The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Caltech professor discusses the rise

The man who discovered the one-time 10th planet explained why his planet and Pluto are no longer labeled as planets in a lecture at the Oviatt Library Presentation Room last Wednesday.

In a humorous manner, Caltech professor Mike Brown discussed the history of Pluto and his discovery of the proposed 10th planet, Eris, before both planets were deemed “dwarf planets.”

“Every astronomer besides the crazy ones agree,” Brown said during his lecture, which was advertised as an entertaining and non-technical lecture and presented by the Office of Graduate Studies, Distinguished Speakers Program, and the physics and astronomy departments.

After eight years of research, Brown discovered Eris, a planet just past Pluto that was slightly larger than Pluto and thus named as a 10th planet. But in 2006, only after one year, the International Astronomical Union held a meeting in Prague in order to decide if Eris would continue to be recognized as a planet or not.

IAU determined Eris and Pluto would instead retain a dwarf planet status, removing Pluto as a planet from the solar system.

Brown discussed the extreme difference in size between Pluto and the other eight planets in the solar system as well as the “goofy” orbit of Pluto, a slightly tilted oblong shape.

Brown said it was debatable when Pluto was first discovered whether it was a planet or not, but was not argued until 76 years later. Pluto is located in what is known as “Kuiper’s Belt” a line of asteroids after Neptune. A similar belt of asteroids parts the four smaller planets from the four larger planets, in between Mars and Jupiter.

The crowd of about 150 was a mix of students attending for a class and students attending on their own will.

“It was accurate and entertaining,” said Marni Doyle, a 21-year-old astrophysics major.

Sergio Orozoc, also a 21-year-old astrophysics major, agreed and added that he came because the flyers said it would be entertaining.

Using slides to aid his lecture, Brown showed students how astronomers determine if an object is a planet or not. In 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, astronomers used photo plates to take a picture of a specific spot in the sky for two nights in a row and would analyze the pictures to see if any of the objects had moved.

Brown explained that technology today allows astronomers to take digital pictures of the sky. The digital lenses are much smaller than the plates previously used and it took eight years for astronomers to cover the majority of the sky that Tombaugh covered 30 years ago.

However, today, computers analyze the photos and look for things that are possibly moving and might be planets. Brown said he then goes through the 100 or so pictures forwarded to him.

“The majority of the time it is cat dust or a plane, but every now and then you get something no one else has ever seen,” Brown said.

The professor clarified that there was never a Planet X, which was once believed to exist. Brown explained that astronomers noticed a pull in Neptune’s movement, which was the way Neptune was discovered. Hidden behind Uranus, Neptune’s orbit would tug on Uranus and astronomers believed they had spotted it again in Neptune and would find a planet. However, there was no hidden planet.

Brown also said that he used a telescope at Palomar Observatory to find Eris, but only had to visit the observatory twice in the eight years of his research because of satellites and technology.

“Some say I lost the romance of astronomy,” Brown said and added he got married and had a 2-year-old during his research, which probably wouldn’t have happened if he had to be at the observatory every night. “I like that kind of romance,” he said.

Brown said he chose to name the planet Eris because it was one of the few Roman and Greek gods and goddesses names left on the registry. Brown joked of the correlating fate of Eris, goddess of strife and warfare, who caused a quarrel between goddesses that eventually led to the Trojan War. Similarly, the discovery of Eris led astronomers to split and argue over the correct classification of planets.

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