Forty years ago, a trailblazing new spacecraft left Earth and boldly went where no probe had gone before.
Launched on Apr. 5, 1973, NASA’s Pioneer 11 and its twin probe, Pioneer 10, were the first spacecraft to ever venture beyond the asteroid belt and into the outer solar system.
With a lot of pluck, industriousness, serious know-how, and PLANETS TO VISIT, these encounters really are just the beginning, folks.
Pluto Day! - March 16, 2013
Seven years on and Pluto’s reclassification from planet to dwarf planet still quivers my quarks.
Plenty of ink has been spilled about that infamous and ignoble day in 2006 when the IAU knocked Pluto to its knees. Pluto is no longer a planet. It’s a dwarf planet. Yes. I get it. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Our first Pluto Day in 2008 was a protest and a call to arms. Since, it has grown into a celebration of all minor planets; many important, fascinating, and mysterious Kuiper Belt discoveries are made every day!
Now in its fifth year, Pluto Day (this year held on March 16) recognizes the diversity of our Solar System and that special place in our hearts that still yearns for Pluto. We started with a sign making workshop where kids and adults alike professed their love of the little guy in posters large, small, colorful, and profound.
Then we took our message to the streets of Greenwood and declared that we love Pluto and all the dwarf planets. Even though the minor planets are small, we think that they are a BIG deal.
The crowd swelled to around 40 people, the largest gathering Pluto Day has ever seen. Even Mayor Mike McGinn stopped by to take in the festivities and march with us in support of Pluto. Marching and rallying is exhausting work. You’re going to need some fuel. Special thanks to 826 Seattle volunteers for preparing tiny food and to Trophy Cupcakes for donating beautiful and delicious tiny cupcakes!
Back at HQ, the highlight of the day’s events started; following an exhaustive four-day workshop, 826 Seattle students debated both sides of the Pluto issue in classic six-point debate format. One side took up the side of Pluto as a planet; the other defended the IAU’s definition of Pluto as a dwarf planet. A panel of judges, including author and Pluto expert Alan Boyle, the blogger behind the Cosmic Log, 826 Seattle volunteer Jenn Pang, and Pluto enthusiast Erik Strommen, carefully weighed the presentations of each side.
Taking careful note of delivery, knowledge of facts, and persuasiveness — and after a lengthy internal debate — the judges declared the pro-dwarf planet side won the day…but only by a hair. They were well versed in the facts and made a convincing and (most importantly) humorous argument in favor of Pluto’s reclassification. In the end, they even conceded that Pluto could retain a place of prominence — as the most popular of the dwarf planets.
In the end, Pluto was celebrated, fun was had, and science was the talk of the day. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Pluto Day next year!
Guide to using the Planetary Calendar
Familiarizing yourself with the Planetary Calendar
This calendar shows the constellations visible from the Northern Hemisphere. The entire sky is included, even though only a portion of the sky is visible on any given night. (1)
The stars and constellations are printed in silver. Inspired by The Stars by H.A. Rey, the constellations are named in plain English. The faint white blob visible from the upper left-hand corner to the lower right-hand corner represents the Milky Way.
The gold ring is the ecliptic — the path the sun and the planets travel across the sky. The calendar is oriented so that the sun’s position on January 1 is at the top of the map.
Follow the ecliptic clockwise. The position of the Sun on the first of each month is represented by an open circle. The equinoxes (March 20 and September 22) and solstices (June 21 and December 21) are also indicated on the calendar.
The constellations of the zodiac are overlaid by the ecliptic. When it is said that “The Sun is in Virgo / the Virgin (August 24 to September 23)”, this means that, if the stars were visible during the day, the Sun would appear to be traveling through this constellation (approximately 7 o’clock on this calendar).
The paths of the planets and dwarf planets are printed in bronze.
Mercury, Venus, and Mars are inside the ecliptic. The outer planets and minor planets are outside the ecliptic.
The planets travel clockwise around the calendar.
A closed circle that begins a planet’s path and leads clockwise indicates the planet’s position on Jan 1. A closed circle at the end of a planet’s clockwise path indicates the planet’s position on Dec 31.
An open circle indicates the planet’s position at the first of a month. The location of the inner planets on the first of each month are included. The locations of Saturn and Jupiter are included only for January, April, August, and December 31. Only the starting and ending positions for Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and the other dwarf planets are included.
Venus and Mercury orbit the Sun faster than the Earth and travel further than 360 degrees in one year so that they appear to overtake their path towards the end of the year.
Counter-clockwise arrows along a planet’s path indicate a retrograde, where the planet appears to travel backwards (2) across the sky.
Planetary Calendar for 2013!
Ever try to keep track of all the stuff in our Solar System? There are the major planets and their moons. There are a bunch of minor planets and some that haven’t been named yet. We’ve got comets flying by at regular intervals not to mention a couple of belts full of asteroids and who-knows-what. On Earth, we use small, large, and even very large telescopes to note, monitor, and discover what hangs above us. Not bad, wouldn’t you say?
Sure, we have a lot of advanced tools now, but with so much to follow in the night sky, keeping track of it all is still pretty hard. It’s not easy to know what part of the sky any given object will be at any given time of the year just by looking up. Good thing there’s a planetary calendar to guide the way! On a navy background, follow the Sun in gold ink and the planets in bronze as they make their way across the night sky, criss-crossed with the constellations in silver. Know when you are and you’ll know where they are!
Lunar Calendar for 2013!
Ah, the Moon. That constant satellite that is constantly changing how it looks to the denizens of Earth. PAL, my robot assistant, is quick to inform me that, from space, the Moon looks the same all the time. Of course it does! I can see that from any of my space ship’s windows. But on Earth, that same heavenly orb becomes hidden in shadow and with great anticipation reveals itself again with as much luminosity as reflective moon rocks can offer.
No matter where you are on Earth, the Moon shifts through its phases in a regular pattern unchanged since the Moon first coalesced in our orbit, or at least for as long as humans have noticed it. Presented in this gorgeous silver print on a navy background, never lose track of the Moon. Northern and southern hemispheres share the moon as they share this calendar, just orient it to where you are and follow the phases all year.
The 5th Annual Pluto Day March and Rally!
I haven’t forgotten about Pluto and its reclassification to “dwarf planet”. I remember when it was a planet. The 9th planet. The littlest planet with even littler moons including a newly discovered FIFTH moon! Then there were new rules that left us with a new planetary pantheon and Pluto was left out in the cold.
As it turns out, there are tons of Pluto-sized objects that are neither planets nor satellites of planets in our solar system. They don’t follow regular orbits nor does their gravity affect their neighbors too strongly. They’re out there doing their own thing, forging their own paths, and making the far reaches of our solar system way more interesting.
The Kuiper Belt is chock full of these objects! So far, we’ve got five dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. Who knows how many we will find once all the data is in?
So join us in March as we shout to the heavens and celebrate Pluto, the dwarf planets, and the yet-to-be-discovered objects in our very own solar system. Even the smallest celestial bodies deserve a big party. Be sure to check in for more info! You won’t want to miss our 5th Annual Pluto March and Rally!
Happy Pi Day!!!
Join us for our new favorite holiday: Pi Day where we celebrate pi, the mathematical constant that is so ubiquitous and so remarkably helpful, it’s easy to take for granted how powerful a ratio - circumference to diameter, 3.14 - can be. So clear your calendars on March 14 ‘cause it’s Pi Day! Get it? That’s 3/14. Yup. You get it.
A galactic-sized THANK YOU to the Phinney Neighborhood Center who is generously letting us use their space at 6532 Phinney Ave N, from 5pm to 6:45pm to celebrate this awesome day! But there’s more…
Everyone loves pi. Everyone also loves pie. See what I did there?
So for the love of pi, join us on March 14 at the Phinney Neighborhood Center from 5pm to 6:45pm! We will honor pi by eating pie, that most delicious of circular desserts. We may even have round cakes and cookies. In fact, let’s eat everything that boasts a circumference! Oranges! Pizza! Quesadillas! Watermelon! Cheese wheels! The possibilities are as infinite as the corners on a circle!
Little is the new BIG!
There is a crispness in the air, a chill at the edge of a breeze, a golden tone that has draped the neighborhood… what would this time of year look like if the Earth’s axis was not at a 23.4° tilt? Amazing how a little thing like that can be such a huge influence on seasons on my home planet.
Of course, there are no seasons in space, but think of all the little things that make space amazing: leptons, quarks, bosons, atoms… all adding up to EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE! So. Much. Universe.
Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, the little things. While scientists continue to work on exploring the influence of subatomic particles, we can marvel at the ones that exist right under our noses. Take a close look at something. Get closer. Closer. And now your nose is in the dirt or covered in dust or way too close to something that could jump in your eye. Your favorite eye.
Hmm… How can people see little things as big things without losing optical capability? … I’ve got it! A BIGGIFIER!
Place the Biggifier above the object you want to examine and stand back! It’s HUGE! Look at the detail! Ponder the intricacy! Marvel at the complexity! For such a teeny, tiny thing? Are you SEEING this? I can’t take my eyes off it. Simply amazing, no? Yes.
In your intrepid travels, you will come across a galaxy of little things that can so easily go unnoticed… especially without a PORTABLE BIGGIFIER. Same biggification. Smaller Biggifier. The tool of exploration and discovery is right there in your pocket!
While you’re looking at your world through a new lens (literally!), you might notice the denizens of your world looking at you. Like that guy behind the laptop! Or the lady with the latte! Fret not, fellow space traveler. Adorn your abdomen with the new Captain McGillicuddy t-shirt and you will never want for style or conversation.
On Feb. 1, 2003, shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry over Texas. As we remember the STS-107 astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, also celebrate their legacy and all astronauts who live and die pushing mankind’s frontiers into space.
Space travel would have stayed a dream if not for the bravery and determination of these astronauts and those like them. Our helmets off to those who pursued the dream in the face of enormous risks.