Letters to the Editor

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11:51am, August 24, 2012
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Sun’s speed unclear
Sun’s speed unclear
In “Sun’s shock wave goes missing” (SN: 6/16/12, p. 17), Nadia Drake reports the speed of the sun through space at 83,500 kilometers per hour, or roughly 11,000 km/h slower than previously thought. Yet in the same issue (“At home in the universe,” p. 22), Alexandra Witze reports the speed of the sun relative to galactic rotation as 220 kilometers per second. My first move was to convert Drake’s speed to 23.2 kilometers per second. What is going on here?
Tom Knost, Mills River, N.C.

The apparent conflict in the sun’s speed arises from the fact that different frames of reference are involved. My story about galactic rotation reports on new measurements of how quickly the sun orbits the galactic center, like a dot on a phonograph record circling around and around as the record plays. Nadia Drake’s story covers new measurements of the sun’s motion relative to interstellar space—a much larger frame of reference, more like how the dot and the record are moving together in the space between galaxies. —Alexandra Witze

Anthropomor-phobic scientists
“Mystery neurons found in monkey” (SN: 6/16/12, p. 13) is an example of the preconceived notion that humans are the only animals that ... you fill in the blank.  Did the researchers miss seeing von Economo cells in macaques because they wanted to believe that the cells are related to empathy, self-awareness and consciousness but did not want to believe that macaques might have some of these characteristics? Why were they surprised to find the cells in zebras, which are social animals like us? We are told not to anthropomorphize, but these researchers appear to go to the opposite extreme. Are they anthropomor-phobic?
Leah O’Connor, Chicago, Ill.

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