Planetary Drama

We remember the furor in 2006 when Pluto was demoted. We could almost hear its sad, lonely little voice way out in the darkest reaches of the solar system, asking, “What? I’m not a planet anymore? How could this be?” The people of Earth took notice. Rallies were held. Letters were written. Bumper stickers were distributed (including our favorite, “I Miss Pluto”). But Pluto isn’t gone. In fact, it’s a defining member of a new subclass of celestial body called dwarf planets. And it sort of deserved the downgrade anyway. Here to give you the whole story is Andrew Fraknoi in “Whatever Happened to Pluto: Why It Got Kicked out of the Planet Club, and Why It Had It Coming” (which starts at 12:30). Fraknoi has a way of making complex science interesting and really easy to grasp. (We know this because he was our astronomy professor at S.F. State before most of you were born.) Fraknoi is now chair of the astronomy department at Foothill College and was long the head of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He’s written numerous books and science articles, and is a frequent guest on radio shows including KQED-FM’s Forum. He even has an asteroid named after him for his educational prowess. (Seriously.) His talk on Pluto is among five performances at Discovery Days. The fest also features more than 80 exhibitors, including NASA, two Lawrence laboratories, the Computer History Museum, and at least six colleges and universities. Here’s our warning, though: After taking all this in, you might think the dispute over Pluto is, well, too little to bother with.
Sun., Nov. 6, 11 a.m., 2011

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