April 2014 Letter from the Director

This has been a month of excitement, pride, tradition, and the aching sadness of the passing of an era. Just a week ago the Greenewalt Tuve Hall filled with the friends of a legendary astronomer, our own Vera Rubin, to see her off to the next stage of her life. After 49 years as a scientist on this campus (her first day was April 1, 1965) she is moving closer to her son in Princeton, New Jersey. Vera is one of the great scientists of her generation, and at every step she helped younger scientists and supported women in particular. Vera will be missed acutely by her many friends here.

During the same week, DTM’s Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo (Gemini Observatory) announced the discovery of a new outermost object in our solar system, the dwarf planet 2012 VP113, with a diameter of about 450 km. To me, this is the scientific discovery of the year. Not only does this new body redefine the size of the known solar system, but Scott and Chad’s analysis of the orbits of the outermost bodies indicates with a high degree of likelihood that a super Earth orbiting beyond 2012 VP113 is perturbing them. A possible new planet for our solar system, and at a distance where such a mass is not expected!

This discovery has produced an avalanche of press coverage. Beyond the science, the press has been delighted that the authors affectionately refer to this body as Biden, after the “VP” in its temporary name.  This nickname in particular produced mentions on television by the late night comics, and comparisons of the two Bidens like this one in The Huffington Post.

Send your news to Robin, and thanks for being part of the DTM family!

Lindy Elkins-Tanton
Director, Terrestrial Magnetism
Carnegie Institution for Science