Byline: Jon Meacham
Early in the 20th century, scientists were on the hunt for a theoretical "Planet X," which they believed lay beyond the known boundaries of the solar system. In fact, "X" didn't exist, but in 1930 they did find a planet, more than 3 billion miles away, and dubbed it "Pluto." The discovery was a cheery note in the bleak months after the stock-market crash (The New York Times hailed the new planet as "A Drama of the Skies") and our tiny, if distant, neighbor has long been a kind of beloved bookend to Earth's nine-planet solar system. Last week, however, the International Astronomical Union voted to kill Pluto's planetary status, relegating it to the rank of--this is the scientists' term, not ours--"dwarf planet."
Pluto's fate provided us with a chance to check in on what science is learning about the universe--which is a lot, and at a very rapid rate. In a cover story by Jerry Adler, reported by Mary Carmichael,
A. Christian Jean and Nomi Morris, we explain how astronomers are rethinking the origins and nature of planets as they probe deeper into the mysteries of space.
This week marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall. To tell the story of New Orleans's halting recovery, Evan Thomas, Jonathan Darman and Sarah Childress profile Ray Nagin and his stormy year. A complicated figure, …