Pluto to Regain Planetary Status?

Astronomers May Revisit Controversial Decision

by Helen Zhang, age 17

In 2006, Pluto was downgraded from full planetary status to dwarf planet. This decision was met with an enormous amount of controversy. Recently, however, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have argued for the return of Pluto as the ninth planet

Experts began questioning Pluto’s planetary status after the discovery of Eris, an object found in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune’s orbit. Eris was so similar in size to Pluto that many considered it as a possible 10th planet. After much public interest and debate, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided that a definition for the word planet must be made.

“There was no real need for a definition of planet before this,” said Richard Binzel, a member of the Planet Definition Committee and Pluto specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It was more like, ‘You know a dog when you see one.’ You know a planet when you see one.” [Read More]

The Slippery Green Mamba
Slithers and Sneaks

These Cute-but-Deadly Animals Dance Their Way into Your Heart

by Gabriel Diaz, age 9

The green mamba is a stealthy snake found in sub-Saharan Africa. Although it is not as menacing as an anaconda, messing with this slippery serpent could cost you your life. Green mambas can grow to be eight feet long and live up to 15 years. The green mamba’s head is in the ominous shape of a coffin. This is because of the bulges in the back section of its eyes, where the snakes' large venom glands are located. If one dares to scare the green mamba, it will attack and sink its fangs into his skin.

The green mamba’s tongue is super sensitive and collects scent particles in the air; this enables it to find its prey hidden in the vegetation. Enlarged belly scales help the snake hold on to trees while it slides along the branches. Snakes have to shed their old, dried skin periodically in order to grow new skin from underneath. [Read More]

Viruses are the Real Monsters Under Our Beds—And Noses

From Ebola to the Common Cold, Viruses Are Part of Our World

by Srijan Shrestha, age 11

Viruses are mysterious. They can survive almost any environment on earth and have the uncanny ability to duplicate themselves and exist for centuries. They do not need food, water, or even air to survive. Even though we know so much about viruses, we still have a lot of learning to do to uncover all of their mysteries.

Viruses are formed from just a few chemicals. A thin layer of protein protects their DNA or RNA core. DNA and RNA are molecules that carry the genetic code that instructs the virus to make an almost exact copy of itself. But the virus cannot do it all alone, it must go into a host cell to make replicas of itself. Some viruses need plant host cells. Others need animal, human, or bacteria host cells. [Read More]

Pre-Launch Rituals Ensure Astronauts Are Ready To Blast Off

Astronauts Need All the Luck They Can Get

by Lucy Ji, age 18

Traveling to space is an incredible feat. To leave the bounds of Earth requires great ambition, endurance, nerves of steel, and even a dash of luck.

Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit the Earth successfully. Prior to his voyage, he decided to complete a few tasks: first, he planted a tree and then he got a haircut. And, on his back way to the launchpad, he hopped out of the bus and relieved himself on its back right tire

Though seemingly bizarre, this routine of Gagarin’s has since been followed to the tee by every single astronaut to fly from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the deserts of Kazakhstan. This superstitious ritual provides a sense of familiarity and solace for departing astronauts. “People become very comforted in doing the same routine before a launch,” said Paul Lockhart, a former NASA astronaut. “And sometimes that has to happen two or three times for a single mission, because your launch could be delayed if there was weather or if a system failed,” he added. [Read More]