Sciency Words: Tentacle

July 21, 2017

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


Believe it or not, octopuses do not have any tentacles. Zero. None. They have four pairs of arms, according to cephalopod experts.

When discussing cephalopod anatomy, arms are defined as shorter, more muscular appendages with suckers all the way along their length. Tentacles are longer and only have suckers at the “club-shaped” end. So octopuses have eight arms. Squid and cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles.

As a science fiction writer, I’ve created a few characters who have tentacles. Or at least, I think I have. But maybe my buddy Omglom here only has arms.

However, after doing further research I’ve found that this arms vs. tentacles thing is specific only to cephalopods. In a more generalized zoological sense, just about any boneless, flexible, elongated appendage can be referred to as a tentacle.

The word tentacle traces back to a Latin word meaning “to feel” or “to test” or “to probe.” This seems appropriate to me because in most cases tentacles aren’t really for grasping or manipulating objects. They’re sensory organs used for feeling, smelling, tasting, and even seeing (for example, the eyestalks of slugs and snails are considered to be tentacles).

There’s even a mammal with tentacles: the star-nosed mole, which has twenty-two tiny tentacles arranged in a star pattern around its snout. These tentacles are extremely sensitive feelers which help the star-nosed mole feel its way around as it burrows through the earth.

As for my friend Omglom… the gelatinoids of Rog aren’t cephalopods, so his tentacles can be called tentacles after all!

P.S.: It may sound strange, but the proper plural form of octopus is octopuses, not octopi. The cephalopod expert at the end of this video does an outstanding job explaining why.

Meet the Oddball Planets

June 28, 2017

The planet Uranus is often called the oddball of the Solar System because it’s tipped over sideways.

Uranus’s axis of rotation is tilted approximately 98° relative to its orbital path around the Sun, but Uranus isn’t the only planetary body with an “odd” axial tilt.

Just recently, we learned that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s icy moons, may have been knocked on its side by an asteroid impact at some point in its history. If that’s true, Enceladus has since reoriented itself. Being sideways was only a temporary thing in that case.

But then there’s Pluto. Pluto is also tipped on its side, as is Charon, Pluto’s largest moon.

In fact with an axial tilt of 122° relative to their orbital path around the Sun, you could argue that the Pluto/Charon pair is almost upside down.

Which brings us to Venus. Venus’s axial tilt can be defined in two different ways. You could say Venus is rotating backwards, clockwise where the other planets rotate counterclockwise, with a modest axial tilt of about 3°. But it’s equally valid to say Venus’s rotation is normal (i.e.: counterclockwise) but that the planet is flipped upside down, with its axis of rotation tilted 177°.

Of course there’s really no such thing as up, down, or sideways in space. Directions are relative to your point of view. The planets simply are the way they are, a result of each planet having its own unique history, without regard for what we humans might consider “normal.”

Maybe we should keep that in mind before we start labeling planets oddballs.


May 13, 2017

I wrote a flash fiction story, and it went live yesterday over at Fiction Can Be Fun! I hope you’ll go check it out, along with two other cool stories posted with it. They’re all based on the writing prompt “uniform.”

Fiction Can Be Fun

Express Yourself

I’m here today for the second in my series of interviews with the journalist, biographer, pundit and bon vivant, Jocelyn Humpheries.  Today we’re focussing on her writing as a biographer and in particular some of the little snippets that didn’t make the final cut.  Jocelyn: which of your biographical subjects was your favourite?

Oh! That is rather invidious – I do so detest those sorts of questions.  I enjoyed writing all of them, even – perhaps especially! – the scathing ones.  I do have a soft spot for the first one I wrote where the subject was, at the time, still living.  He was such a dear!  I don’t know if people say that about me now, but he would have been about the same age as I am now when I interviewed him.

That would be Colonel Hart-More?

Indeed. Although he didn’t really like to use his…

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Sciency Words: Exoplanet

May 12, 2017

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:


According to the International Astronomy Union (I.A.U.), an astronomical object qualifies as a planet if:

  • It orbits the Sun.
  • It’s round due to the pull of its own gravity.
  • It’s cleared its orbital path of asteroids or other debris (this is the part of the planet test Pluto failed.

The I.A.U.’s planet definition has caused a lot of grumbling and controversy, and not only because of Pluto. Let’s focus today on the first criterion for planethood: in order to be a planet, an object has to orbit the Sun. Not just any sun, but the Sun, as in our Sun. With a capital S.

Which means big, round objects orbiting other stars don’t qualify. The I.A.U. suggests calling them exoplanets or extrasolar planets, but they aren’t, strictly speaking, planets.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it seems awfully geocentric of us to have one word for objects orbiting our Sun and a different word for the same type of objects orbiting other stars.

However, I have to admit having a special term for “planet orbiting another star” is kind of handy. It saves me time in conversations and cuts down on the word counts of blog posts. So I guess it’s worth knowing the official I.A.U. definition for this handy, time-saving term.

Except the I.A.U. doesn’t have an official definition for exoplanets. Why not? Let’s try adapting the current planet definition to exoplanets and see what happens.

  • An exoplanet has to orbit a star other than our Sun. (Seems okay so far).
  • An exoplanet has to be round due to the pull of its own gravity. (Our telescopes can’t visually confirm that exoplanets are round, but based on estimates of their mass we can safely assume they’re round. We’re probably still okay.)
  • An exoplanet has to have cleared its orbital path of debris. (This is a real problem because in most cases there’s no way to confirm, visually or otherwise, that an exoplanet has done this.)

There is a proposal to change the I.A.U. planet definition again, this time based on quantitative data rather than visual observations. This, by the way, is different than the geophysical everything’s-a-planet definition I wrote about previously. The geophysical definition would make Pluto a planet again; the quantitative definition would not.

Back in 2006, the I.A.U. changed the definition of planet, excluding Pluto from the planet club, because we’d learned new information about our Solar System. More new information about planets, exoplanets, and other planet-like objects has been piling up since then, which is why we keep hearing about these proposals to change the definition again.

Personally, I like the more inclusive geophysical definition, but that’s just my preference. Plenty of intelligent and well-meaning people disagree. But I think sooner or later, the I.A.U. will have to revisit this issue to ensure the definitions of planet and exoplanet match.

Mystery Blogger Award

May 8, 2017

Oh my gosh, I won an award! Yay me! A very special thanks to Outside Perception for nominating me for this award, and also thank you to Okoto Enigma for creating this award. According to Enigma’s website:

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.

Okay, I’m blushing. Look, I know these kinds of awards are a bit silly, but still it’s nice to be recognized.

So as part of accepting this award, I’m supposed to tell you three facts about myself and then answer five questions from Outside Perception. Here goes:

Three Facts About J.S. Pailly

  • For my day job, I work at a local T.V. news station. I can’t say I like my job, but I do pick up a lot of good story ideas for my true passion, which is…
  • Writing! Also illustration, and space stuff, but mostly my true passion is writing.
  • In 2012/2013, I wrote a series of short stories about a journalist who travels through time. I have a top-secret plan to rewrite and revise these stories and publish them as an ebook. Oh shoot! That was supposed to be a secret!

Five Questions from Outside Perception

1. Tell us about something you used to believe only to find out it was incorrect.

All my life, I’d heard the story about how Albert Einstein failed math. Turns out it’s not true. Apparently Einstein’s school switched grading scales during his final year, so his school records make it look like he failed when in fact he got perfect marks every single year.

2. If given the choice between cake or death, what would it be?

Well, the obvious answer would be cake, but I suspect this is a trick question. You see, I’ve played Portal. I know the cake is a lie. Death might be preferable.

3. What was your imaginary friend’s name and what special skills did they have?

Was? Did? My imaginary friend is still around! She’s asked me to never reveal her true name on the Internet; however, she makes semi-regular appearances on my blog. She’s my muse, and her special skill is inspiration, supposedly.

4. What is your all time most watched movie?

Star Wars. The three original Star Wars movies, to be precise. They’re the only movies I watched obsessively as a kid and still watch obsessively today.

5. When you have down time… (laugh… yah, I know). Okay, if you ever had down time, what would you do?

I’ve been slowly amassing a Lego collection. Most Lego enthusiasts end up building Lego cities. I’d like to do that someday, except rather than a traditional city, I want to build a huge Lego Mars colony.

As part of this award, I’m supposed to nominate a bunch of other people for the award and ask them five questions of my own choosing.

And the Nominees Are:

My Questions

  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What book has had the most influence on you?
  • Has a movie ever brought you to tears? If so, what movie was it?
  • If you were a dinosaur, which dinosaur do you think you’d be and why?
  • What will be the title of your autobiography?

Now I don’t want to put any pressure on anybody, because I know not everyone likes these kinds of blogging award things. If I nominated you and you want to accept the award, the rules are listed below. If not, I still got to link to some pretty cool blogs, and that makes me happy.

Award Rules

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • List the rules.
  • Thank whoever nominated you and link to their blog.
  • Mention the creator of the award (Okoto Enigma) and provide a link as well.
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • Nominate roughly 10 – 20 people for this award.
  • Notify your nominees by commenting on their blogs.
  • Ask your nominees five questions.
  • Share a link to your best/favorite post that you’ve written.

Right, almost forgot about that last thing. I’m not sure if this is my best or my favorite post, but there is a post that’s been on my mind a lot lately for some reason. It’s an old IWSG post called “Research Rant.”

Why Sci-Fi?

March 30, 2017

Today, my first official post as a contributor for Universe of Possibilities is up. Universe of Possibilities is a new Sci-Fi hub started by Simon Farnell. My post is about how I got into science fiction in the first place.

This ended up being a more personal kind of post than I originally intended, but that’s okay. Science fiction lies at the heart of who I am as a person. A post like this was bound to touch on some personal stuff.


First off, I want to thank Simon Farnell for allowing me to be a contributor here on Universe of Possibilities. If you’re interested in learning more about this awesome new Sci-Fi hub, and perhaps finding out how to become a contributor yourself, click here.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my first post on this site, but I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little about why I got into science fiction in the first place. After all, there are certain stereotypes about Sci-Fi nerds like me. Some people call science fiction “escapism,” or they call it “childish.” And I don’t know… maybe they’re right.

When I was growing up, if I behaved, I’d get to stay up past my bedtime to watch Star Trek with my Dad. My bedtime was 9. Star Trek: The Next Generation came on at 10, which…

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I’m Back!

February 15, 2017

Today is Galileo Galilei’s 453rd birthday. With that in mind, here’s a throwback to the world of 453 years ago.


Today is also my official return to regular blogging! You might notice that I’ve made a few small changes around here. First off, no more ads! Because nobody likes ads, and it actually didn’t cost me much to get rid of them.

Also, the web address has changed from to simply It’s a small thing, I know, but I’m pretty excited about it. Makes me feel more legit somehow.

I’ve made a few other small, cosmetic changes, and I might continue fiddling with a few details over the next few months.

As for the Tomorrow News Network website… umm… I’ll get back to you about that.

Meanwhile, I have some fun stuff lined up for this website, starting with a visit to KIC 8462852. What the heck is that? Tune in for Friday’s edition of Sciency Words to find out! Or you could just google it. The Internet’s been buzzing about KIC 8462852 for a while now.