TIME

Pictures of the Week: Sept. 19 – Sept. 26

From Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS and the People’s Climate March to synchronized aquatics at the Asian Games and Derek Jeter’s perfect send off, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME space

The People Have Voted: Pluto is a Planet!

Sure looks like a planet: An artist's rendering of Pluto
NASA Sure looks like a planet: An artist's rendering of Pluto

A populist uprising restores a space favorite to the planetary ranks. Will the astronomers listen?

When Pluto was hurled from the pantheon of planets back in 2006, it could simply have slinked away, accepting its new title of “dwarf planet” without a fuss. But thanks to the undying support of its millions of fans—not just schoolchildren, but many astronomers as well—the little planet that could is still a contender.

The latest evidence: a debate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in which three astronomers squared off to present both sides of the question: “Is Pluto a Planet?” And when the dust settled, the audience, made up mostly of ordinary citizens, declared once again that the answer is “duh, obviously.”

Three may seem like one side too many, but David Aguilar, the Center’s director of public affairs, who set up the debate, wanted to look at the question not just from a scientific perspective, but also through the lens of history. The first speaker, therefore, was the eminent Harvard astronomer and historian of science Owen Gingerich. “Planet,” he pointed out, “is a culturally defined word that has changed its meaning over the ages.”

In fact, the word itself comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “wanderer.” Unlike the stars, which seem fixed in place, the planets are objects that wander from one constellation to another in the sky—and since the Sun and the Moon do that too, they were originally considered planets as well.

That designation didn’t last, of course, but when astronomers began finding asteroids in the early 1800’s, they were also counted as planets, at least as first, (The fact that astronomer William Herschel had recently discovered the new planet Uranus had evidently given the scientists’ a taste for more.) Within a few decades, though, astronomers found so many asteroids that things were getting confusing. Objects like Ceres and Vesta, the largest asteroids in the asteroid belt, were demoted from “planet” to “minor planet,” in a foreshadowing of Pluto’s fate a century and a half later—and it had nothing to do with any sort of scientific definition of the word.

And neither did the International Astronomical Union’s decision to downgrade Pluto in 2006. Just as with the asteroids, astronomers began finding additional Pluto-like objects starting in the 1990s, including Eris, which turns out to be essentially the same size as Pluto. If Pluto is a planet, so is Eris, and so are several other objects at the edge of the Solar System.

That would be just too confusing, argued the second debater, astronomer Gareth Williams, associate director of the IAU’s Minor Planet Center. If you let Pluto stay, he said, you logically have to let the number of planets rise to 24 or 25, “with the possibility of 50 or 100 within the next decade” as more objects are found. “Do we want schoolchildren to have to remember so many? No, we want to keep the numbers low.”

This isn’t exactly a rigorous scientific argument—so to give its decision the flavor of science, the IAU came up with a definition of “planet” so convoluted it seemed entirely arbitrary. To qualify as a planet, a body must orbit the sun and be large enough to be at least roughly spherical—two rules that make sense. But it must also have gravitationally “cleared its neighborhood” of other bodies, meaning it has its orbital traffic lane all to itself, which Pluto doesn’t—at least during the most remote portion of its journey around the sun. The rule seemed carefully crafted so that “dwarf planets” like Pluto, Eres and the asteroid Ceres didn’t make the cut.

“It didn’t make sense at all,” said Center for Astrophysics communications director David Aguilar, who set up the debate. “Isn’t a dwarf fruit tree also a fruit tree? Isn’t a dwarf rabbit a rabbit?” But in the end, the resolution was approved by IAU members, and in 2006 the number of planets was pared from 9 to 8—the ones known to science pre-Pluto.

The last debater was astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, director of Harvard’s Planets and Life initiative. His argument, he explained in a conversation after the debate, was that the word “planet” does need a scientific definition, but that we don’t know enough yet to create one. The reason: we’ve discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars beyond the Sun, and until we can understand how they formed and what they’re really like, any definition is premature. Pluto may be a planet based on scientific reasoning, or it may not be. “For now,” he said, “we should keep Pluto as a planet by default.”

In the end, the Harvard audience voted in favor of Pluto’s reinstatement by a landslide. Planetary scientist Alan Stern, whose new New Horizons probe will reach Pluto next summer for a first-ever close encounter, wasn’t there. But when he heard about the vote, he said, “every time there’s a poll it turns out this way. The IAU have become largely irrelevant in this.”

The organization may seem to count even less when you consider something Gingerich revealed during his arguments. He was there for the 2006 IAU vote, which came when most of the attendees had already gone home. Just 424 of the organization’s nearly 10,000 members were present, and when the organizers offered the gathering the chance to reconsider Pluto’s demotion, Gingerich said, “they voted not to vote again because they wanted to go to lunch, so that was the end of it.”

TIME

A Lot of Earth’s Water Is Actually Older Than the Sun

The Crew Of Apollo 17 Took This Photograph Of Earth In December 1972 While The Spacecraf
NASA/Getty Images

That's more than 4.5 billion years old

Up to about half of the water on our planet is older than the sun, according to a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science.

While you next take a sip, ponder this, too: the fact that Earth’s water is so old bodes well for our hunt for wet environments — and, for life — elsewhere in the universe.

Life on Earth owes everything to the presence of liquid water here, but, even so, scientists don’t have definitive answers for how or when the water got here — or, for that matter, when the water itself was formed.

The new research seeks to answer that last question: Was our water made before the sun existed, brewed in the same cloud of dust from which the sun would form? Or did water come later, forming as the Earth also formed?

As the Washington Post explains, during the sun’s birth a band of unused space dust gathered like skirt hems around it. Such material, called the protoplanetary disk, would go on to form the solar system’s planets.

Scientists know that water accompanied the sun’s birth but wondered if it might have been destroyed in the process of the sun’s formation, leaving Earth to go it alone in stirring up its own water.

To find out if the water from that dust cloud made it to Earth, researchers measured the ratio of deuterium, or heavy hydrogen to hydrogen. The findings show that heavy hydrogen levels on Earth are higher than they would have been in the protoplanetary disk. That means that some of our water must predate the sun, when heavy hydrogen was in abundance.

So, if water can survive a star’s birthing process, and if other solar systems in the universe formed much like ours did, that means that water might be a common ingredient in the making of other planets far from our own.

“By identifying the ancient heritage of Earth’s water, we can see that the way in which our solar system was formed will not be unique, and that exoplanets will form in environments with abundant water,” said Tim Harries, a professor at the University of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy Department, in England, and an author of the paper, in a statement.

“Consequently,” he said, “it raises the possibility that some exoplanets could house the right conditions, and water resources, for life to evolve.”

Last spring, scientists announced that there could be up to 11 billion exoplanets — planets outside or solar system — that are at just the right distance from their stars to have liquid water, and, perhaps, life as well.

TIME health

Dear Rob Schneider: Please Shut Up About Vaccines

The doctor is in the house: by all means, take vaccine advice from this guy
The doctor is in the house: by all means, take vaccine advice from this guy

State Farm dumps ad campaign after Deuce Bigalow's ignorant remarks about vaccinations

If there’s one thing I regret about the job I’ve done raising my kids, it’s that when it was time to get them their vaccines, I did not heed the wisdom of a man who is currently filming a TV series with a storyline titled “The Penis Episode, Part 2.” And if that doesn’t convince you about this deep thinker’s credibility, consider that his earlier body of work includes such powerful pieces as The Hot Chick, The Beverly Hillbillies movie and Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo.

How’s that for a guy worth listening to? Not.

We are talking, of course, about Rob Schneider, the Saturday Night Live alum who parlayed a single character—Richard Laymer, the obnoxious office guy—into a career of small-bore, dropped pants, toilet joke movies, plus the occasional cartoon voiceover. Nothing wrong with those kinds of projects; they’re honest work and the checks generally clear.

But Schneider is at the center of a much-deserved storm this week, after State Farm Insurance announced it was pulling a new ad campaign featuring the comedian in a reprise of his office guy role, since—while the company whose job it is to help people live better, healthier, more fiscally secure lives wasn’t looking—its newly minted star has been popping off about (deep sigh here) the hidden dangers of vaccines.

Take this observation from Dr. Bigalow, in a widely circulated video shot when he was campaigning against a California law that would have made it harder for parents to refuse vaccines:

“The efficacy of these shots have not been proven. And the toxicity of these things—we’re having more and more side effects. We’re having more and more autism.”

Or this one: “You can’t make people do procedures that they don’t want. It can’t be the government saying that. It’s against the Nuremberg Laws.”

It’s actually worth watching the entire jaw-dropping display, because Schneider somehow manages to thread the extraordinary needle of being wrong on every single point he makes. Remember in high school when they used to say it was impossible to score a zero on the SATs because you get a few points just for writing your name? Schneider, presumably, would have left that part blank.

And then there are the cringe-worthy Twitter posts suggesting he has been denied his freedom of speech:

For the record Rob, no, there is no government conspiracy to force vaccines on kids. No, doctors are not bought off by big pharma. No, vaccines are not filled with toxins. And no, this is not a free speech issue—it’s a public health, common-sense and, not for nothing, business issue, since State Farm, like any company, is free to sack a spokesperson who makes them look very, very bad. Simply quoting George Washington does not mean any of the great man’s wisdom rubs off on you. It just means you looked up a quote.

But as long as we’re in the quote game, how about one of your own, from your video harangue: “The government,” you said, “can’t make decisions about what I do to my body.” On this score, you’re right. So please do continue making movies that allow you to appear on posters with a towel on your head, seaweed cream on your face and cucumbers on your nipples. Maybe George Washington would have been pleased with you. State Farm? Not so much these days.

TIME vaccines

Watch a Science Cop Take on the Anti-Vaccine Movement

"Again, and always, they're wrong."

Nothing gets the anti-vaccine fringe going quite so much as believing they’ve found a scandal—some bit of gotcha’ proof that the global medical establishment really, truly is covering up a terrible secret about the dangers of vaccines.

Recently, this always-vocal but rarely-rational crowd announced that they had what they were looking for, with the discovery that a comparatively old study had excluded some data suggesting that African-American children who had been vaccinated were slightly likelier than other kids to have developed autism.

But again—and always—the anti-vaxxers were wrong, misunderstanding the science, misrepresenting the findings, and recruiting the worst possible person imaginable to argue their wrong-headed case.

TIME space travel

India Has Sent a Spacecraft Into Mars Orbit

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket lifts off carrying India's Mars spacecraft from the east-coast island of Sriharikota, India, Nov. 2013.
Arun Sankar K—AP The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket lifts off carrying India's Mars spacecraft from the east-coast island of Sriharikota, India, Nov. 2013.

That makes it the first Asian country to achieve the feat and the only country to do so on a first attempt

Indian spacecraft Mangalyaan (also called the Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM) entered Mars orbit at approximately 10.30 p.m. E.T. on Tuesday, making India the first Asian country to accomplish the feat.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now the fourth space agency to have successfully completed a Mars mission — joining those of the U.S., Russia and Europe — and the South Asian nation is the only country to enjoy success on a maiden mission to Mars.

Another superlative: Mangalyaan has set a record for the cheapest Mars mission, costing just $67 million. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier claimed that it was less expensive than the Oscar-winning film Gravity, Indian news channel NDTV reported.

In comparison, NASA’s MAVEN, which entered Mars’ orbit a day earlier, cost 10 times as much.

ISRO announced the news of Mangalyaan with this tweet:

Modi was monitoring the mission’s progress at ISRO headquarters as the team behind Mangalyaan — which simply means “Mars craft” — broke into cheers. He commended the Indian scientists who worked on the mission.

TIME Outer Space

Russia Says It’s Putting Another Man on the Moon…By 2030

Soyuz TMA-12M Prepares To Launch
Joel Kowsky—NASA/Getty Images The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches to the International Space Station, March 26, 2014 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

One giant leap for mankind, again

Russia’s space agency said Tuesday it will launch a “full-scale” exploration of the Moon as part of a long-term mission to get a human being on the lunar surface for the first time in decades.

The head of Roscomsos, Oleg Ostapenko, said that designs were already underway for a manned spacecraft that he estimated could reach the moon by the end of the next decade. “By that time, based on the results of lunar surface exploration by unmanned space probes, we will designate [the] most promising places for lunar expeditions and lunar bases,” Ostapenko said, according to a translation by Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS.

The mission was announced at a government meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who has previously threatened to sever ties with American space agencies over the West’s reproach of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

“At the end of the next decade, we plan to complete tests of a super-heavy-class carries rocket and begin full-scale exploration of the Moon,” Rogozin said.

TIME climate change

Watch Leonardo DiCaprio Demand the UN Take Climate Change Seriously

"None of it is hysteria. It is fact."

Leonardo DiCaprio, the United Nations’ newly appointed Messenger of Peace, addressed world leaders at Tuesday morning’s UN Climate Summit, urging them to fully address climate change, “the greatest challenge of our existence on the planet.”

DiCaprio touched on his history as an actor to differentiate from fiction and fact.

“I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe that mankind has looked at climate change in that same way,” he said. “As if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away, but I think we all know better than that now . . . None of this is rhetoric, and none of it is hysteria. It is fact.”

DiCaprio also joined some 400,000 people in New York City in a Sunday march meant to raise climate change awareness.

TIME Science

Why Leaves Change Color in the Fall

Autumn leaves
Getty Images

Some good old-fashioned science unearthed from TIME's archives

It’s time to bust out your sweaters and boots, friends, because today, Sept. 23, marks the official first day of autumn. Some people love this season for its football, others love it for its lattes — but pretty much everyone loves it for its gorgeous, vibrant colors. (If you don’t love fall for the foliage you’re a monster.)

But have you ever stopped to ask, perhaps while enjoying some cider in a leafy meadow dotted with yellow, orange and red, why the leaves change color every year? Back in October, 1941, TIME explained the science behind this annual metamorphosis. And, naturally, the anonymous writer did so in the most science-y way possible — with a poem:

Fall poem
TIMEFrom the Oct. 20, 1941, issue of

In other words, as summer comes to a close, trees lose their green color as their chlorophyll breaks down. Once the chlorophyll disappears, other substances like carotene and xanthophyll — which have been present all along but masked by the green of summertime — begin to show. “Red appears in maples, sumacs and some other plants when slowdown of the trees’ physiological processes prevents carrying away of the sugars (made with the aid of the fading chlorophyll out of air, water and light) from the leaves,” the article continues. “These sugars turn into a class of glucosides called anthocyanins, which are bright red and purple pigments. Anthocyanins develop best where 1) soil is acid. 2) nitrates are scarce, 3) light is abundant. Thus the light-bathed tips of maple leaves and the sunny sides of apples are reddest.”

But of course, all good things must come to an end. Here’s what happens as those lovely hues begin to fade:

By late autumn, the yellow and red pigments, following the green, disintegrate in the leaves. This final unmasking reveals the dull brown tannins, which are chemically so stable that they remain till the leaf rots to powder. Unlike flower pigments, which have the vital function of attracting pollen-spreading insects and birds, autumn’s colorful foliage is just a meaningless, glorious show.

So next time you’re strolling through the park with your friends on a crisp autumn afternoon and somebody comments on the colors, hit them with some science to explain the phenomenon. Surely they’ll be so impressed they’ll buy you a pumpkin spice latte, or at least some pumpkin spice Oreos.

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