This is Steve Ember.
And this is Bob Doughty with Science in the News, a VOA Special
English program about recent developments in science. Today,
we tell about a new object discovered far away in the solar
system. We tell about a physicist who was dismissed for scientific
wrongdoing. And we tell about the development of a biological
device to help the heart beat normally.
American astronomers have discovered a new object in our solar
system, further away from Earth than the planet Pluto. It is
the largest object discovered in the solar system since the
discovery of Pluto in nineteen-thirty. It is also the farthest
object in the solar system to be seen by a telescope. Scientists
call the object ¡°Quaoar¡± (KWAH-o-ar).
It is about half the size of Pluto, too small to be considered
Scientists estimate that Quaoar takes about two-hundred-eighty-eight
years to orbit the sun. Astronomers call the area beyond Pluto
the Kuiper (KY-per) Belt. It is a distant and dark area that
contains objects that are made mostly of frozen gases.
Two astronomers from the California Institute of Technology
made the discovery in June. They used a telescope at Mount Palomar
Observatory near Pasadena. However, Chadwick Trujillo (tru-HE-oh)
and Michael Brown did not announce their discovery immediately.
Instead, they gathered more information about the object. They
used the Hubble Space Telescope to discover the size of the
object. They also found what the new object was made of.
Mister Brown and Mister Trujillo found that Quaoar is made
of ice and rock. It contains substances like carbon dioxide,
methane and even water. However, it is so far from the sun that
even gases like carbon dioxide are frozen solid.
The astronomers chose the name Quaoar from the Native American
tradition of the Tongva people. They once lived near Los Angeles
and not too far from the observatory where Mister Trujillo and
Mister Brown discovered the object. Quaoar means the ¡°great
force of creation¡± in the Tongva language.
The discovery of Quaoar has again raised questions about Pluto.
Astronomers are no longer sure that Pluto should be considered
a planet. Quaoar appears to be very similar in size and material.
Pluto and Quaoar might represent a separate kind of object from
the Kuiper Belt. Astronomers are considering changing what they
call Pluto. Instead of a planet, it may be called a Kuiper Belt
object in the future.
Yet there are differences between Pluto and the new object.
Pluto is two-thousand-three-hundred kilometers across. Quaoar
is only about one-thousand-two-hundred kilometers across. Pluto
has a moon, called Charon, which is about the size of Quaoar
itself. However, some scientists consider these differences
The discovery of Quaoar may be part of a historic change in
the way astronomers think about the solar system. A similar
change happened in eighteen-oh-one. That year, the astronomer
Guiseppe Piazzi in Palermo, Italy, discovered what he thought
was a planet.
Mister Piazzi found an object moving in between the orbits
of Mars and Jupiter. He suggested the name Ceres. Within a few
years, other astronomers discovered more small objects at about
the same distance from the sun as Ceres. Today, we call these
small objects, made of rock and metal, asteroids. Quaoar also
may be one of many new discoveries.
Mister Trujillo and Mister Brown believe there may be twenty
more objects like Quaoar in the solar system. Most astronomers
believe there are many more objects to be discovered in the
distant Kuiper Belt. Perhaps Pluto is only the first of many
similar objects orbiting in the darkness far beyond the sun.
Astronomers would then have to change the current model of the
Investigators have found that claims made by scientists at
a top American research laboratory were not based on fact. The
investigators dismissed results from a number of studies published
between nineteen-ninety-eight and two-thousand-one.
Some of the claims once were said to be major developments
in the study of physics. They included a claim that the scientists
had created the smallest device to carry electrical current
Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, ordered the investigation
in May after other scientists raised questions about the claims.
Bell Labs appointed a committee to investigate twenty-four accusations
of scientific wrongdoing.
The committee identified at least sixteen examples of scientific
wrongdoing. It placed the blame on one Bell Labs physicist,
Jan Hendrik Schon (YAHN HEN-drick SHERN). Mister Schon told
the committee that he had no written records of the laboratory
experiments. He also said much of the information in his computer
had been destroyed.
The investigators found that Mister Schon used information
from earlier work to support his findings. They said he did
this without the knowledge of the other scientists involved
in the experiments. The investigators noted that Mister Schon
and his group produced an average of one scientific paper every
eight days. For most scientists, a few papers a year is considered
After the committee¡¯s report was released, Bell
Labs immediately dismissed Jan Hendrik Schon from his position.
He was once thought to be a future Nobel Prize winner. After
his dismissal, Mister Schon admitted he had made mistakes in
his scientific work. He said he regretted those mistakes. He
also said he believes the results reported in the studies are
The incident has damaged the work of the other Bell Labs scientists
who failed to report any problem. It also is bad news for Lucent
Technologies, the company that operates Bell Labs. The company
has been struggling with a series of financial problems during
the past two years.Other scientists have criticized the magazines
that published the results. Critics say the publications moved
too quickly to report on the studies.
A healthy human heart normally has a small group of special
cells called pacemaker cells. Pacemaker cells produce an electrical
current that causes the heart to beat. However, old age or disease
can cause these cells to fail. Doctors use electronic pacemaker
devices to fix the problem. In the United States, the small
devices are placed in about two-hundred-fifty-thousand patients
Now, scientists in the United States have used genetic engineering
to create a kind of biological pacemaker in guinea pigs. Their
findings suggest that genetically engineered heart cells could
one day be developed for humans. Such cells could possibly replace
the electronic pacemakers currently used in many patients with
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland,
led the new study. They found they could use the chemical potassium
to trick normal heart cells in guinea pigs to act like pacemaker
cells. Most heart muscle cells do not have the right level of
potassium to produce electricity on their own.
Nature magazine reported that the scientists used a virus to
carry a gene that changed the balance of potassium. They injected
the virus into the heart cells of guinea pigs. A few days later,
some of the heart muscle cells in the animals began to act like
Eduardo Marban (mar-BAN) was a member of the Johns Hopkins
team. He said the research may lead to new treatments for people
who need electronic pacemakers. He said it may be possible in
the future to recreate pacemaker cells in humans. Or scientists
may be able to develop other pacemakers that are part electronic
and part biological.
Doctor Marban said a biological pacemaker should be able to
react to the body¡¯s changing needs. He noted that
an electronic pacemaker, in its simplest form, does not.
The scientists said that more work needs to be done before
a biological pacemaker can be tested in humans.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Mario Ritter
and George Grow. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bob
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for more news
about science in Special English on the Voice of America.
This Science Report is published courtesy