Airing TONIGHT: The Pluto Files

Tonight (March 2, 2010) on NOVA: The Pluto Files, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, about the controversy over the "demotion" of Pluto from planetary status in 2006. NOVA airs at 8pm in most markets, on PBS -- check your local listings here.

Way back in 2000, Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, was faced with a dilemma. In displaying the solar system, he and his team had to figure out what to do with Pluto. The ninth planet, Pluto was much smaller and much farther away from the sun than the other planets in the display. It also had an unusual orbit and a few other odd properties. So the team didn't include Pluto in their main solar system exhibit, instead relegating it to a section downstairs amongst other Kuiper Belt objects. And then everybody went nuts.

NOVA's program The Pluto Files explores the controversy from all sides -- deGrasse Tyson interviews scientists who have opposing views, interviews the Tombaugh family (descendants of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto), and even interviewed the scientist who discovered the "tenth planet" (Eris) -- something I'd never even heard of. The question here is twofold: first, what is a planet? And second, why is the demotion of Pluto such a hugely emotional issue for people? Both are discussed in some depth in the program, and a good conclusion is reached -- but I won't spoil it here.

The good news: there's plenty of material for both "sides" of the debate here. Honestly, deGrasse Tyson himself seems to have been cast as the villain here -- something he's willing to ham up on occasion -- but from a scientific perspective, his attitude is not at all black and white. So whatever you think about Pluto, this is worth watching. Also, it's totally family-friendly -- grab the kids and sit down for some fun science programming tonight!

Bonus: read some real hate mail from a third grader here. Seriously. Also, a trailer for The Pluto Files. Finally, here's a brief interview with deGrasse Tyson about the situation:

Another interesting bit: NASA's New Horizons craft, which arrives at Pluto in 2015 -- with the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh onboard.

MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]


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