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November 23, 2011

Child Scientists

For some, an interest in science shows up in college, or later. For others, it starts young. I was one of those very young science kids: if you mispronounced a dinosaur name around me, I would come right up to you and correct you. To this day, I still cringe whenever someone mispronounces Dienonychus* or Diplodocus**. As I've grown older, I've met lots of other kids who are excited about paleontology, like these two:

I love encouraging this type of interest in science in general, and paleontology in particular. Sometimes, though, I meet a kid who just completely blows me away with how passionate and excited they are. Thanks to the Internet, I've recently discovered several of these amazing kids. All of them are 7 or 8 years old, and how passionate and enthusiastic they already are about science blows me away.

 The first is Aaron, an 8 year old time traveler who, with his trusty computer pal INO, wanders through prehistory in search of his favorite dinosaurs and other creatures. He documents his travels in short podcasts, most of which focus on a particular dinosaur or other prehistoric animal. He takes time to share facts about each dinosaur as he tracks it, and to answer questions about paleontology, specific dinosaurs, and his own interests, sent in by other kids. His podcast story  is on its second season now, traveling through the Cenozoic instead of the Mesozoic. You can find him at Aaron's World.

Another is a vlogger, rather than a podcaster. Riley the Paleontologist is 7 years old, from Alabama. Much of the Southern U.S. could learn from him; he's clearly got the concept of "science" all figured out. He brings a miniature version of every dinosaur he discussed to his show, and discusses the basic facts paleontologists have found about each dinosaur. You can watch his first episode below, and find him on Youtube.

And the third "paleokid" I've discovered is Art, of Life Before the Dinosaurs. He is a blogger, and unusual in that, unlike many kids who love paleontology, his obsession isn't dinosaurs. Instead, he loves Paleozoic invertebrates, the weirder the better. This happens to be my favorite time period as well, and I learn something new with every one of Art's posts... which, considering this is what I'm studying in college right now, is quite impressive.

It's inspiring to find kids like these, taking initiative and, with their parents' help, sharing their love of science with the world. It gives me hope for the future of science. And these are just a couple of the paleokids. I am always finding other children and teens who, against the cultural norm, love science and spread that love to anyone willing to listen. If you know of any others, please send them my way!

Modified from my post at Teen Skepchick

Just in case you weren't sure how they were to be pronounced...
*die-NON-o-kus, not di-no-NI-kus
** dip-LOD-o-kus, not dip-lo-DOUGH-kus

November 11, 2011

New Comment Policy

We have had an increase in the comments we are getting. We are really excited by this and it made us realize we needed a clear comment policy. Hopefully it is mostly common sense, but you may want to take a look, here.

Happy Commenting.

November 9, 2011

Happy Sagan Day!

Carl Sagan was hugely influential in getting me interested in science and more specifically, planetary studies. His book "A Demon Haunted World" is still probably the best all around skeptical book I have read. If you haven't read it already, you really should read it. I think the book is a great introduction to critical thinking because he is able to give you the tools to think, without beating you over the head with them. There are so many wonderful quotes I could pick out of this book but here is one that I think gets to the heart of skepticism and isn't often cited.
As I've tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes- an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and skeptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track.
Have a great day and take some time today to look for that wonder in the world Carl was so magnificent at sharing.


November 3, 2011

Why Pluto Should Not be a Planet

It was 2006 when the International Astronomical Union declared that Pluto was no longer going to be considered a planet. Ironically, this was probably one of the best followed scientific controversies of my lifetime. Even now, my chemistry teacher proclaims in class that Pluto is a planet. I just want to set the record straight on this once and for all. Pluto is not a planet and it should stay that way.

The word planet means "wanders" in ancient Greek. If you are a careful observer of the sky, there are 7 objects that "wander" against the background stars. These first 7 "planets" were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, and the Sun. As time went on, we realized that the Sun is really a complete different type of object than the others. The Moon is also unique on that list because it does not directly orbit the Sun, so we put it in a different class of objects. Now, let's look at the rest of the list. Before I go any further, go look at a image of the solar system to scale. There is a good image done by the team at below the break.

So have you looked at it? Good, because then you realize that really Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Jupiter, Saturn (and the later discovered Uranus and Neptune) are really 2 different types of objects. So, we break these up into the inner rocky planets and the outer gaseous planets. Then there are only a few other groups of objects. You have the moons of the solar system, some of which are bigger than Mercury. There is the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. I think to most people it is clear why even the largest asteroid, Ceres, is not a planet. Like the other asteroids, Ceres has a different composition than rocky planets and its orbit crosses with the thousands of other objects that occupy that part of the solar system.

So what about Pluto? Pluto is smaller than our moon, and like Ceres, it shares an orbit. Pluto resides in what is known as the Kuiper belt. Think of the Kuiper belt as like the asteroid belt, only with icy objects instead of rocky ones and a lot farther from the sun. Pluto may not even be the largest object in the Kuiper belt. Eris was discovered in 2005 and has a diameter of 2326 kilometers known to an accuracy of 12 kilometers. Pluto is somewhere between 2300 and 2400 kilometers. Pluto's size is harder to determine because sublimating ices on its surface can give it a little temporary atmosphere. So when it comes down to it, Pluto is a different type of object than the other planets. It is not a rocky world close to the sun and its not a massive ball of gas. Pluto is something else, a icy world that is interesting in its own right, but not to be confused with anything else.