Science Writing

JPL Open House
May 19, 2001
Reviewed by Suze Campagna

JPL’s Annual Open House is held at their head quarters in Pasadena. This is a fun, educational and free event for children of all ages. If you have never been before I would recommend starting with the video narrated Jodie Foster giving an overview of JPL and the discoveries in space in which they have participated. (Personally I’ve seen this video many times, so we started right in at the booths.)
There are several sections divided by earth, the Universe, Deep Space, technology, children’s activities etc. Each section had booths dedicated to the various projects pertaining to the particular subject. There’s a lot to see and explore and we didn’t get to see it all. This year I attended with Meddler Rhonda Bartlett and my friend Kira, who was visiting from Santa Rosa. We started with “The Earth” section where we learned how ASTER (Advanced Spacebourne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) monitors forest fires, active volcanoes and even nuclear power plants from space. There was a very cool 3D image of Mt. St. Helen’s erupting. Jason-1 and Topex/Poisidon monitor ocean levels and weather patterns. There was a beautiful yet somehow disturbing photograph of the earth’s Ozone layer, taken from the space shuttle showing how thin it really is.
In the Deep space area we learned that a Deep Space Craft are built to the specification that must be equivalent to a car going 3 billion miles without failure. (So, who thinks JPL should be designing cars?)
We then went off to visit the Space Flight Operations Center, which is a historical Landmark. There was a very long line, which reminded us of Disneyland, as we were taken inside and around the hallway looking at the artwork. There were some gorgeous Murals from the Academia De Arte Yepes as well as many photographs taken from outer space. Once inside the viewing room that overlooks the main operations room, we saw a video entitled “Whispers from Space” which described the Cassini, Galileo and Voyager missions, monitored from the room we were overlooking.
In the Technology section we met Urbie, a robot used by police to go into areas deemed to be unsafe for humans, and saw an artificial muscle made from electro active polymers. We visited Building 170 where the manufacturing is done and saw how precise the machines must be.
You can also purchase some unique gifts with the NASA and JPL logos on them, as well as posters and other things. (I bought my mom some first day issue stamps.) Rhonda said, “It was like going back to school.” And Kira added, “It was more interesting.” This is a unique opportunity for Southern Californians and I would recommend it to anyone who has ever had even the slightest interest in the subject.
If you attend next year my advice would be wear walking shoes, bring sunscreen and get there early. Watch the IE for the dates of next year’s open house or visit JPL's Website

The Tenth Planet
By Suze Campagna

On July 29 2005, NASA announced that scientist had found a planet larger than Pluto in the Kuiper Belt in the outer regions of our solar systems. The astronomical body was discovered by three NASA funded scientist, Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz unsing the Samual Oschin Telescope ant the Palomar Observatory near San Deigo.

The yet to be mamed planet is 97 times further from the sun than earth and is the third brightest object in the Kuiper belt. Scientist say it can be seen for the next six months direcftly overhead in the early morning eastern sky in the constellation Cetus. It was first photographed on October 31, 2003, but motion was not detected until januaray of this year when it was reanalyzed.

A name for the new planet has been submitted by the scientist to the Astronomical Union, but has yet to be announced. Rumors are the the name submitted it the name of Doctor Brown’s Daughter or in keeping with the Greek mythology theme, Xena. Source: JPL

Is Pluto a Planet or Just Mickey Mouse’s Dog?
By Suze Campagna

The question of whether or not Pluto is considered a planet has recently been posed to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), who give objects in space their official names and designation.

In 2003 UB312 was discovered in the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Until recently Pluto was thought to be the largest object in that belt, but UB312 is slightly larger.

There has never been a clear definition of a planet, so how do we know. So far it has been determined that a planet is round, it has an atmosphere, and it is large enough for gravity to pull in a sphere. Of course each time something new is added to the accepted definition, an exception in found.

This month (Aug) the IAU is meeting in Prague, and this is one of the questions they are expected to answer. If by definition, they decide that Pluto is not a planet, they may grandfather it in, because it has held the designation for over 60 years. (And how does My Very Excellent Mother Just Serve Us Nine Pizzas?)


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