Monday, March 30, 2009

Astronomy program discusses Pluto - planet or not?

The University of Illinois at Springfield will host a presentation by Dr. Mercedes Richards called “Pluto and the New Dwarf Planets” on Friday, April 10, at 7 p.m. in the Public Affairs Center room F on the UIS campus.

In August 2006, Richards was one of 411 International Astronomical Union members worldwide to vote on a new definition of planets, leading to the demotion of Pluto to the status of “dwarf planet.” Richards’ program will give a first-hand look at the decision to change Pluto’s planet status and will examine the structure of the solar system to understand the different classes of objects that orbit the Sun.

Richards, a native of Jamaica, is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University. In October 2008, she was awarded a Musgrave Gold Medal by the Institute of Jamaica, which is the highest academic honor awarded by the government of Jamaica and is given to scholars who have attained international recognition in their particular field.

Richards’ interest is pairs of stars called binary stars, which are like twin stars. She was the first astronomer in the world to make clear images of the gravitational flow of gas between the stars in any interacting binary pair.

Richards’ lecture is part of the Harlow Shapley lecture series, sponsored by the American Astronomical Society.

Following the lecture, a Friday Night Star Party will be held at the UIS Observatory, located on the roof of Brookens Auditorium, weather permitting.

For more information about the presentation, contact Professor Charles Schweighauser at 206-6721 or