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Grandmother's dirty laundry

"Dirty money harbors bacterial dangers" (SN: 6/2/01, p. 344) brought back memories of my beloved grandmother in the 1920s. She always washed and ironed her dollar bills because she considered them to be unsanitary.
F. Eleanor Warner
Northport, Maine

Lofty ambitions

The interesting article "Survey probes cosmos from near to far" (SN: 6/9/01, p. 356) set me to tilting at windmills. Even before it's completed, the professional astronomers managing the Sloan Digital Sky Survey should enlist amateur astronomers as asteroid hunters in a way similar to how they're mobilized by the SETI@home project to search for intelligent signals from space. Let's call the effort Project Dark Skies.

Those who have the necessary equipment would remap tiny portions of the sky and, using supplied software, compare current images with old images to detect asteroids and comets. Once alerted, NASA might have sufficient warning to detect potential Earth-crossing objects, if any threaten our planet.

Confirmation of an asteroid hunter's find would entitle the discoverer to a share of the credit and the opportunity to name the object. That should be sufficient inducement for both amateur and professional astronomers to participate in Project Dark Skies. And asteroid hunters might see themselves as Defenders of Life on Our Planet.
George Parrish
Muskegon, Mich.

Eight might not be enough

Pluto is distinguished by properties other than its size, and its representation in "Nine planets, or eight?" (SN: 6/9/01, p. 360) as just another gray ball was misleading. It has the most contrasting surface known in the solar system (bright nitrogen ice caps and dark carbonaceous equatorial areas). To understand the processes ongoing on Pluto's surface and within its atmosphere and interior, we look primarily (though not exclusively) to planetary analogs--not asteroids or comets or other Kuiper Belt objects, for that matter. Whether Pluto retains its planetary status in the future will require consideration of all of its known properties and their comparison with the extrinsic properties of other objects: asteroids, comets, and planets.
Mark V. Sykes
University of Arizona
Tucson, Ariz.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 7, 2001
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