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Pluto scientists are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore

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It's no secret that Alan Stern and other scientists who led the New Horizons mission were extremely displeased by Pluto's demotion from planet status in 2006 during a general assembly of the International Astronomical Union. They felt the IAU decision undermined the scientific and public value of their dramatic flyby mission to the former ninth planet of the Solar System.

But now the positively peeved Pluto people have a plan. Stern and several colleagues have proposed a new definition for planethood, which they intend to submit for consideration at the next general assembly of the IAU. The final arbiters of astronomical definitions will next gather in Vienna in August 2018.

In technical terms, the proposal redefines planethood by saying, "A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters." More simply, the definition can be stated as, “round objects in space that are smaller than stars."

Here's the thing about the new definition—a lot of bodies in the Solar System meet the criteria. Pluto does, of course, but so do many moons, including our own around Earth. There are also dozens of objects discovered in the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto's orbit, that meet the definition. In fact, the tally of "planets" under the new definition is now 110 and rising. (Also, Obi-Wan Kenobi would be proven correct. The Death Star would indeed be no moon but rather a planet, too.)

And what of the poor students who have struggled to memorize the eight planets of the Solar System, with sayings such as "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos?" Stern and his colleagues counter: "Certainly 110 planets is more than students should be expected to memorize, and indeed they ought not." They also raise a good point, notably that students don't learn science by memorizing things but rather understanding how things work.

"Understanding the natural organization of the Solar System is much more informative than rote memorization," the proposal states. "Teaching the zones of the Solar System from the Sun outward and the types of planets and small bodies in each is perhaps the best approach."

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fxer
3 hours ago
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"Counting moons as planets seems strange to me and I imagine would irritate the average layman."
Bend, Oregon
satadru
14 hours ago
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New York, NY
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The Difference Between Blackstrap and True Molasses

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Got a jar of blackstrap in the pantry? For the love of all that is sweet and delicious, please don't use it as a substitute for true molasses. Read More
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fxer
3 hours ago
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Bend, Oregon
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Supreme Court To Decide If Mexican Nationals May Sue For Border Shooting

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Relatives of Sergio Hernández sit in Ciudad Juarez at the U.S.-Mexico border, on the second anniversary of his killing in 2012. Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

Relatives of Sergio Hernández sit in Ciudad Juarez at the U.S.-Mexico border, on the second anniversary of his killing in 2012.

Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

The cellphone video is vivid. A border patrol agent aims his gun at an unarmed 15-year-old some 60 feet away, across the border with Mexico, and shoots him dead.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case testing whether the family of the dead boy can sue the agent for damages in the U.S.

Between 2005 and 2013, there were 42 such cross-border shootings, a dramatic increase over earlier times.

The shooting took place on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico.

The area is about 180 feet across. Eighty feet one way leads to a steep incline and an 18-foot fence on the U.S. side — part of the so-called border wall that has already been built. An almost equal distance the other way is another steep incline leading to a wall topped by a guardrail on the Mexican side.

In between is a the dry bed of the Rio Grande with an invisible line in the middle that separates the U.S. and Mexico. Overhead is a railroad bridge with huge columns supporting it, connecting the two countries.

In June 2010, Sergio Hernández and his friends were playing chicken, daring each other to run up the incline on the U.S. side and touch the fence, according briefs filed by lawyers for the Hernández family.

At some point U.S. border agent Jesus Mesa, patrolling the culvert, arrived on a bicycle, grabbed one of the kids at the fence on the U.S. side, and the others scampered away. Fifteen-year-old Sergio ran past Mesa and hid behind a pillar beneath the bridge on the Mexican side.

As the boy peeked out, Agent Mesa, 60 feet or so away on the U.S. side, drew his gun, aimed it at the boy, and fired three times, the last shot hitting the boy in the head.

Although agents quickly swarmed the scene, they are forbidden to cross the border. They did not offer medical aid, and soon left on their bikes, according to lawyers for the family.

A day after the shooting, the FBI's El Paso office issued a press release asserting that agent Mesa fired his gun after being "surrounded" by suspected illegal aliens who "continued to throw rocks at him."

Two days later, cell phone videos surfaced contradicting that account. In one video the boy's small figure can be seen edging out from behind the column; Mesa fires, and the boy falls to the ground.

"The statement literally says he was surrounded by these boys, which is just objectively false," says Bob Hilliard, who represents the family. Pointing to the cell phone video, he says it is "clear that nobody was near " agent Mesa.

In one video, a woman's voice is heard saying that some of the boys had been throwing rocks, but the video does not show that, and by the time the shooting takes place, nobody is surrounding agent Mesa.

The U.S. Department of Justice decided not to prosecute Mesa. Among other things, the department concluded that it did not have jurisdiction because the boy was not on U.S. soil when he was killed.

Mexico charged the agent with murder, but when the U.S. refused to extradite him, no prosecution could go forward.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol did not discipline agent Mesa—a fact that critics, including high-ranking former agency officials, say reflects a pattern inside the agency.

The parents of the slain boy, however, have sued Mesa for damages, contending that the killing violated the U.S. Constitution by depriving Sergio Hernández of his life.

A border in the Rio Grande culvert divides the Mexican city of Juárez (bottom) and the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas, shown here in 2010. Alexandre Meneghini/AP hide caption

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Alexandre Meneghini/AP

A border in the Rio Grande culvert divides the Mexican city of Juárez (bottom) and the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas, shown here in 2010.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

"I can't believe that this is allowed to happen - that a border patrol agent is allowed to kill someone on the Mexican side, and nothing happens," Sergio's mother, Maria Guadalupe Güereca Betancour, says through an interpreter.

As the case comes to the Supreme Court, there has been no trial yet and no court finding of facts. Mesa continues to maintain that he shot the boy in self-defense after being surrounded by rock-throwing kids.

That's a scenario that Mesa's lawyers say is borne out by other videos from stationary cameras that have not been released to the public.

"It was clear that Agent Mesa was in an area that is wrought with narcotics trafficking and human trafficking," asserts Randolph Ortega, who represents Mesa on behalf of the border patrol agents union. "And it's clear that, in my opinion, he was defending himself."

The only question before the Supreme Court centers on whether the Hernández family has the right to sue. A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that no reasonable officer would have done what Agent Mesa did, and that therefore the family could sue.

However, the full court of appeals reversed that judgment, ruling that because the Hernández boy was standing on the Mexico side of the border and was a Mexican citizen with no ties to the United States, his family could not sue for a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the appeals court said that even if the facts as alleged by the Hernández family are true, Mesa is entitled to qualified immunity, meaning he cannot be sued because there is no clearly established body of law barring his conduct.

Lawyers for the Hernández family counter that Supreme Court precedents establish a practical approach in determining whether there is a right to sue for the use of excessive force in circumstances like these. Lawyer Hilliard says yes, the boy was across the border when the shots were fired, but by just 60 feet.

"This is a domestic action by a domestic police officer standing in El Paso, Texas, who is to be constrained by this country's constitution," Hilliard contends. "There's a U.S. Supreme Court case that says a law enforcement officer cannot seize an individual by shooting him dead, which is what happened in this case."

Hilliard argues that if you follow the border patrol's argument to its necessary conclusion, "it means that a law enforcement officer is immune to the Constitution when exercising deadly force across the border.

"He could stand on the border and target practice with the kids inside the culvert," Hilliard warns.

But lawyer Ortega replies that's not true, and asks how the court should draw the line.

"How far does it extend? Does it extend 40 feet? As far as the bullet can travel? All of Juárez, Mexico? All of (the state of) Chihuahua, Mexico? Where does the line end?"

Backed by the federal government, he suggests that a ruling in favor of the Hernández family would mean foreigners could sue over a drone attack.

Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide where to draw the line.

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fxer
3 hours ago
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Bend, Oregon
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Israeli Soldier Who Killed A Wounded Palestinian Is Sentenced To 18 Months

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The father, center, and mother of Palestinian Abdul Fatah al-Sharif watch the sentencing hearing of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who killed their son in March of 2016. Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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The father, center, and mother of Palestinian Abdul Fatah al-Sharif watch the sentencing hearing of Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, who killed their son in March of 2016.

Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images

More than a month after a military court found Sgt. Elor Azaria guilty of manslaughter, the soldier has been ordered to serve an 18-month prison sentence. Azaria, 21, who worked as an army medic, shot and killed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian assailant who was already incapacitated.

The soldier's defense team has said it plans to appeal any sentence that includes jail time. Since last month's verdict, many on Israel's right wing have called for Azaria to be pardoned — something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he supports. A potential pardon would have to come from Israel's president.

Video of the shooting, which took place in the occupied West Bank last March, sparked strong and disparate reactions in Israel and beyond, fueling debate over the proper use of force and rules of engagement.

Here's how NPR's Joanna Kakissis described the videotaped events in her report from Jerusalem last month:

"Al-Sharif had been shot and wounded after stabbing an Israeli soldier. Eleven minutes later, Azaria shot the motionless Al-Sharif in the head.

"A human rights activist filmed the killing. The video went viral.

"Many Israelis say Azaria was justified because he feared Al-Sharif might have been wearing an explosive belt. But Azaria's superior officers say his actions contradict the army's ethical standards."

The crime of manslaughter could have exposed Azaria to a 20-year prison term; prosecutors had sought a sentence of 3-5 years. In addition to the prison sentence, the military court demoted Azaria to the rank of private.

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fxer
4 hours ago
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Bend, Oregon
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The Food Lab: Easy Weeknight One-Pot Salmon Chowder

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As a born-and-bred Boston kid, chowder holds a special place in my heart, and fish-based chowders doubly so, as a fish chowder was the very first dish I ever got to stick on a real restaurant menu. It was creamy, rich, and satisfying, and totally impractical for any kind of home cooking. At home, I take a much more traditional one-pot approach to chowder-making. While the resulting dish it may not quite reach the lofty heights of fine dining, the results are still creamy, satisfying, delicious, a great use of leftovers or inexpensive fish, and—most important—really, really easy. Read More
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fxer
4 hours ago
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Bend, Oregon
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After data breaches, Verizon knocks $350M off Yahoo sale, now valued at $4.48B

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fxer
4 hours ago
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That's all they could talk Marissa down? Well at least she's a good negotiator I guess
Bend, Oregon
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