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Caltech Professor Who 'Killed' Pluto Releases Book Today

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Mike Brown still gets hate mail today. That's because his discovery of the tenth planet, which was later demoted to what he affectionately calls "space junk," also led to the demise of Pluto's standing as the ninth planet. Brown, a planetary astronomy professor at Caltech, discovered Eris (first called Xena) in 2005 shaking up the scientific community. "No one had systematically looked across the sky for a new planet since the 1930s, when Pluto itself was found, and even though astronomers knew of almost five hundred bodies in the Kuiper belt, the searches had been, of necessity, piecemeal, and no one had yet mounted a careful search like the one that had uncovered Pluto," he wrote in his fun and humorously geeky memoir How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming, which was released today. "Now seventy years after the discovery of Pluto, telescopes were bigger and better, computers made searches vastly more powerful, and astronomers simply knew more about what they were looking for. How could it be that if someone went and looked again for a new planet they wouldn't find something that had been just beyond the reach of the telescopes in the 1930s? There had to be a tenth planet."

But when Brown discovered Eris, thanks to work performed on the Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, it threw a simple, but bewildering question out there: "What is a planet?"

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union made a decision, and it was that Eris was not a planet, which meant that similar-in-size, but less dense, Pluto was also not a planet. As Brown explained sitting in his Pasadena office last week, "if you took away a planet, the solar system would be a very different place." That is to say, with or without Pluto, the solar system would not dramatically change.

But for those who grew up knowing there were nine planets in our solar system, the deletion of Pluto may have been shattering and disputable news. For Brown, however--and perhaps much to his chagrin--facts are facts. "That's not controversy, that's just data."

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An education worker receives a vaccination at a mass vaccination site in a parking lot at Hollywood Park adjacent to SoFi stadium during the Covid-19 pandemic on March 1, 2021 in Inglewood, California.

COVID-19 Vaccine Effort Expands to Teachers, Other Workers

The pool of residents eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations vastly expanded in Los Angeles County today, with teachers and other essential workers added to the list of those who qualify for vaccines.
Students at Manchester Ave. Elementary School have virtual meet and greet with teacher

State Deal Encourages School Reopening by April; but Local Resistance Looms

Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders announced a multibillion-dollar deal today aimed at enticing schools to resume in-person instruction for young students by April 1, but it's unlikely L.A. Unified will meet that date.
(LEFT) ER nurse Adwoa Blankson-Wood pictured near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, wearing scrubs and a surgical mask; By October, Blankson-Wood was required to don an N-95 mask, protective goggles, a head covering and full PPE to interact with patients.

As A Black Nurse at The Pandemic's Frontlines, I've Had A Close Look at America's Racial Divisions

Most of the time, I was able to frame conversations within the context of the virus and not race, telling patients that we were doing our best, trying to be the heroes they kept calling us. But I was dying inside .... It was easier to find solace in my job, easier to be just a nurse, than to be a Black nurse.