Friday, October 21, 2011

Waking up....

Jerry had to fly to Chicago for the day. So I dropped him off at DCA at 4:30 am, drove home and promptly went back to sleep. Now, I'm trying to wake up but playing on phone instead... found Blogger app...

But of the recent apps, I think Dropbox is the most useful. Basically get some free space in the cloud, save files to a special directory on your computer, then access and edit from any other enabled computer or device. For me, editing the Observatory attendance spreadsheet is always tough because I always forget my little slips of paper from the night before or worse get working on other stuff and forget entirely. Last night though, I edited the spreadsheet directly from my phone.

If you want to try Dropbox, let me know so that I can invite you and we can both get more free space.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pluto in the Solar System Toy Box

Since I run a campus observatory, I'm often asked about what I think about Pluto getting "demoted." First, Pluto wasn't demoted, it was reclassified. Unfortunately, the astronomers/IAU aren't exactly clear yet on the classifications -- I'm personally leaning towards the Star Trek classifications myself.

Here's how I explain it:

When you are young and you only have a few toys -- a crayon, a doll, a puzzle -- it makes sense to put them all in one toy box. But as you have more birthdays, you get more toys. Now you have lots and lots of crayons and coloring books, lots of toy cars, lots of Legos. Now it makes sense to have a container for each kind of toy. All of the crayons and coloring books could go in one box while the Legos would go in another. It wouldn't make sense to mix them all up.

And that's how it works in astronomy. For a long time, we only knew about the 'planets' and that included Pluto. But then we started learning more and more about the outer Solar System and we recognized that Pluto doesn't quite belong in the same box as the other planets.

And it's not like this is the first time this has happened! Back in the 1800's when the asteroids (at least that's what we call them now!) were first being discovered, they were also classified as planets. But after about 50 years (and several dozens of asteroids), the astronomers finally agreed that the objects they were discovering weren't like the other planets and because of their star-like appearance, called them asteroids (aster is the Greek word for star).

And as we learn more about own Solar System and observe planets in other solar systems, we will eventually find a classification scheme that works. We should be excited that we have new boxes to use as we sort through the objects in our Solar System!