Pluto is demoted

In Prague on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union votes to demote Pluto from the ninth planet from the Sun to one of dozens of known dwarf planets.

The vote followed a week of debate by the IAU, who voted on multiple proposals including one that kept not just Pluto as a planet but added two new planets—the asteroid Ceres and Pluto’s moon Charon. The ultimate proposal defined the word “planets” (which comes from the Greek word planets, or “wanderers”) supposedly once and for all: planets are celestial objects large enough to be made rounded by their gravitational orbit around the Sun and to have pushed away nearby planetary objects and debris. Two years later, the IAU decided on a name for dwarf planets similar to Pluto—“plutoid”—grouping Pluto with Eris.

Some influential astronomers were caught off guard by the procedure, questioning the final proposal’s logic and pointing to the low turnout of voters (424 astronomers out of about 10,000 professional astronomers worldwide) at the IAU conference. One astronomer pointed to the contradiction that Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune all have nearby asteroids. “I’m embarrassed for astronomy,” he said. “Less than 5 percent of the world’s astronomers voted.”

This scientific reclassification has had a worldwide cultural impact, as suggested by the American Dialect Society’s choice of “plutoed” as 2006’s Word of the Year—meaning “to demote or devalue someone or something. “Our members believe the great emotional reaction of the public to the demotion of Pluto shows the importance of Pluto as a name,” the society’s president said. Some state legislatures have even named March 13 Pluto Day, in stubborn dismissal of Pluto’s demotion.

READ MORE: The Rise and Fall of Planet Pluto


Effa Manley becomes first woman elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

On February 27, 2006, baseball pioneer Effa Manley becomes the first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Manley, who died in 1981, was co-owner of the Newark (New Jersey) Eagles, a Negro League powerhouse, and a huge advocate for Black ballplayers and civil rights causes. 

“She’s deserving; she did a lot for the game,” said Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who played for the Eagles in the 1940s. Irvin, who starred for the New York Giants in the big leagues, was among MLB’s first Black players. 

“This is a historic day at the Hall of Fame,” HOF president Dale Petroskey said. “I hoped that someday there would be a woman in the Hall.”

READ MORE: How the Only Woman in Baseball Hall of Fame Challenged Convention—and MLB

Manley, who co-owned the Eagles with her husband, Abe, ran the business side for the team—Abe had little interest in that role. She eventually assumed many other duties. 

“Little by little, I found myself doing more and more, and I finally just ended up completely involved,” Manley said in a 1977 interview.  

In the 1940s, Manley feuded with the management from big-league teams, who pursued Negro League stars after Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers broke MLB’s color line in 1947. General manager Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson, was among her adversaries.

As baseball owner, Manley held an Anti-Lynching Day at the ballpark.

“She did a lot for the Newark community,” Irvin said. “She was a well-rounded, influential person.” 


Shani Davis becomes first Black athlete to win individual gold medal at Winter Games

On February 18, 2006, Shani Davis becomes the first Black athlete to win an individual gold medal in Winter Olympics history, capturing the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating race. American Joey Cheek wins the silver medal at the event at the Games in Turin, Italy. 

Davis grew up on Chicago’s South Side and began skating—on wheels—at the roller rink. With his love of fast speeds, Davis started taking speedskating lessons and became skilled at the sport. Davis went on to win five National Age Group Championships between 1995 and 2003 and a North American Championship in 1999. Davis was 23 when he won gold with a time of 1 minute, 8.89 seconds at the 2006 Olympics. The Chicago native also earned a silver medal in the 1,500-meter speedskating race.

Four years later, at the Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Davis repeated as Olympic champion in the 1,000-meter speedskating race and earned a silver medal in the 1,500-meter race.

Davis retired from competing in November of 2019.

READ MORE: The First African Americans to Win Olympic Medals


New England Patriots’ Doug Flutie makes NFL’s first drop kick since 1941

On January 1, 2006, following a New England Patriots touchdown against the Miami Dolphins, Doug Flutie enters the game for what initially appears to be a two-point conversion play. After getting his teammates set in a “very strange formation,” Flutie backs up well beyond the normal shotgun position, to the 13-yard line, catches the snap, takes a couple steps forward, drops the ball off the ground and quickly kicks it through the uprights. His teammates immediately mob him after the kick—the first successful drop kick since 1941.

“It was fun,” Flutie said of the throwback kick.

The drop kick was commonly used in the game when a football’s shape was much more rounded. After the shape of the ball was changed in 1934, it largely disappeared from the sport. However, the drop kick remained as an allowable kicking attempt after a touchdown in the NFL’s rulebook under Rule 3, Section 8 as defined as “a kick by a kicker who drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground.”

The Patriots would go on to lose the meaningless Week 17 game, 28-26, but the story afterward was all about the 43-year-old Flutie’s drop kick. The last successful drop kick before Flutie’s was converted two weeks after Pearl Harbor, on December 21, 1941, by Ray “Scooter” McLean.

After the game, Patriots coach and avid football historian Bill Belichick said, “I think Doug deserves it … He’s got a skill and we got a chance to let him use it, and I am happy for him. First time since ’41. It might be 60 years again, too.” Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri joked that “Flutie might have been there the last time it happened.”

Said Miami coach Nick Saban: “I was kind of pleased to know somebody can still drop kick. When I was a kid we all practiced that. Flutie showed his age on that one.”

Flutie’s drop kick, apparently spawned during a conversation between ESPN’s Chris Berman and Belichick, was the final play of his storied football career. He won the 1984 Heisman Trophy as a star quarterback at Boston College, played in the shortlived U.S. Football League (1985), joined the NFL (1986-89), rediscovered his game in the Canadian Football League (1990-97) and returned to the NFL to finish his career (1998-2005).


Construction on Global Seed Vault begins

Month Day
June 15

On June 15, 2006, on the remote island of Spitsbergen halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland lay the ceremonial first stone of the Global Seed Vault. The vault, which now has the capacity to hold 2.25 billion seeds, is intended to “provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity.”

Managed jointly by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Crop Trust), the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), and the Norwegian government, the Seed Vault grew out of several different efforts to preserve specimens of the world’s plants. Its location, deep within a high mountain on an island covered by permafrost, is ideal for cold storage and will protect the seeds even in the event of a major rise in sea levels. The enormous vault, where seeds can be stored in such a way that they remain viable for decades or even centuries, opened in 2008.

According to the Crop Trust, the seed vault is meant to preserve crop diversity and contribute to the global struggle to end hunger. As rising temperatures and other aspects of climate change threaten the Earth’s plants, there is risk of not only losing species but also becoming overly reliant on those that remain, making humanity more vulnerable and increasing food insecurity. Scientists also strive to create newer, more resilient varieties of crops that already exist, and the seed bank functions as a reserve from which they can draw for experimental purposes. 

READ MORE: Climate Change History


13 coal miners are trapped in Sago Mine disaster; 12 die

Month Day
January 02

An explosion rocks the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia on January 2, 2006. 13 coal miners were trapped, and all but one eventually died. The tragedy, exacerbated by false reports that 12 of the miners had been rescued, brought scrutiny upon the media, the company that owned the mine and the administration of then-president George W. Bush.

The explosion occurred early in the morning of January 2, as two groups of miners entered the mine. The cave-in trapped the first group of 13 inside the mine, and the group behind them soon found the air too contaminated with carbon monoxide for them to attempt a rescue. According to the account of the lone survivor, Randal McCloy, Jr., the trapped miners were equipped with emergency oxygen “rescuers,” but several of them failed to function. As crews above tried and failed to locate the miners, those trapped took emergency action to shield themselves from the fumes but were eventually overcome. McCloy recalled the group praying together and writing letters to their loved ones as, one by one, they lost consciousness.

When rescuers finally reached the miners over 40 hours after the explosion, they found McCloy in critical condition and the others dead. He was rushed to a hospital, where he remained unconscious for days. The source of the rumors is still unknown, but it was widely reported that 12 miners had survived, prompting newspapers and networks across the country to spread the false story of a “miracle.” The national media had quickly descended upon Sago, with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera filming live from outside the mine, and locals later accused the national media of inflicting emotional damage by running with unverified reports.

Just as the source of the false news has not been identified, the cause of the explosion has never been determined. Some believe a lightning strike or seismic activity was to blame, while others suspect sparks from the re-starting of equipment after the New Year’s holiday ignited the explosion. Multiple investigations and hearings sought to determine who was responsible, with many focusing on the fact that the Bush Administration had staffed regulatory positions with former lobbyists and executives from the coal industry. In particular, critics blamed former mining executive Dave Lauriski, Bush’s appointee to lead the Mining Health and Safety Administration, who had struck down a proposed rule requiring mines to maintain two functioning escapeways at all times. In the wake of the Sago tragedy, West Virginia quickly passed a law mandating multiple escapeways. 


Twitter launches

On July 15, 2006, the San Francisco-based podcasting company Odeo officially releases Twttr—later changed to Twitter—its short messaging service (SMS) for groups, to the public.

Born as a side project apart from Odeo’s main podcasting platform, the free application allowed users to share short status updates with groups of friends by sending one text message to a single number (“40404”). Over the next few years, as Twttr became Twitter, the simple “microblogging” service would explode in popularity, becoming one of the world’s leading social networking platforms.

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams first made his name in the Silicon Valley tech world by founding the Web diary-publishing service Blogger, which he sold to Google in 2003 for several million dollars. In 2005, William co-founded Odeo with another entrepreneur, Noah Glass; that fall, however, Odeo’s main service was made obsolete when Apple launched iTunes (including a built-in podcasting platform).

After Williams asked the team of 14 employees to brainstorm their best ideas for the flailing startup, one of the company’s engineers, Jack Dorsey, came up with the concept of a service allowing users to share personal status updates via SMS to groups of people. By March 2006, they had a working prototype, and a name—Twttr—inspired in part by bird sounds, and adopted after some other choices (including FriendStalker) were rejected. Dorsey (@Jack) sent the first-ever tweet (“just setting up my twttr”) on March 21.

At the time Twttr launched to the public in July 2006, it was still a side project of Odeo, while the company’s primary offering, the podcasting platform, was going nowhere. That fall, according to a report in Business Insider, Williams bought out the company’s investors, changed Odeo’s name to Obvious Corporation and fired Glass, whose role in the birth of Twitter (including coming up with its name) wouldn’t become public until years later.

Within six months after the launch, Twttr had become Twitter. Once the service went public, its founders imposed a 140-character limit for messages, based on the maximum length of text messages at the time; this was later expanded to 280 characters.

Use of Twitter exploded at the South by Southwest convention in Austin, Texas, in March 2007, when more than 60,000 tweets were sent per day, and grew rapidly from there. By 2013, the New York Times reported that the company had more than 2,000 employees and more than 200 million active users. That November, when the company went public, it was valued at just over $31 billion. 

Though Twitter’s user base is much smaller than that of Facebook (which has more than 2 billion monthly active users as of 2019), it has increasingly become a source of breaking news and information, especially for younger users. The company’s prominence rose with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, who was outspoken on Twitter throughout his campaign and has often tweeted policy decisions or other announcements during his administration. Like other social media companies, Twitter and Dorsey, its CEO, have faced pressure to police the content on the site more closely to prevent bullying, harassment and hate speech, as well as better protect its users’ privacy in a heightened political climate. 


Oprah Winfrey confronts author James Frey over lying

Month Day
January 26

On January 26, 2006, during a live broadcast of her daytime TV talk show, Oprah Winfrey confronts author James Frey about fabrications in “A Million Little Pieces,” his memoir about addiction and recovery, which she chose as an Oprah’s Book Club selection in September 2005.

“A Million Little Pieces,” published in 2003, was James Frey’s first book. In it, he describes in graphic detail his harrowing experiences with addictions to drugs and alcohol, and his time at a treatment center when he was in his early 20s. After Winfrey picked “A Million Little Pieces” for her popular on-air book club, which launched in 1996, the memoir climbed the best-sellers lists, following in the footsteps of many of the club’s previous selections. In October 2006, Frey appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to promote his book, which the talk show host had previously said she “couldn’t put down,” calling it “a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it’s so real…”

Then, in early January 2006, The Smoking Gun Web site published an expose claiming court records, police reports and interviews with a variety of sources showed that Frey had falsified and exaggerated parts of “A Million Little Pieces”–especially surrounding his criminal past and time spent in jail–in order to make his story more dramatic. On January 11, 2006, Frey and his mother appeared on “Larry King Live” to defend “A Million Little Pieces,” and Winfrey called in to the show to express support for the author. However, two weeks later, on January 26, when Frey appeared on Winfrey’s for a second time, he faced tough questioning from the talk show host, whose attitude toward him had changed. Winfrey began the live program by telling him, “It is difficult for me to talk to you because I feel really duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.”

Frey admitted to Winfrey that he had altered and embellished details of his story, including the fact that he had been in jail for just several hours, not 87 days, as stated in his book. When Winfrey asked him about a particularly memorable incident from the book in which he wrote about having root canals without anesthesia, Frey conceded he couldn’t recall whether or not the dentist had used any Novocain. Winfrey also confronted the publisher of “A Million Little Pieces,” saying her staff had been contacted about possible inaccuracies in the book, only to be told that the publishing company stood by Frey’s story as a work of non-fiction. During the show, the publisher acknowledged that “A Million Little Pieces” had not been fact-checked.

Frey’s fabrications sparked a national debate over the definition of memoir. In the aftermath of the controversy, he was dropped by his literary agent, and his publisher settled a class-action lawsuit brought by readers who claimed they had been defrauded. Future editions of “A Million Little Pieces” included a note from Frey in which he admitted to altering parts of his story. However, the scandal did not signal the end of Frey’s career: He went on to publish novels including “Bright Shiny Morning” (2008) and “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible” (2011).


Walt Disney announces $7.4 billion purchase of Pixar

Month Day
January 24

By the end of 2005, Pixar had become a giant in the world of movie animation, and on January 24, 2006, the company that brought the world the blockbuster hits Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004) was sold to the Walt Disney Company, their longtime distributor, for a staggering $7.4 billion.

Since 1993, when Disney and Pixar signed their first three-picture deal, Pixar’s films had won 19 Academy Awards and grossed more than $3 billion at the box office. Their pioneering techniques in digital animation–Toy Story was the first animated film to be completely computer-generated–had set a new standard, blazing a trail that other companies had struggled to follow. In the same time period, Disney’s own animation unit had released more traditional animated films that were either modest successes, such as Lilo & Stich (2002), or flops, such as Home on the Range (2004). Its first completely computer-generated effort, Chicken Little (2005) was profitable, but had nowhere near the success of The Incredibles, which grossed $200 million domestically and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Despite the success of the Pixar-Disney collaboration, Pixar CEO (and Apple co-founder) Steve Jobs had reportedly clashed with Disney’s longtime chairman and CEO, Michael Eisner, and in January 2004, Jobs announced that Pixar would begin talks with other distributors. Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney subsequently led a shareholder revolt, and in the spring of 2004 Eisner received a 45 percent no-confidence vote from shareholders and was stripped of his chairmanship.

Eisner announced he would step down as CEO in September 2005, one year before his contract was set to expire. His replacement was the company’s president, Robert A. Iger. One of Iger’s first moves was to work on repairing the relationship with Pixar, whose latest contract with Disney was set to expire in June 2006, with the delivery of its next film, Cars.

Under the deal announced that January, and formally completed on May 5, Jobs would serve as a director on Disney’s board, while John Lasseter, a former Disney animator and the leading creative force behind Pixar’s films, would become chief operating officer of the animation studios, as well as the principle creative adviser at Walt Disney Imagineering, which designs and builds the company’s theme parks. In a conscious effort by Pixar to maintain its unique creative process and non-traditional corporate culture, the two companies remained physically separate, with Pixar maintaining its headquarters in Emeryville, California (Disney is based in Burbank).


“World’s Fastest Indian” makes U.S. debut

Month Day
February 03

On February 3, 2006, “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a movie based on the true story of motorcycle racer and land-speed record holder Burt Munro, opens in U.S. theaters. The film starred Anthony Hopkins as Munro, the sexagenarian who in the 1960s set several land-speed records on his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Herbert Munro, who was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, on March 25, 1899, began riding motorcycles as a teenager. He later bought his Indian Scout motorcycle and raced it competitively in Australia and New Zealand. In the late 1940s, Munro, who was considered eccentric by some of his neighbors, stopped working and put all his time and energy into rebuilding his Indian and Velocette motorcycles, modifying the engines and frames and hand-crafting his own new parts. After setting various speed records in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s, Munro focused his sights on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Located approximately 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a hard, flat 30,000-acre expanse formed from an ancient evaporated lake. In 1914, Teddy Tezlaff set an auto speed record at Bonneville, driving 141.73 mph in a Blitzen Benz. By the late 1940s, Bonneville had become the standard place for setting and breaking world land-speed records and has since attracted drivers from around the globe who compete in a number of automotive and motorcycle divisions.

In 1962, Munro sailed to America on a cargo ship, working as a cook to pay his fare. After making his way to the Salt Flats, he set a world record of 178.97 mph with his engine bored out to 850 cc. Over the next few years, the determined Munro, then in his 60s, returned to Bonneville again, racing there for the final time in 1967, when he drove 183.586 mph and set a new speed record in the sub-1,000 cc motorcycle class. His one-way qualifying run of 190.07 mph was the fastest speed ever clocked on an Indian motorcycle.