Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My Pluto Files

ONLINE EXTRA: For a link to the latest information on the New Horizons Pluto probe, go to

To see some of the latest pictures of Pluto, go to www. and click on the Las Cruces Style column column.
Tune in
Watch: “The Pluto Files” on science series NOVA
What: Documentary on Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s life journey
When: 7 p.m. MST Tuesday on KRWG, Comcast Cable 2
View the entire program online beginning Wednesday March 3 at

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Ah, Pluto. Full-fledged or dwarf, it’s the planet we love, and we aren’t alone.
We also love its discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh. And we have company there, too, I learned when I did a story about the upcoming show on the beloved little heavenly body and the equally beloved farmboy-turned-astronomer who discovered it.
“The Pluto Files,” will air on NOVA, the PBS science series, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, locally on KRWG. It’s hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was one of the ringleaders in the effort to demote Pluto to dwarf planet status.
Tyson was naturally a little wary of the reception when he came to film the show in Las Cruces and met Tombaugh’s widow Patricia and many of the Tombaugh clan, including Clyde’s son Alden and daughter Annette.
Tyson seemed surprised that they gave him a warm welcome, fed him and shared stories.
“That has got to be the friendliest family I have ever spent time with in my life. I learned how friendly people can be, even in times of intellectual conflict.”
It was clearly a fun experience for the Tombaugh clan, too.
“My grandson, Kyle Clifford, plays Clyde for the re-enactment of Pluto's discovery at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.,” said Annette, who adds that Kyle is “similar in many ways” to her dad, who was 24 when he discovered Pluto.
“I'm 23 now and I was 22 back in September when they filmed the part of the show that I'm in,” Kyle said in an e-mail from his current home in Silver Spring, Md.
“It was a great experience to get to portray my great-grandfather in the show. I learned a lot that I didn't know before about the processes involved in the discovery of Pluto, and how difficult and tedious some of the work was. The people putting the show together were very nice and great to work with. The staff at the Lowell observatory were also extremely nice and welcoming. They invited me back to the observatory after we were finished filming and I got to look through several of the telescopes they have there,” Kyle said.
While we’re at it, let’s update our own Pluto files. Many of you will remember that Clyde’s ashes are on the New Horizons probe, which was launched in 2006.
“The probe will arrive at Pluto on July 14, 2015. Mom (Patricia) is determined to stay around for the occasion. She'll be 103 when the probe arrives at Pluto,” said Annette, who invites us all to keep track of the epic journey at
I also heard from Steve Hussman, department head for Archives and Special Collections at NMSU Library.
“Clyde Tombaugh’s papers are housed in the New Mexico State University Archives and Special Collections Department and offer a tremendous resource for research and interest both on the subjects of astronomy and Pluto, as well as a number of other subjects,” Hussman said.
Look online at
“The collection of papers contains some 200 linear feet of materials, including over 1,000 photographic images, oral histories and professional papers highlighting Clyde’s life and extensive professional accomplishments,” Hussman said.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Things to ponder

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — I’ve been reflecting on new starts, philosophical dilemmas and the great mysteries of the universe.
Here are some things to ponder in your spare time.
• Early one recent morning, a small boy and his mom were heading to the bus stop as I was leaving for work. I heard her laughing.
“He just asked me, ‘What’s the biggest number before infinity?’” she explained.
It’s something I’d never considered, but when I Googled the question, there were 4,070,000 hits.
Several sources suggested it was an apples and oranges kind of thing and there is no correct answer because a number is a number and infinity is a concept.
We pondered the question in the newsroom and the most satisfying answer, I thought, came from Richard Coltharp, father of a bright and inquisitive small child himself.
The next time I spotted them at the neighborhood bus stop, I shouted Richard’s answer to the mom and son: “Infinity, minus one!”
• The team at SPI (Southwest Paranormal Investigations) let us know they’re getting ready to check out possible paranormal activity at two vintage downtown buildings that once housed the old Amador Hotel and an old hospital.
The Land of Enchantment has always been a spirit-filled place, and in recent years, there has been a boom in ghost hunters, ghost busters and paranormal investigators determined to mix it up with other realms.
I’ve listened to a lot of testimonials about spooks that lurk in all kinds of places, from an elegant dining room at The Double Eagle and crumbling enclaves in remote villages to hotels and Big Ditch Park in Silver City.
At some point, as earnest seekers searched for images on grainy film, or a possible message in an amplified audio loop, it occurred to me that the creatures they were attempting to contact were sometimes the kinds of souls (living or dead) one would do one’s best to escape swiftly, were they to materialize and start blathering at the average cocktail party.
With the exception of possible angelic or other divine communications, I confess that I’m basically of the “go toward the light” school, when it comes to communicating with lost souls and wayward spirits.
I think we can sum up our best advice in three little words: “Get an afterlife!”
• Facebook aspires to create greater communication and foster intimacy with our loved ones near and far.
But sometimes, the limits of cyberspace are emphasized in laugh-out-loud ways.
Consider this formulaic query, for instance: “Sally Swartz recently became friends with Tom Derrickson and thinks you may know Tom, too.”
I do. In fact we were very close for many decades before Facebook was invented. Sally’s my sister and Tom is our brother.
• We have American Indian lineage in the family tree and American Indian amigos and philosophers with whom we ponder such questions as “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?” “Where did we come from?”
Some of the New Agers in the tribe hold with Edgar Cayce’s reading that ancient Atlantis was the source of America’s Pre-Columbian population. Others go with the Asian land bridge migration theory.
“If that one’s true, some of our relatives are finally getting some of their own back from those jerks who traded Manhattan for a few beads. Now America is pretty heavily in debt for all those trinkets Asia has been sending us,” an astute family philosopher postulates.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How do we party in February? Let us count the ways.

Feb. 7, 2010
By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — It’s Black History Month, For the Love of Art Month, and the only time in decades, I’ve been told, that Lunar (also known as Chinese) New Year and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day.
Some may feel a little daunted by all the celebratory opportunities. Not me. I’ve been honing my February fiesta skills for a lifetime, because it’s also Aquarian birthday season.
Your Las Cruces Style columnist was born on this very day, in fact, more than 39 years ago.
I’m in interesting and eclectic company, I discovered, when I did a little online search and came across a site offering quotes from people who share my birthday.
“A loving heart is the truest wisdom,” quoth prolific author Charles Dickens.
“The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well,” pronounced psychiatrist Alfred Adler.
Among other Feb. 7 birthday kids are Garth Brooks, Ashton Kutcher, Chris Rock, Sinclair Lewis, and locally, Border Artists co-founder Virginia Ness ... and very locally, right here in the Sun-News newsroom: photographer Norm Detlaff and our former Sun-News colleague and current Carlsbad Current-Argus managing editor Martha Mauritson. Since we are all over 39 now, the three of us could have lit enough candles to start a forest fire.
But I digress. What I wanted to point out is that I’m experienced at February celebrations.
When I was a little kid, in fact, I thought my birthday started a week-long fiesta that culminated in Valentine’s Day, so I’ve been in training to be a February party animal for a lifetime.
And it’s only gotten more extreme over the years. For almost two decades, I lived in Oregon, which was admitted to statehood on Feb. 14, 1849, so there were some major fiesta opportunities, there.
And of course, Black History Month and Lunar New Year, when it falls in February, are more reasons to keep the party going.
Then there’s Presidents’ Day, previously known to many generations as Washington’s Birthday, celebrated on the third Monday of every February, this year on Feb. 15, though George’s actual birthday is Feb. 22, and Abraham Lincoln, whom many associate with Presidents’ Day was born on Feb. 12. And, if you’re updating your February greeting card list: William Henry Harrison was born on Feb. 9 and Ronald Regan was born on Feb. 6.
We must have some criteria other than numbers, though.
January, March, April, July and November each can claim four U.S. presidents’ birthdays, too, and August has five. Or Maybe it’s an Aquarian thing: There are more U.S. presidents born under the sign of the Water Bearer than any other sign of the Zodiac, when you add in the two January Aquarians, William McKinley (Jan. 29) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jan. 30). That’s a total of five, because we have to subtract Washington, a Pisces, even though we celebrate his birthday during Aquarius season.
Got that? No, well, never mind.
I don’t, because I finally landed in a place that devotes an entire month to celebrating, and as fortune would have it the month is February ... and what could be more fun and creative to celebrate than the arts?
And what better way to manage to blend in all the other things we have to celebrate: love, presidents, Eastern culture, Black history, Mardi Gras, Purim (Feb. 28) and the brand new FLAM WAPP (For the Love of Art Month Wearable Art Parade & Promenade) on Feb. 13.
I hope you paced yourself on Groundhog Day (Feb. 2). There’s still a lot to celebrate.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Three little words

You know you need to say it; V-day's the perfect day

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — This is the day. Do it now.
Phone, text, e-mail, Tweet ‘em on Twitter, do it in person or by snail mail.
Say “I love you.”
Three little words can change lives, instill hope, inspire creativity, give us a sense of belonging and community and, according to physicians, philosophers, poets and psychologists, enhance our enjoyment of life and maybe even our will to live.
If you’ve always found it tough, do it anyway.
If you’ve always found that it comes pretty easily, do it more.
Say it like you mean it. And mean it.
And we’re not just talking romantic, passionate, spend-your-life-with-me-and-be-mine-forever love declarations, though if you’re in the zone and have a forever beloved in mind, this is the perfect time to declare yourself.
But also remember, that as Dean Martin used to sing to us in the olden days, “Everybody loves somebody sometime.”
Tell your friends you love them.
Tell your mom, your dad, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins, your grandparents, your daughters and sons, your grandkids and great-grandkids and great-grandkids.
Follow up with a poem, if you like. It’s hard to beat the classic by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach....
Google “love poems” and choose some more, if you like. Trust me, poets have been working on this as long as there have been love and words. They’ve got it down.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for a poem of your own. However it turns out, chances are your beloved will appreciate it more than words can say.
Still, say the words. Put them to music if you feel inspired: He or she will also be touched by the effort and the sentiments, no matter what your skill level.
Google “love songs” and find your favorites. Do some downloads. Make a custom mix with “our” song and all the favorite songs that remind you of him or her.
Has your soul mate died? I know some wonderful, grieving people who are missing some very special loved ones now. Spend a little quiet time with your memories today and maybe have a little chat with your departed loves.
And tell them you love them, still and forever.
They’ll hear you.
Love transcends space and time.
Love lasts forever.
Make a list of everybody you love. And everybody you’ve ever loved. Check it twice. And say “I love you” at least once to everyone on the list.
Think you’re done? Not quite. Send your love to all creation, great and small.
Say a message of love to your Creator and anyone who has helped you on your spiritual path.
Check out First Corinthians 13:1-13, Paul’s undying Love 101 course for us all, that ends: “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Keep saying “I love you.”
Tell your dogs and your cat and your pet turtles and rabbits. Tell your parrots and ferrets.
Your pets will understand, as any animal lover knows.
Tell your plants. Maybe they’ll understand on some green, leafy, loving level, too, and at the very least, they’ll appreciate the Co2 and turn it back into loving oxygen for you.
That’s how love works: the more of it you give away, the more you get.
Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you, Las Cruces.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at, (575) 541-5450