The Pluto Files | Assignment


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The Pluto FilesPBS Airdate: March 2, 2010NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON(American Museum of Natural History, Hayden Planetarium):In 1930, a farm boy, with a passion for the universe, notices a tiny dot moving across the night sky. He discovers Pluto, four billion miles from the Sun and cloaked in darkness.Pluto is a mystery. Our best images are nothing more than a blur, and many scientists are arguing over whether it's even a planet.MARK SYKES(Planetary Science Institute):When we fly our spaceship to Pluto, we'll arrive at a round world.BRIAN G. MARSDEN(Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics):I'm able to use the word "world," if you like, but "planet?"NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:The scientific debate over Pluto has even caused a media frenzy.STEPHEN COLBERT(The Colbert Report/Film Clip from August 17, 2006):I'm sorry, I thought planets might be one of the constants in life.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Pluto-lovers of America have taken to the streets.PROTESTORS(News Clip):Pluto forever!NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:What is Pluto? A new mission to the far reaches of the solar system promises toanswer this question and more.ALAN STERN(Southwest Research Institute):It's true first-time exploration. Pluto is going to be revealedin all of its glory.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Join me, Neil deGrasse Tyson, on a journey to explore America's favorite planet...TOMBAUGH FAMILY MEMBERS(A small group speaking simultaneously):Hi.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:...and find out why some people are blaming Pluto's problems on me.SODY(Streator, Illinois Barber):So how do you feel about Pluto, Dr. Tyson?NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:These areThe Pluto Files, next on NOVA.For more than 75 years, the great stage of our solar system had a familiar cast of characters, nine players in all. We even memorized their names: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars (the rocky planets), Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, (those gas giants), and all the way out at the very edge of the solarsystem, perhaps the most popular player of all, a lonely little misfit planet: Pluto.But recently, Pluto lost its starring role, and some folks are blaming that on me. I, Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, in New York City, have been accused of being a Pluto-hater. Back in 2000, when my colleagues and I were designing this place, instead of exhibiting Pluto here, with planets like Earth and Mars, or up there, with giants like Jupiter and Saturn, we decided to boldly go where no

planetarium had gone before and put Pluto far, far away, all the way downstairs, with a group of newly discovered icy objects in the outer solar system.If you look hard enough you can find it, right here.Little did I know how much this decision would change my life. My troubles began with the astute observations of one young visitor...BOY(Visitor to Hayden Planetarium):I can't find Pluto!NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:...who, just my luck, was overheard by an off-duty journalist from theNew York Times. He decides this is a great story, so he calls hisTimescolleague, science writer Kenneth Chang, andhe's shocked.KENNETH CHANG(The New York Times):Well, I was looking for Pluto, and I couldn't find it. You look everywhere, and you see eight planets, not nine.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:A few days later Chang's story hits the front page, right beneath George W.'s inauguration. The headline reads, "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York."I received angry emails and a ton of letters, especially from pissed off third-graders.EMERSON YORK(Dramatized reading of letter from a third grader):Dear Natural History Museum, Pluto is my favorite planet!!!MADELINE TROST(Dramatized reading):Why can't Pluto be a planet? Please write back, but not in cursive, because I can't read in cursive.MICHAEL NOVACEK(American Museum of Natural History):I thought, "Oh, my gosh. Kids will probably go to this exhibit and cry because Pluto's no longer a planet."SOLEDAD O'BRIEN(NBC News Anchor):Could it be the final indignity for the farthest and smallest planet in our solar system?NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Our exhibit had stirred up a media frenzy.JON STEWART(The Daily Show/Film Clip from January 8, 2009):Pluto was, since 1930, was a planet. He had stature; he had friends. You come along and say "Da, da, da, da, da."DIANE SAWYER(ABC News Anchor):Neil deGrasse Tyson, you have left a void in the universe, as big as Pluto.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON(The Colbert Report/Film Clip from August 17, 2006):I never wanted to kick Pluto out of the solar system. I just wanted to group it with its icy brethren.STEPHEN COLBERT(The Colbert Report/Film Clip from August 17, 2006):You're saying Pluto should be with its own kind, separate but equal?NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON(The Colbert Report/Film Clip from August 17, 2006):Yeah, I guess it comes out that way, doesn't it?

STEPHEN COLBERT(The Colbert Report/Film Clip from August 17, 2006):Neil deGrasse Tyson has betrayed us.BRIAN WILLIAMS(NBC News Anchor):He has thrown his weight around a little too much. He's not the boss of the solar system; he's not the boss of me.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:If Neptune or Mercury had been reclassified, I don't think anyone would cared, but the fact that it happened to Pluto seems to make all the difference.Pluto has a remarkable grip on the hearts and minds of the American public and the press. Even my colleagues in astrophysics are still arguing over what to do with Pluto, and I don't really know why. But I'm determined to find out.This is the story of my journey. These areThe Pluto Files.My first stop took me to Cambridge, Massachusetts. A visit to the hallowed halls of Harvard just might help me make sense of this Pluto problem.Welcome to the Harvard University football field. I brought a few props along with me, much to the surprise of my colleagues.Astrophysicist, Brian Marsden, doesn't think Pluto is a planet, while planetary scientist Mark Sykes thinksit definitely is. And the esteemed historian of science, Owen Gingerich, is looking for the middle ground.MARK SYKES:Okay, Neil. What are we doing here?NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:We're making a scale model of the solar system, right here on this playing field. So grab one of these. Let's do it.To evaluate Pluto's planetary status we need to take a closer look at how it compares with the heavy hitters on the solar system team. The planets are millions, even billions of miles apart, so this scale model can't accurately depict their distance from one another, but it can show their relative size.If this eight-foot balloon represents our Sun, how does Pluto size up against the rest of the team? Let's find out.Mark, first up, Mercury.MARK SYKES:Mercury.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Represented by a bead—in correct size, relative to the Sun—miniscule Mercury may be small, but its diameter is still twice as big as puny Pluto's.Next up, Venus. Will you have the honor?Venus, represented by this tiny rubber ball, has a diameter five times as big as Pluto.MARK SYKES:Earth.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Earth.Earth, the big blue marble, is six times as wide as Pluto.

If Earth and Venus were about an inch, Mars would be about a half inch—the sizes of these gumdrops, relative to the Sun. But it still trounces Pluto, three to one.MARK SYKES:Jupiter, king of the planets.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:King of the planets. You have the honor.MARK SYKES:There you go.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:The largest planet, King Jupiter, represented by a schoolyard kickball, is a whopping 62 times as wide as pipsqueak Pluto.Saturn...MARK SYKES:Saturn.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:...the size of a bowling ball, relative to the Sun.Pluto doesn't fare much better against my favorite planet, Saturn, or its next-door neighbor.MARK SYKES:Uranus.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Uranus, represented by a bocce ball.Have you ever played bocce?MARK SYKES:No, I never played bocce.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Neither have I.It would take 22 Plutos in a chain to equal the diameter of one Uranus.Croquet anyone?What do you have now?MARK SYKES:Neptune. Why don't you have the honor?NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Big blue Neptune is 21 times as wide as Pluto.Last and least...MARK SYKES:And not least.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:...we have Pluto, represented by a ball bearing, removed from a roller skate.MARK SYKES:Sometimes the most valuable things are in the smallest packages.Excellent.NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON:Pluto.Pluto's diameter is just under 1,500 miles. In fact, if it ever decided to visit America, it would stretch onlyfrom California to Kansas. No matter how you look at it, Pluto makes a scrawny little planet.Pluto's really puny, but so is Mercury.

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