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]

NASA Cameras Find Flowing Water on the Red Planet

Discovery Has Implications for Future Robotic
and Manned Missions

by Ruthanne Fiore, age 15

The thought of Martians has been on the minds of humans for years. In science fiction movies, Martians are often portrayed as little, green men with antennae. Of course, this isn’t an accurate depiction. Experts suggest that any life forms on Mars would be microscopic. Also, there would have to be water present on Mars for life to exist here in the first place.

In 2008, scientists confirmed the existence of frozen water on Mars, surprising many. Recently, strong evidence indicates that liquid water is also present on the frozen planet. “Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science for NASA. Discovered by an orbiter’s high-resolution telescopic camera, the liquid water potentially has huge implications: Martian life might not be just a dream anymore. [Read More]

Cuban Lung Vaccine Could Make Big Splash in America

US-Cuban Diplomatic Relationship Yields Surprising Benefit

by Megha Chalke, age 16

After decades of a tumultuous relationship, American-Cuban exchanges have finally taken a positive step forward. This change brings an unlikely ray of hope to the medical field – for America.

Cimavax, a Cuban-developed lung cancer vaccine, has now been introduced to America. This vaccine battles a protein that tumors produce and causes the body to release antibodies that fight against a hormone known as the “epidermal growth factor.” Cimavax works like other vaccines in that it doesn't directly attack the tumor; rather, it stimulates the immune system to tackle the disease. Basically, Cimavax prevents lung tumors from growing, thus rendering tumors manageable but not benign.

If the vaccine can’t prevent lung cancer, what's the big fuss about? Cimavax in its current form is only proven to increase the life expectancy of lung cancer patients for an average of four to six months; however, the drug also has the potential to limit the spread of other types of cancers. The biggest draw to Cimavax is its potential to create preventative medicine for cancers with the epidermal growth factor. For example, the epidermal growth factor actually plays an essential role in breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer. This could potentially change the face of medicine as we know it. [Read More]