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FINDING NEW PLANETS AND STUDYING THE UNIVERSE – WHY IT MATTERS AND WHAT IT MEANS

GUEST EDITORIAL / OP-ED

 

Stefan Kautsch, Ph.D

Stefan Kautsch, Ph.D. Associate Professor Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography

FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla. – Imagine believing something about yourself for many years. You’re comfortable, even confident, in who you are. Then imagine one day waking up to have others tell you “not so fast, you may not be who you think you are.” Your whole world changes in an instant.

That’s sort of what happened to Pluto – what was once the ninth and farthest planet from our sun – when scientists re-categorized the celestial object. Now astronomers have predicted that there may be another planet beyond Pluto – the newly-named Planet Nine – which has been featured in recent news reports.

You might be wondering “why should I care how Pluto is categorized? How does discovering a new planet have any relevance to my daily life?”

Those are valid questions – after all, it’s our nature to ask “why does all of this matter?”

The simple answer is that the study of our universe is, in part, the study of ourselves. It’s the oldest science; we have been gazing into the night sky and wondering about what was out there, and what our place is in the world since humans came into existence. And not much has changed – just look around today and you’ll see just how much astronomy has impacted our lives.

Use a GPS, either in your car or on your smartphone? How about a camera? What about your smartphone itself? All of these devices have their roots in astronomy – after all, without astronomy and the plethora of man-made satellites orbiting Earth, you wouldn’t be able to call your friends or relatives around the country or across the globe or get your GPS location so you can find the local pizza parlor. Many of the tools and devices we take for granted today got their start based on our thirst to study the heavens.

Over the past few years there has been a renewed emphasis placed on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. Today we need more students to have that inquisitive fire lit inside of them so they can become tomorrow’s scientists and researchers. Imagine where we’d be without Galileo, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan, to name a few. These giants were into STEM before STEM was STEM – and the stars provided the fertile ground that helped humankind take tremendous leaps forward.

While much more must be done to determine the status of Planet Nine, the fact is we have scientists and researchers working to do exactly that. That’s what makes astronomy – and scientific research – so amazing: every time there’s a new discovery, it raises more questions than it provides answers. Being explorers is what humankind is all about – and it’s what continues to fascinate us to this day.

So when you hear that Pluto has had its designation as a planet taken away or that there is a new Planet Nine out there, it may be a quick story on the evening news or a message on Twitter, but it’s really a little bit deeper than that. Science is ever-evolving, and with each new discovery we learn more about ourselves in the process. Planet Nine is another step in the scientific process – a process that has amazed humans for thousands of years, and with a renewed focus on STEM education, it will continue to amaze and inspire us all in the 21st century.

So welcome, Planet Nine, to human discovery – and please give our regards to our dear friend Pluto.

 

 

Stefan Kautsch, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Physics & Astrophysics
Department of Chemistry and Physics
NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography

 

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Nova Southeastern University fully supports an individual’s right to express their viewpoint and opinions. The views expressed in this guest editorial are that of Stefan Kautsch, Ph.D., in Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography and are not necessarily those of NSU, its President or Board of Trustees.

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About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): Located in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a dynamic research insti

tution dedicated to providing high-quality educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional degree levels. A private, not-for-profit institution with more than 24,000 students, NSU has campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, while maintaining a presence online globally. For more than 50 years, NSU has been awarding degrees in a wide range of fields, while fostering groundbreaking research and an impactful commitment to community. Classified as a research university with “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is 1 of only 37 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification, and is also the  largest private, not-for-profit institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit www.nova.edu for more information.

 

About NSU’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography: The college provides high-quality undergraduate and graduate (master’s and doctoral degrees and certificates) education programs in a broad range of disciplines, including marine sciences, mathematics, biophysics, and chemistry. Researchers carry out innovative basic and applied marine research programs in coral reef biology, ecology, and geology; fish biology, ecology, and conservation; shark and billfish ecology; fisheries science; deep-sea organismal biology and ecology; invertebrate and vertebrate genomics, genetics, molecular ecology, and evolution; microbiology; biodiversity; observation and modeling of large-scale ocean circulation, coastal dynamics, and ocean atmosphere coupling; benthic habitat mapping; biodiversity; histology; and calcification. The college’s newest building is the state-of-the-art Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, an 86,000-square-foot structure filled with laboratories; offices; seminar rooms; an auditorium; and indoor and outdoor running sea water facilities. Please visit cnso.nova.edu for more information.