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The Quick 10: Pluto, We Never Knew Ye

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It was a mere 79 years ago that we discovered Pluto and embraced it as one of our nine planets. "Pluto!" we said. "We love you! You're so tiny and cute!" And then in 2006, we dumped it like a bad boyfriend. But to celebrate the anniversary of the day we first laid eyes on Pluto, we'll bring it back into the spotlight today.

tombaugh1. Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, a researcher at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was supposed to be looking for the mysterious Planet X, a planet that was only hypothesized by some other scientists who figured there must be another planet out there to explain the weird orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Upon discovering Pluto, Tombaugh announced to his superior, "Dr. Slipher, I have found your Planet X." For various reasons, though, including its small size and strange orbit, it was discovered that Pluto couldn't possibly be the Planet X they were looking for. But it was a planet (at least, it was then), and as a planet, it needed a name.
2. The planet was given its name by 11-year-old Venetia Phair of Oxford, England. Her grandpa read about the discovery of this new planet in The Times and suggested that she give the name a go. Venetia thought Pluto would be a fitting name, after the Roman God of the underworld who had the power of invisibility. But that was only part of the reason the name was picked - Tombaugh liked the name because it started with the letters P and L, which were the initials of Percival Lowell, the man behind the whole Planet X theory. Lowell passed away in 1916. Venetia is still around and doesn't really care if Pluto is a planet or not - she recently said she's been pretty indifferent to the whole debate, but if she had to pick one way or another, she supposes she'd have to lean toward planet. Oh, and her reward for naming the planet? Five pounds from her grandpa. She also has an asteroid named after her.

3. Yep, Mickey's best pal Pluto was probably named after the planet.

The planet was officially named on May 1, 1930, and the dog was first mentioned by his name in the 1931 cartoon "The Moose Hunt." One Disney animator claims he has no idea where the name came from, saying "I honestly don't remember why [we named him Pluto]. I think we were stoned."

jupiter4. The New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly by Pluto in 2015 to do a little exploring. So far it has already passed Mars, a small asteroid, studied the Little Red Spot on Jupiter as it went past, and passed Saturn's orbit. It should pass Uranus' orbit in March, 2011, and Neptune's in August, 2014. After it passes Pluto and one of Pluto's moons, Charon, it might observe some Kuiper Belt objects on its way out of the solar system. By 2029, it will be out of our solar system entirely. That picture is Jupiter via New Horizons' infrared camera.
5. We won't be living on Pluto any time in the foreseeable future. That's because not only is the surface of the planet entirely ice, the surface temperature of is about 350 degrees below Fahrenheit, and the air is made up of a lot of carbon monoxide and nitrogen.
6. Pluto is so little, it's only about half the width of the United States.

charon7. Pluto's three moons are Charon, Nix and Hydra, with Charon being the main one. Charon is the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology, so it ties in with the Roman God of the underworld pretty nicely. Charon was discovered in 1978; Nix and Hydra were just discovered in 2005. Since the reclassification, though, there's some debate whether to consider Charon a moon or a dual dwarf planet along with Pluto. Nix and Hydra are just considered satellites. Pluto and Charon orbit around one another about every 6.387 days.

8. A hundred-pound person would weigh a mere seven pounds on Pluto and you'd have to live 248 Earth-years to celebrate your first birthday on Pluto.

kuiper 29. Pluto is now thought to be the biggest object in a big mass of Kuiper belt objects (KBOs). The Kuiper belt is just a section of the solar system - that's it and all of its known objects in the picture. Objects with properties and orbits similar to Pluto's within the Kuiper belt are called Plutinos. Before this theory was decided upon, another one floating around is that Pluto was once a moon of Neptune that had been somehow knocked out of orbit by the moon Triton. Most scientists scoffed at that theory, though.
10. Plutonium was named after the dwarf planet, not after the god. Pluto had only been around for a little more than 10 years when Plutonium was discovered and was named because the previous transuranium element was named after Neptune. It only made good sense to name the next in the series after the next then-planet. The name "plutium" was kicked around a little bit, but one of its discoverers, Dr. Glenn Seaborg, basically decided that "plutonium" sounded cooler. He suggested "PU" as its periodic table letters as a joke, but apparently no one else got the joke because they went ahead and approved it. Other names considered for Plutonium included "Ultimium" and "Extremium" because they thought they had discovered the very last element on the periodic table.

And hey, if you're still in mourning for Pluto, we conveniently have your cure: A Revolve in Peace shirt. Pay tribute to your favorite ex-planet today!

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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