Note From Jon


Monday, January 21, 2008

Almost Heavenly

My triple-header Thursday night (lecture, climbing, and party-at-the-soon-departed Dr. Dremo's) kicked off with a lecture entitled "How I killed Pluto, and why it had it coming" by Michael Brown. Actually Michael's team discovered Eris, a (now-classified-as-dwarf) planet that was bigger than Pluto and touched off the whole reclassification brouhaha (as he put it, "Pluto was just collateral damage"). This was my second favorite lecture in the Carnegie Institution for Science's (free) Capital Science Lecture series (the first was last year's lecture by Steven Squyres on the Mars Rovers). Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, those of you who missed the lecture due to the snow or other asundry* excuses—which is all of you, since I went alone—can now watch it in their archives (along with the lecture by Michael Gazzaniga that I wrote about in October—but sadly not last year's Mars Rover lecture)

*Need to have a sidebar about whether asundry is a word or not. The dictionary says it isn't, but a remarkable number of people, myself included, (mis?)use the phrase "various and asundry". Many people use the apparently correct "various and sundry", but I want to know why I, and so many others, have it wrong...

I'm sure one reason I especially enjoyed the lecture is because Pluto's deplanetification is somewhat near and dear to me. Some of you may remember my psychic trivia ability, but for those who don't, "I'll digress very quickly because that's what I do best... except for the quickly part" (one of Michael's jokes that I enjoyed and felt was a good one for me). At a Fado's Pub Quiz in late 2004 the question was asked "What is the smallest planet?". Now what kind of question is that? In 2004 everyone knew Pluto was the smallest planet (In the world I choose to believe in at least). So... this must be a trick question, thought I. I then preceded to spend the next 20 minutes convincing my team that Mercury was the smallest planet because a) if the answer was Pluto it wouldn't be a trivia question and b) I vaguely remembered an article in the 90s about how Pluto wasn't technically considered a Planet anymore. My team went along with me and we lost those points. But as we all know now, I was not wrong... I was prescient. Incidentally, the next month, when I spent 20 minutes arguing (correctly, this time) that Titan was a moon of Saturn and not Jupiter (based on the Cassini-Huygens probe article I'd read that day!) my team wouldn't believe me based on my Plutonic reputation and we lost points again.

Here are some notes from the lecture:
  • If the trivia question, "What is the ninth largest celestial body orbiting the Sun?" ever comes up, answer Eris (pending future discoveries... which Michael predicts, actually).
  • If you are photographing the stars to find new bodies... be sure to take a second picture of the same sky later on.
  • Eris is named after the Greek Goddess of Discord and Strife (because of the astronomical debate that ensued?)
  • Michael had the most to gain from Pluto staying a planet (along with Eris), he'd have been the only living person to discover a planet... and even he thinks the right decision was made. His argument was that if you take away one of the current 8 planets the whole solar system feels the impact and if you take away anything else then no one notices (although he thinks the "planet" classification is basically aesthetic, and the right classification is something like "big things - Jupiter thru Neptune", "medium things - Mercury thru Mars", "small things between Mars and Jupiter" and "small things beyond Neptune")
  • Many more that I may post later but won't bore you with now (after all if you are intrigued you should probably go watch the whole lecture online).
And in other "Heavenly" news, I kicked off the 2008 ski season with a trip back to one of the runs I grew up skiing on at Liberty Mountain. Enjoy the slideshow and notes below:

  • MLK Weekend is a great weekend to ski locally (Liberty or Whitetail). Two years running there have been virtually no lines, presumably because everyone goes long on that weekend (the 22° high might have contributed as well)

  • "The South Pole" was open at the base of the back side and served burgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches along with chips and hot chocolate, which seemed to satisfy the group and saved us a trip back to the front of the mountain
  • I liked the 160cm parabolic skis I rented, but didn't get to try them on moguls and I think the edges might have been a problem on ice
  • Camera batteries die almost instantly in cold weather... but will work again for a few more shots each time the camera is warmed up
  • For Apres Ski at McKee's Tavern, order the French Onion Soup (if you can handle soup for $8.50) and stay away from the Crab and Artichoke Dip!


Dagny Taggart said...

It's because such erudite personages, like yourself, are also familiar with the word "asunder", and conflate/combine the two.


Jon said...

Interesting. I always associated asundry with sundry (in the flammable/inflammable sense) as opposed to asunder, but I'd learned it solely through repeatedly hearing the "various and (a)sundry" combination. I don't know that I've misused a word this badly since I discovered several years ago that friends-without-benefits were platonic and not plutonic...

Thankfully, due to language change, common mis-usage, and descriptivism, asundry may eventually become a word and I will be able to claim once again that I am simply prescient rather than wrong :-p