Wednesday, August 30, 2006

HOW TO TELL PLUTO FROM URANUS (title by Adam Saraceno)

BRIAN WRITES... So tell me Jim, what do you think of the International Astronomical Union's recent definition of a planet?

For those who may have missed it, our solar system has just lost a planet. There is a new definition what constitutes a planet and Pluto doesn’t make the grade. Pluto is now in the new category of “dwarf planet”. That new designation also includes the large asteroid belt object Ceres and the recently discovered Kuiper belt object “2003 UB313” or “Xena” the 10th planet.

The questions boil down to this... If a body in space revolves around a star, is it a planet? If it is big enough to be spherical will that make it a planet? What about if it is only one of many objects in the same general orbit? Is Pluto a planet with a moon or a double planet? They just keep finding more and more stuff and it is all different. It just gets confusing as to where to draw the lines.

My opinion on this is they finally got it right. In 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, astronomers were looking for another planet that would explain some discrepancies in the known planets motions. When he found Pluto, he had no way to tell what it’s size or proper motion was. If they knew what they know now, it would have never been classified as a planet to begin with. It is very different, in many ways, than the eight “classic” planets. It also never did explain those discrepancies.

The debate is really much ado about nothing. What’s the difference between a hill and a mountain; a pond and a lake; a creek and a river? As astronomers made more and more discoveries, the whole planet thing was bound to get messy and we probably haven’t heard the last of this debate.

It’s not all that different from the debate about when the new millennium started. 2000? 2001? Who cares as long as we can party like it’s 1999!

Monday, August 28, 2006


ANNA WRITES...Why are kittens so cute? Actually, this is kind of a serious question... Why do many people (like me) find small, furry things so damn cute? What constitutes "cute" and why do we see some things as cute and some things as ugly?

There have been many studies as to why one thing is cute but not another. They all come to the conclusion that it has to do with proportion and symmetry. Large head and eyes, small ears and body plus symmetrical features are often sited as those characteristics that determine that something is cute.

I don’t think these studies really tell us anything. First of all, the researchers look at babies, kittens puppies, etc. and classify all the characteristics they have in common and tell us that this is what makes something cute. This is just bad science. They are really just telling us that babies, kittens and puppies are cute (because they have these characteristics) but we already know they are cute. These studies don’t actually tell us why. Defining what is cute by proportion would be similar to defining what is funny. You can make all kinds of rules and generalizations, but in the end, if you have to explain why it is funny, it isn’t funny.

So I’m going to go beyond science and reach into the world of Jim’s brain and really tell you why things are cute (because I don’t know why things are funny). Cute is an evolutionary tool programmed into living things to help young survive. Animals are always cutest when they are the most vulnerable (with the exception of the first hours after birth). It is when they are young and helpless that they are the cutest. As they get older and more self sufficient they become less and less cute. We see these things that are cute and we want to hold them and feed them and clean up their poop. All the things we would consider very disgusting if they were grown, able bodied adults. That is why we can laugh at a three year telling his father he is stupid while if the same son were to do that when he was 23, there would be little chance for that the father would see the humor. (Hey! Maybe I do know what’s funny!)

The second part of your question, “why do we see some things as ugly?” is really unrelated to the cute question. Ugly is the opposite of beauty, not cuteness. Beauty and ugly are less definable as both are in the eye of the beholder. The reason for this is beyond even Jim’s vast knowledge.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

He then went on to make Superman Cartoons in the early 40's...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

And here's another....