CCNet 15/2001 - 29 January 2001

"There is no scientific insight to be gained by counting planets.
Eight or nine, the numbers don't matter."
--Neil de Grasse Tyson, Hayden Planetarium, 27 January 2001

"Tyson is so far off base with Pluto, it's like he's in a different
David Levy, Associated Press, 27 January 2001

"If Pluto had been discovered by a Spaniard or Austrian, I doubt
whether American astronomers would object to reclassifying it as a
minor planet," one astronomer privately acknowledged. "Before he
died, Clyde Tombaugh himself said he was reconciled to the perception
of Pluto as one of many Kuiper Belt objects -- minor denizens of the outer
solar system."
   --Michael W. Browne, The New York Times, 9 February 1999

    BBC Online News, 29 January 2001


    Associated Press, 27 January 2001

    Boston Globe, 27 January 2001

    Benny J Peiser <>

    Andrew Yee <>

    Maureen Fordham <m.h.fordham@ANGLIA.AC.UK>

    Andrew Yee <>


From the BBC Online News, 29 January 2001

The rescue operation for survivors of the devastating earthquake in the
Western Indian state of Gujarat is getting increasingly desperate. Fours
days after the earthquake hit, Indian officials and foreign relief workers
say hopes are fading of finding more survivors.

It is now feared that as many as 20,000 people may have died, and there are
thousands of bodies still buried under collapsed buildings.




From 27 January 2001


NEW YORK -- One of the nation's leading science museums has quietly shaken
up the universe by suggesting that Pluto is not necessarily a planet at all
but just a lump of ice.

The startling suggestion comes from scientists at the Rose Center for Earth
and Space, which opened last year at the American Museum of Natural History
in New York.

There is a 9-foot-diameter model of Jupiter hanging from the ceiling at the
center. There is Saturn with its rings, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Neptune
and Uranus. But what about Pluto, long considered the ninth planet in the
solar system?

A solar system display says: "Beyond the outer planets is the Kuiper Belt of
comets, a disk of small, icy worlds including Pluto."

"There is no scientific insight to be gained by counting planets," said Neil
de Grasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, the centerpiece of the
Rose Center. "Eight or nine, the numbers don't matter."

Many astronomers say the museum, the first prominent institution to take
this position, has overstepped its bounds.

"Tyson is so far off base with Pluto, it's like he's in a different
universe," said David Levy, author of "Clyde Tombaugh, Discoverer of Planet
Pluto," about the Kansas farm boy who first spotted Pluto. "The majority of
astronomers have said that unless there is definitive evidence to the
contrary, Pluto stays a major planet."

The International Astronomical Union calls Pluto one of nine planets in the
solar system, and a 1999 proposal to list Pluto as both a planet and a
member of the Kuiper Belt was abandoned after it drew strong opposition from
astronomers. Pluto has always been a little different: Its composition is
like a comet's, and its elliptical orbit is tilted 17 degrees from the
orbits of the other planets.

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it was thought to be about the same size
as Earth, but astronomers have now learned that it is only 1,413 miles wide
-- smaller than the Earth's moon.

Then, in 1992, astronomers discovered the first Kuiper Belt object, and
since then have found hundreds of chunks of rock and ice beyond Neptune,
including about 70 that share orbits similar to Pluto's.

The Rose Center said there is no universal definition of a planet and
instead divides the solar system into the sun and five families of objects.

There are terrestrial planets, or small, dense rocky objects like Mercury,
Venus, Earth and Mars; an asteroid belt consisting of craggy chunks of rock
and iron between Mars and Jupiter; the gas giants, which are Jupiter,
Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; and two reservoirs of comets, the Oort Cloud and
the Kuiper Belt. And Pluto? "It's in the Kuiper Belt," Tyson said. "What's
it made of? It's mostly ice."

2001 The Associated Press.


From the Boston Globe, 27 January 2001

Pluto gets no respect. The ninth planet from the sun wasn't discovered until
1930, and even then astronomers were looking for another planet, a so-called
Planet X, that was supposed to be playing havoc with the orbits of Neptune
and Uranus. Disappointed that this consolation planet was too puny to be
influencing anyone, scientists barely paused to name it after the Roman god
of the dead -- how's that for morbid? -- before returning to the search for

It gets worse. Some astronomers say Pluto isn't a planet at all. They say
Pluto and its moon Charon (ferryman on the Styx -- morbid enough yet?) are
merely large comets belonging to the Kuiper Belt, a bunch of comets and
asteroids Pluto occasionally passes through. Humbug, we say. Humans swim in
oceans; does that make them whales?

This scurrilous view has such currency that New York's Rose Center for Earth
and Space, a division of the American Museum of Natural History, has omitted
Pluto from its display of planets. As The New York Times wrote this week,
"the museum appears to have unilaterally demoted Pluto, reassigning it as
one of more than 300 icy bodies" orbiting in that low-rent Kuiper Belt.

Talk about sneaky. The Rose Center didn't open until last February, one year
after a 20-year cycle during which Pluto came closer to Earth than Neptune.
The museum staff waited until Neptune was safely back in eighth position, as
it will be until the year 2229, before casting aspersions on Pluto's status.
It's obvious why: more distance, less chance of a lawsuit.

Granted, Pluto isn't much to look at. It's smaller than all the other
planets. It's a rock in an iceball shrouded in methane snow, the kind they
warned us against during first-grade recess. Its days are a week longer than
ours and it takes 248 years to circle the sun, which suggests a lack of
gumption. Like Uranus, it spins with its polar areas facing the sun. The
other planets spin with their equators facing the sun, which is slightly
less rude.

But is that any reason to knock Pluto off the pedestal? It's no less a
planet than the hydrogen gasball we call Jupiter or the bodies you need oven
mitts to touch, Mercury and Venus. As for Saturn's much-vaunted rings,
they're nothing but sheets of circulating snowballs, and you can't even see
them from Earth when they turn sideways, as they do every 15 years with a
predictability bordering on compulsion.

Pluto has gravitas. When Yale University professor Willie Ruff calculated
two decades ago that the planets have their own tunes -- Venus hums, Mercury
whistles, Uranus clicks -- Pluto was the one beating like a bass drum. Which
may keep Neptune up nights, but that's not our problem.

And when astronomers speculated three years back about which parts of our
solar system might harbour life, they chose Mars, Venus, Jupiter's moon
Europa and, yes, Pluto's Charon. Demote Pluto? That's like saying Walt
Disney's Pluto should be downgraded to a minor cartoon character because,
unlike Mickey Mouse and Goofy, he walks on all fours and doesn't talk.

If such sophisticated argument doesn't work against the Rose Center, we'll
have to take our case to the truly powerful forces in society, the ones with
a vested interest in maintaining the planet's prestige. Plutocrats, unite!

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing


From Benny J Peiser <>

After almost two years of silence, the notorious Pluto debate is back in
full swing: Should Pluto's status as ninth planet of our solar system be
revised in view of new scientific information emanating from the Kuiper
Belt? Even after two years of some startling astronomical discoveries, there
is still no simple answer to the thorny issue. But the bold step, recently
taken by one of America's most distinguished institutions of popular science
education, is not unprecedented by any standards. As Neil de Grasse Tyson,
the director of the Hayden Planetarium, has correctly pointed out, Ceres,
discovered in 1801, was called a planet in the early 19th century and later
demoted to the status of asteroid. According to Saturday's AP report,
"critics counter that Ceres, which is only 580 miles wide, was only
considered a planet for a year, while Pluto has been a major planet for more
than 70 years. In addition, they say, there was consensus among astronomers
in the case of Ceres." I'm afraid these are rather silly and flawed

Although the discovery of Pallas one year after Ceres may have tended to
alter the status of Ceres some, the fact remains that many astronomical
texts were considering the first four asteroids as the eighth, ninth, tenth
and eleventh "planets" still more than 40 years later. It was really only
the discovery of a few more asteroids, and particularly the discovery of
Neptune as a genuinely worthy successor to seventh-planet Uranus, that
created the real impetus for change. What is more, this analogy with Pluto
is even stronger in that one year after its discovery there were already
astronomers pointing out it could not be the massive object the Lowell
Observatory people were claiming. Admittedly, it was 60 years before other
members of the Kuiper Belt were discovered. But it is exactly because it
took that long that new astronomical information about this class of
trans-Neptunian Objects emerged that Neil Tyson's pioneering move for status
change is appropriate. Let's not forget that it is due to Tyson's decision
and the publicity it has generated that the interested public can thereby
acquire a genuine understanding of the way the solar system is put together.

But what about the critics? Haven't they also a good case? My friend David
Levy has been arguing for many years against attempts by fellow astronomers
to reconsider Pluto's scientific classification in view of its increasingly
obvious similarities to other Kuiper Belt Objects. While I admire David's
work and respect his personal views on this issue, I think he would be well
advised not to use political arguments in a debate of scientific nature. As
historians of astronomy will apreciate, claims to the effect that "the
majority of astronomers say....", or, even worse, "most mainstream
astronomers believe....", are not helpful in a controversy that has to be
settled on the basis of hard facts and scientific evidence rather than on
current fads and fashions among astronomers (or should I say powerful
science managers).

Nevertheless, if people are interested to know what the "majority of
astronomers" may think about the status of Pluto, it would be better to
consult the results of the only survey that, to my knowledge, was ever
conducted among solar system astronomers regarding Pluto. It turns out that
more than 60% of all those surveyed by the MPC in 1999, clearly prefered
Brian Marsden's wise and far-sighted compromise proposal: to give good old
Pluto dual citizenship - as a major *and* a minor planet (see: Unfortunately, back in
1999, the IAU, despite initial sympathy to this reasonable idea, did not
accept the compromise vote by the majority of experts who took part in the
survey. Instead, the IAU decided to give in to a hard-line media campaign
orchestrated by a group of U.S. planetary astronomers who demanded a total
rejection of any changes [BTW: interested readers can find background
information about the history of this controversy in the CCNet archive
dating to January and February 1999).

As so often in the annals of science history, this attempt to dictate a kind
of official dogma upon an obviously divided community was mistaken right
from the start. It only enforced a sudden termination of an openminded
debate. Sooner or later, the astronomical evidence emanating from the Kuiper
Belt - and Pluto itself - will, I am sure, soften the antagonistic attitudes
by some of the hard-line traditionalists. Such dogmatism, I believe, has
never been helpful in the ever-changing world of science and astronomy. 

Benny J Peiser

P.S. Last but not least, we should be greatful that the Hayden Planetarium
has re-opened the Pluto debate for another reason. After all, the Pluto
controversy might help to highlight the U.S. American campaign to reinstate
the Pluto Kuiper Express mission that was terminated by NASA last September.


From Andrew Yee <>

The Mercury News, 25 January 2001
[ ]

Thursday, Jan. 25, 2001, 10:54 p.m. PST

Derelict space station just one of many castoffs

Wary scientists guiding debris back to Earth

BY SETH BORENSTEIN, Mercury News Washington Bureau,

WASHINGTON -- For decades, rocket scientists have concentrated on the
herculean task of putting objects into orbit. But as more satellites,
used-up rocket parts and space junk crowd Earth's orbit, there's a new area
of concern: getting things down -- safely.

It's not as easy as just letting gravity take its course, although that also
will happen to dozens of bits of artificial space debris this year.

"What's tough is not bringing something down, but bringing something down in
a controlled way," said former Air Force chief scientist Daniel Hastings,
professor of astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Bringing it down in a way that you don't run into something."

The next big thing to fall will be the old Russian space station Mir. At
9:30 p.m. PST today, a remote-controlled cargo ship will dock with Mir and
start pushing it down into the atmosphere. If everything goes at planned, on
March 6 the nearly 15-year-old station will take a fiery dive into a remote
spot in the Pacific Ocean east of Australia. NASA says the chance of the
286,600-pound Mir hitting anyone is virtually zero.

In the next few weeks, rocket scientists also will steer another space
vehicle into a crash landing on a distant asteroid and watch as at least
nine pieces of space junk careen into Earth uncontrolled.

Why all the falling junk?

Because when the sun has a stormy year in its 11-year cycle of storm
activity, such as the period we are in now, the Earth's upper atmosphere
warms up and expands. As the atmosphere expands into the vacuum of space
where the space junk is orbiting, the drag on the lower objects increases.
The increased drag pulls the objects toward Earth, said Nicholas Johnson,
the program manager and chief scientist for NASA's orbital-debris program.

On Feb. 12, the NASA exploratory spaceship NEAR-Shoemaker will finish its
examination of the asteroid Eros in what mission manager Bob Farquhar called
"a blaze of glory." The ship will be steered into the bone-shaped space rock
for a slow-motion crash. Close-up photos of the crash are expected to be
transmitted -- and then NEAR-Shoemaker, now more than 192 million miles from
Earth, will join the space boneyard.

Satellites, rocket parts and other space junk usually fall uncontrolled back
to Earth. Most burn up on the way down. But in addition to Mir's plummet
into the Pacific, at least nine other artificial space objects will tumble
back to the planet, NASA predicts.

Saturday, the remnant of a Delta rocket launched in 1977 should fall back to
Earth, according to NASA's space-object "decay forecast." On Feb. 24, the
4,761-pound Russian Coronas I cosmic-ray-observing satellite, launched in
March 1994, is expected to fall back to Earth. Some of the satellite will
hit the ground, NASA predicts, because it's too big to burn up entirely on

But scientists say it's highly unlikely that anyone will get hurt.

Since the Space Age dawned in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, 26,643
artificial objects -- from rocket parts to the International Space Station
-- have gone into orbit around Earth. So far, 17,681 of those have come back
down. Not one person has been hit or hurt.

When Skylab fell on Australia in 1979, the only damage was to NASA's budget.
It got a ticket for littering from an Australian city council.

The closest call was last April, when two 100-pound metal canisters, debris
from a 1996 Delta rocket launch, fell near some workers in South Africa.

"Earth's a big place," Johnson said. For every inch of space where there is
a human, there is many thousands of times more unoccupied space.

"Eventually, statistics say someone's going to get hit," Johnson conceded.
"There's no doubt about that."

As for the falling and failing Mir, Russian officials have had problems with
communications and stability for the now-empty space station. The plan is to
control the station's descent through two engine firings on the cargo ship,
dropping the station to lower orbits until it comes through the atmosphere
in one large piece.

"We should do everything possible to ensure a safe descent of Mir," Yuri
Semyonov, head of the Russian rocket firm Energiya, said this week.

So what are the odds of an individual getting hit by an object from space?

Johnson said NASA hasn't really calculated that figure because it's too
complicated. Instead, NASA focuses on particular falling objects and
calculates the odds of them hitting a person. NASA's goal is to keep the
odds at 1 in 10,000, or greater.

Because there are 6 billion people in the world, that means an individual's
chances of getting hit by each falling object are 1 in 60 trillion -- if
NASA's goal is met for every falling object.

That means getting clobbered by space junk is much less likely than other
catastrophes that could befall a person.

For example, based on annual causes of death in America, the National Safety
Council figures that over a lifetime an American has a 1 in 4,762 chance of
dying from something falling on him or her, such as a tree blown over by

In 1995, with Earth's orbit becoming a little more crowded, the United
States and most of the world's other space-traveling countries agreed to a
plan that would require space objects to return to Earth 25 years after they
ran out of fuel.

"It seems like 'Armageddon' and Bruce Willis, but the fact is that we have a
pretty good understanding of where these objects are going to go," said
American University astronomer Richard Berendzen. "The physics does become a
tad tricky when you are dealing with drag" and when the satellite

"I think this is a little bit of a merger of exact science and art at this
stage," Berendzen said.

For NASA's calculations on what space debris will come down in the next six
months or to see a list of objects in space, go to Web site
Click on the "OIG Main Page" link, then on the "Reports" link.

To find out where Mir is, go to

For the NEAR-Shoemaker mission, go to

2001 The Mercury News.


From Maureen Fordham <m.h.fordham@ANGLIA.AC.UK>

I enclose below a late call for papers. 'Disaster and Development' is an
area of critical interest now when El Salvador and India - as just the two
most topical examples - will be looking
to rebuild and reconstruct. Without bringing together disaster AND
development knowledge and initiatives, the danger is that they (as so many
others have, so often before) will rebuild vulnerability to future disasters
into the very building structures. However, what in many ways is more
dangerous, is the creation and reinforcing of, largely unseen, inequitable
social structures which contribute to (as Ken Hewitt has formulated it) the
'social geography of harm'.

If you would like to contribute a paper on this theme, please contact me.


AND DIVISIONS. HELSINKI, FINLAND, 28 August - 1 September 2001.

"Session VI.  Disaster and Development:  Bringing Together Divided
Disciplines, Theory and Practice"

Dear colleagues,

The Disaster and Social Crisis Research Network has circulated a call of
papers for five sessions since last June 2000. In the meantime, some
colleagues have expressed an interest in organizing a sixth session on
"Disaster and Development: Bringing Together Divided Disciplines, Theory
and Practice". The content and aims of the sixth session are as follows:

Disaster and development are separate traditions within both professional
practice and academic disciplines. Workers and researchers only rarely
transfer knowledge between them and yet each group could contribute much to
the others.

The aim of this session is to seek to break down this division and broaden
our understanding of what hazard and disaster management should encompass in
order to function effectively and sustainably in both the developed North
and the developing South. 'Development' here includes the academic
discipline of development studies and the practice of development
initiatives and projects - usually undertaken in and on developing
countries; and the incorporation of long-term socio-economic development
initiatives into disaster management within a developed world context. In
doing this we intend to explore (a) the contribution that development
studies and practice which  focus on the developing world can make to
disaster management in a developed world context (b) the possible benefits
from reversing the dominant direction of information flow from the North to
the South and (c) examples of best practice in sustainable disaster
management that can be transferable across social and spatial boundaries.

Colleagues interested in participating in the new session are urged to send
electronically an abstract of not more than 250 words to with a copy to N. Petropoulos (, if
possible, by January 31, 2001. Prospective participants are also required to
submit their abstract to the Conference Secretariat using the  the official
abstract form ( ).


From Andrew Yee <>

News Service
Cornell University

Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Office: 607-255-3290

FOR RELEASE: Dec. 15, 2000

The missing links: Many term-paper citations of Internet sources no longer
exist, according to Cornell library study

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Since the mid-1990s, the wiring of the U.S. college campus
has had a dramatic effect on how students search for information. Much of
the research that once was done in libraries now can be done in computer
labs or on dorm room PCs. The result is that students increasingly cite
popular Internet sites in their class papers instead of sources found in the

Now a study by Cornell University librarians shows that many World Wide Web
addresses, known as Uniform Resource Locators (or URLs), cited in student
term-paper bibliographies often are incorrect or refer to documents that no
longer exist.

"The likelihood that web citations would lead to the correct Internet
document has decreased significantly," says Philip M. Davis, life sciences
librarian at Cornell's Albert R. Mann Library. "A URL that doesn't work
means the professor has no way to check the original document for

Davis and Suzanne A. Cohen, reference service coordinator with the
university's Martin P. Catherwood Library, studied the citation behavior of
undergraduates in a large, multi-college class, Introduction to
Microeconomics (Economics 101), taught by John M. Abowd, Cornell professor
of labor economics in the university's School of Industrial and Labor
Relations. Their research, "The Effect of the Web on Undergraduate Citation
Behavior 1996-1999," has been reviewed and accepted for publication in a
forthcoming issue of theJournal of the American Society for Information
Science (JASIS). A preprint of the article is available at .

The study, using term papers between 1996 and 1999, found that after four
years, the URL reference cited in a term paper stood an 80 percent chance of
no longer existing. URL references stood more than a 50 percent chance of
not existing after only six months.

The researchers also discovered a significant decrease in the frequency of
scholarly resources cited. Book references dropped from 30 percent to 19
percent. Newspaper citations increased from 7 percent to 19 percent, and web
citations increased from 9 percent to 21 percent.

"We are seeing a dramatic move from the use of credible, peer-reviewed
materials to popular and unfiltered information," says Davis.

Universities with large library collections -- often a measure by which
research universities are compared -- should be concerned if students are no
longer taking the opportunity to use them, says Davis. Professors should be
concerned that they are not exposing their students to academic literature
in their field, he says.

The researchers noted that electronic access to information is more
convenient for students, and this might be especially true for those who
work on their papers the night before they are due. The researchers say that
the Cornell library system, like many college libraries, has increased the
number of scholarly electronic resources available to the students and

As a result of this study, Abowd requires at least one professional journal
citation in a research paper's bibliography, and if an Internet link is
used, the link must be checked. But from a professor's perspective, can web
citations undermine academic integrity?

"This is a very hard problem -- certifying the timeliness and accuracy of
Internet citations. I do not expect my Economics 101 students to
bullet-proof all of their citations," says Abowd. "Rather, I hope that they
will be able to learn from the experience of having their citations checked
and from my expectation that they use certified professional journals."

Davis and Cohen suggest that professors set guidelines for acceptable
citations in course assignments. Also, they believe that collegiate
libraries should create and maintain scholarly portals for authoritative web
sites with a commitment to long-term access and instruct students on how to
critically evaluate resources.

"In the world of academic scholarship, references form a link to original
works, give credit to original ideas and form a network of connections to
related documents," says Davis. "A viable link -- whether in print or
electronic form -- is absolutely necessary in order to preserve scholarly
communication. Without citations that pass the test of time, we have no way
to proceed forward because we can no longer see the past."

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