Pluto demoted as definition of ‘planet’ changes

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) defined the meaning of the term “planet” last Thursday in a vote that ended a centuries-long period during which the term had no precise definition. However, the IAU did not create a definition for planet for use outside Earth’s solar system.

By the new definition, Pluto, which was considered a planet since its 1930 discovery, now merits only “dwarf planet” status. It shares this classification with two other objects, Ceres and UB313, nicknamed Xena. Experts expect that many more objects, mostly from the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the galaxy, will soon receive official classification as “dwarf planets.”

Under the new rules, a full planet must orbit the sun and clear the “neighborhood around its orbit.” A dwarf planet need only be massive enough that gravity makes it round.

Dwarf planets found outside Neptune’s orbit will be named after Pluto. No formal term exists yet, but many IAU members support “plutonian object.”

Source: New Scientist, Scientific American

Ozone hole recovery date extended

The hole in Earth’s ozone layer will not recover until the year 2065, United Nations scientists now report. Previously, the hole was expected to close by 2050.

Earth’s ozone layer, located in the stratosphere, shields the planet from ultraviolet and other types of radiation. Exposure to UV rays alone can kill plants at the bottom of the marine food chain and lead to skin cancer in humans. According to ozone specialist Geir Braathen, “The Antarctic ozone hole has not become more severe since the late 1990s, but large ozone holes are expected to occur for decades to come.”

Researchers blame chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which used to be found in many goods and are now banned for damaging the ozone layer.

Source: CNN

Free energy source created, claims Irish company claims

An Irish company, Steorn, claims that it has found a way to generate free energy. The feat, if upheld, would dramatically change the current understanding of the universe, as accepted laws of physics state that energy cannot be created or destroyed.

The company’s researchers were working on a power source for closed-circuit TVs when they noticed that they were producing more power than was being used. Steorn said that their technique involves precisely configured magnetic fields, but released no other details. The company took out an ad in The Economist magazine asking for 12 physicists to test the company’s claim. Over 1500 scientists have asked to be testers and 17,000 people have signed up to view their results.

Source: Wired News, Agence France Presse

Three leave AOL after data breach

Maureen Govern, America Online’s chief technology officer, resigned and two employees were fired following a security problem that affected over 650,000 customers’ private data. The breach happened earlier this year, when one of the recently fired employees released the data of those customers intentionally as part of an academic research program. Some of the breached data included the customers’ Social Security numbers.

AOL has apologized for the breach, but did not release the names of the fired employees. The company presented a plan of action to prevent such breaches from happening again, but has struggled to recover from bad press and subscriber loss.

Source: The Washington Post

Concern over Mount Everest death rate

Andrew Sutherland, medical advisor on multiple Mount Everest expeditions, has warned that people are continuing to die on Everest, in spite of technological advances.

Sutherland said that an unofficial total of 15 deaths occured on Mount Everest this year alone. The doctor blamed the deaths on the poorly understood effects of altitutde. Sutherland said that there is a large proportion of deaths caused by altitude-related illness.

Source: BBC

New safety rules for unmanned rockets

Last Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced new safety standards for unmanned rockets. The new standards were prompted by the Columbia accident in 2003, in which the shuttle fell apart during reentry, killing seven astronauts.

The new rules apply to unmanned rockets that normally carry satellites for communication purposes. The concern was that the unmanned rockets could suddenly veer off course. The concern is even more prevalent now that smaller companies are interested in launching more rockets from various locations, some relatively close to established settlements.

The new regulation will require rocket operators to monitor a rocket’s flight path. Rockets must also have controls on them to keep them from hitting populated areas.

Source: The Associated Press

Study says ancient painkillers worked

A new study suggests that mint oil once used by ancient Chinese populations to ease aches and pain may have actually worked. The discovery was made after the study tested a synthetic treatment whose properties resemble mint oil.

The compound has various benefits over traditional painkillers, particularly in that it can be used on sufferers of chronic pain. After an extended amount of time, painkillers like morphine can lose their effectiveness, a property yet to be found in the new compound. And because the compound is applied topically, it comes with a limited list of side effects.

Source: LiveScience