Pluto - Blink and You Will See It

Teachers discuss book and the work to discover Pluto

January 23, 2011
By Margie Corp for Stars at Yerkes News


Why did Pluto get kicked out of the planet club?  And why did it have it coming?  These and many other questions and topics were discussed at the latest Stars at Yerkes workshop.  


Kevin McCarron gives teachers an overview of the history of Pluto and its discoverer Clyde Tombaugh.





Teachers began the workshop day with the first Stars at Yerkes Book Talk.  The featured reading selection was Mike Brown's book How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.  Assembled around the fireplace at the George Williams Campus of Aurora University, they were led in a discussion of the book by ARCS teacher Kevin McCarron.  Connections to other literary selections, both for teachers and for students were shared by the participating teachers.  "Many students are not given nonfiction reading in their English classes," said participating teacher Marcella Linehan.  She stated her students read another book Miss Leavitt's Stars by George Johnson and discuss their views using the school's electronic discussion board.  

Yerkes very own blink comparator was the highlight of the afternoon, as Yerkes Observatory Director Kyle Cudworth demonstrated the device that was instrumental in Pluto's discovery.  Kyle used glass plates he created using Yerkes 40 inch refractor in his beginning years at the observatory.  He then demonstrated how the blink comparator worked and how this painstaking work yielded in the discovery of Pluto and many other dwarf planets.

Kyle Cudworth demonstrates the blink switch to participants of the Stars at Yerkes Pluto workshop.

Teachers were impressed that areas the size of a half dollar were examined one by one between each of the 8 by 10 inch glass plates in the search for Pluto. 





Such small movements of the elusive "Planet X" (aka Pluto) were seen in the blink comparator by Clyde Tombaugh, Mike Brown, and teacher Matt Gibson.






After a stop to view Yerkes' Kuiper sphere, teachers were treated to a viewing of the plate room where images are archived and used for research.  An afternoon session of the use of the Stone Edge Observatory, led by Dave McGinnis of Fermilab, wrapped up the very busy and informative day. 

One can only wonder if Pluto will be an observing target of the group using this telescope?  Stay tuned.

View the attachment below for additional selections discussed and recommended during the Pluto Yerkes Book Talk or visit our Teacher Resources.

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Marc Berthoud,
Mar 31, 2011, 8:58 AM
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