First it was demoted to a dwarf planet, leaving only eight proper planets in our solar system. Then scientists reported that another dwarf planet, Eris, is bigger than Pluto. And now the final blow: Eris is 27 percent more massive than Pluto.
Scientists Michael E. Brown and Emily Schaller at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena used the ground-based Keck Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the mass of Eris: 16.6 billion trillion kilograms. Brown and Schaller calculated the mass by measuring the time it takes for Eriss moon Dysnomia to complete an orbit.
Earlier observations by Hubble had already shown that Eris has a diameter of about 2,400 kilometers, which is slightly larger than Pluto. Both dwarf planets are probably made of rock and ice. Brown says they are essentially twins—except that Eris is slightly the pudgier of the two.
Like Pluto, Eris resides beyond Neptune in the Kuiper belt. The icy bodies in this belt orbit the sun at distances 30 to 50 times greater than Earths orbit. Eris is three times farther from the sun than Pluto, and takes twice as long to orbit it.—Dawn Stover
Whats happening to the birds and the bees? Reports of vanishing bees continue to pour in from beekeepers around the country—in many cases, entire colonies have suddenly failed to return to their hives. Now bird lovers are sounding an alarm too.
Ornithologists have long known that many rare birds are in decline or even on the verge of extinction. But citizen scientists are reporting that common birds are also disappearing at an alarming rate.
An analysis of data collected around the U.S. by volunteer birdwatchers shows that all of the 20 species listed as Common Birds in Decline lost at least half their populations over the last 40 years. The data come from annual Christmas bird counts led by the National Audubon Society, along with annual summer breeding bird surveys organized by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Among the birds that are declining are familiar species such as meadowlarks, bobwhites and even robins. Because these birds are still relatively abundant, their waning has gone largely unnoticed.
Scientists theorize that the declines are due to a combination of factors, including climate change and the extensive conversion of forests and grasslands to residential development. Suburban sprawl has also expanded the range of the domestic cat, a birds worst enemy. Even when cats arent actively killing birds, they may be scaring them so badly that they cant breed successfully.
A recent study published in the journal Animal Conservation estimated that a reduction of only one hatchling per breeding pair per year per cat could eventually reduce some bird populations by up to 95 percent.
The birds and bees have long been used as stand-ins to explain the miracle of birth. Now it seems theyve also become a metaphor for human reproduction run amok.—Dawn Stover
The Laser Finger, the Palo Alto (Cal.) High School teams head-mounted remote control intended for use by quadriplegics
This week is the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Odyssey, an annual program showcasing some of the coolest inventions you'll see anywhere. The twist is that all the brilliant inventors behind them are still in high school. Teams of students received grants of up to $10,000 last fall to develop a prototype intended to solve a problem of their choosing. Check out some of the kids showing off the fruits of their labor above and in our slideshow—just in case you needed a reminder of how you wasted four years of your life.—Doug Cantor
Cellphone cameras are kind of an afterthought in the U.S., fun for snapping off a picture of Great Uncle Harold blowing out the candles at his 93rd birthday party, or occasionally handy for a few seconds of grainy Zapruder-esque amateur news video. But thats hardly the case in Japan, where cell cameras are like an extra appendage used for a host of applications not available in the West.
MotoMatt tears it up outside the PopSci headquarters
Good things really do come in threes. Three wheels, that is. Piaggios newest scooter, the MP3, is the coolest machine this motorcycle enthusiast has ever ridden. The scooters three-wheeled design—with one 12-inch wheel in the back and two up front—provides exceptional agility in traffic and maintains comforting stability at high speeds. The two independent, tilting front wheels, which enable up to a 40-degree lean, allow for precision cornering with no fear of spilling. And they handled New Yorks infamous pot hole-laden streets with ease—something most scooters struggle with because a single front wheel is more likely to slip.
Piaggio has produced a machine so fluid and user friendly that even a novice motorbiker can hop right on and fly like a bat out of hell. However, the smallish 244cc engine may limit the whole out of hell part. Overall, the MP3 is an engineering marvel and a riding experience like no other. Id buy three
if I could.—MotoMatt Cokeley
We're working on a cool piece about LED art for the magazine, and we wanted to mention Make's awesome little MiniPOV kit. (POV stands for persistence of vision, where your eye sees trailing light in a dark room.) Phil Torrone had given me one of these months ago, and I just built it yesterday so we could shoot it for the story. Having not soldered anything significant since I was a kid, it was a blast to put something together from the circuit level and then see it actually work!
The instructions over at ladyada.net are crystal clear, even for novices. Programming messages gets a little trickier—it involves typing arcane commands into a Run window—but I found a great program in the forums that really helped crank out custom text. For anyone keen to dive into circuit-level building and soldering or who just wants a cool party toy for those summer gatherings, I highly recommend picking up the kit.
And for a really crazy POV project, check out John's post from Maker Faire. —Mike Haney
Weve always known that popular and science belong together. Even so, we were surprised to learn that they are, respectively, the 956th and 957th most frequently used words in the English language. We found the complete rankings of the 86,800 most common words at WordCount
WordCount currently gets its data from the British National Corpus, a 100-million-word collection of written and spoken texts. Eventually, WordCounts creators plan to track word usage at many levels, ranging from a single document to the entire Internet.
According to WordCount, each word in its current archive is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance. So what comes before and after popular science? Products and notes, appropriately enough.—Dawn Stover
With the demise of the Concorde fleet, spare parts from the scrapped fleet are to be auctioned at the Hotel des Ventes Saint-Aubin in Toulouse, France, from September 28th to October 1st of this year. Interested in buying a piece of history? Have a look through the catalog, and bone up on your aviation French to avoid accidentally buying an arbre dentrainement (drive shaft), when you really wanted the machmètre (mach meter). The iconic instrument (which tells you the airplane's speed relative to the speed of sound), sold in lots 310, 568, and 791, respectively, is estimated to fetch between 1500 and 2500 euros, but you can bet some aviation nutcase is going to drive the price higher than that. Even if you cant attend personally, you can send bid orders online.—Jacob Ward
We are currently surveying the field of entrants to our Jonathan Coulton video contest, and will soon announce the big winner! To recap, a month ago, we asked PopSci readers to create their own music videos for Jonathan's song, "I Feel Fantastic" for a shot at winning an 80 GB iPod engraved with JCo's autograph. The resulting videos have ranged from machinima to live-action goodness, with a bit of original Flash animation thrown in for good measure. If you haven't sent in your video yet, HURRY! You have till midnight tonight to come up with something brilliant. Stay tuned for an announcement of the winner and runners up tomorrow.