Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hello Pluto...

Back in August 21, 2006, I blogged a post about several round 'objects' like asteroids or moons that found beyond Neptune could be reclassified as planets in our solar system. Guess what? Today, July 15, 2015, could be the day when NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrives Pluto, the largest object in the Kuiper belt!

Pluto's Short Planetary Reign

When Pluto was first discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, many astronomers were certain that a large planet orbited the Sun beyond Neptune. Instead they found Pluto, which turned out to be small compared to Earth and Neptune, though more than double the size of Ceres, with a diameter of 2,300km.

Pluto also has an unusual orbit, as it crosses Neptune’s orbit, though it does so in such a way that it can never collide with Neptune.

Pluto's modern-day troubles began in 1992, when astronomers David Jewitt and Jane Luu discovered the first objects in the region of the solar system now known as the Kuiper Belt, an asteroid belt which is made mostly of house- and mountain-sized chunks of ice that orbit the Sun beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pluto, as it turns out, is one of the biggest 'objects' in the Kuiper Belt.

What is Pluto?

Pluto is the last unexplored planet in our solar system. And the Kuiper Belt may contain hundreds of other planetary worlds like Pluto. These may be the most numerous worlds in the solar system; they may contain, together, the most total surface area of all the solid-surfaced planets.

Pluto has one large moon, Charon, and at least four small moons: Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. It has an atmosphere that expands and contracts as Pluto warms and cools during its 248 year orbit around the Sun. The surface is likely rich in water ice, enriched with methane and nitrogen and carbon monoxide frosts; these ices might contain complex organic molecules.

The New Horizons mission is poised to answer some of our myriad questions about Pluto. How did it form? What is the atmosphere made of? What is the surface like? Does Pluto have a magnetic field? What are the moons like? Does Pluto have a subsurface ocean? Is the surface of Pluto's moon Charon pure water ice?

Pluto has guarded its secrets for four and half billion years. But in a few months, a few intrepid humans will pull back the curtain on Pluto and say, "Hello, Pluto, we're here!" And Pluto will begin to share her secrets with us. When she does, our familiarity with Pluto will help us recognize that Pluto is, was, and has always been a planet, albeit a small one.

We only get to visit Pluto for the very first time, once. Today. July 15, 2015. In your lifetime. Get ready to party! Pluto is coming home =]


b3nc0 said...

Have you seen how that white spot on the surface looks like Pluto?

Studs said...

Oh wow, impressive. :o