Pluto Files

by Salman Hameed

Here is a NOVA episode with, of course, more propaganda against Pluto :). [Update Dec 18: Also see Laurel's Pluto blog for reinstating Pluto's status as a planet]. Actually Tyson does a good job here of talking to everybody involved in the dispute over Pluto's status as a planet and also of laying out the issues involved. He also goes to Las Cruces, NM and meets Clyde Tombaugh's (the discoverer of Pluto) wife (she's got to be in her upper 90s) and family. Then around 28 minutes into the show, Tyson visits a Unitarian Church in Las Cruces, which has a stained window that celebrates the life of Clyde Tombaugh! How cool is that and it is one of those places (not always) where science and religion conflict narrative collapses (and yes, I know, we are talking about a Unitarian church, but still...).  Here is a picture of the window:

By the full disclosure here: I have a soft spot for Pluto as a planet as did my doctorate work in the astronomy department at NMSU, which was founded by Clyde Tombaugh. I had a chance to attend his 90th birthday, and it was amazing to see the popularity of Clyde and Pluto amongst kids in the US and abroad.

Watch The Pluto Files on PBS. See more from NOVA.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

Wow, you are so lucky to have met Clyde Tombaugh. I am a huge supporter of Pluto's planet status and have been writing a blog advocating this for five years at . I too was pleasantly surprised when this NOVA episode first aired in March 2010. Tyson seems to have moved toward a more neutral position, acknowledging that the debate over Pluto's status is very much still ongoing. I encourage you to check out the book "The Case for Pluto" by Alan Boyle.

Would you consider sharing details of the work on Pluto you did for your doctorate? I'm working on a book about Pluto and would love to read your work. There are strong scientific arguments for keeping Pluto and all dwarf planets in the broader planet category.

Mrs. Patsy Tombaugh just celebrated her 99th birthday in November. I never met her, but I did meet their daughter Annette at the Great Planet Debate, held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in August 2008. Mrs. Tombaugh is determined to be around for the New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015, and lots of people are rooting for her!

Salman Hameed said...

Laurel - wow Patsy Tombaugh is 99!

Thanks for your comment. And no, my Phd was in extragalactic astronomy. However, I got interested in the Pluto issues partly because of my NMSU connection, and then when I developed and taught a class on "Astronomy and Public Policy" at Smith College. I used the debate over Pluto as one of the fascinating arenas of public interest, government funding (it makes a big difference if a space mission is to the only unexplored planet, or to a minor planet), and astronomy.

Good luck with your book!