Pluto In Your Face


Once a planet Pluto needn’t feel slighted by an unflattering cosmic demotion, in my mind Pluto rivals any planetary body in our solar system. Admirable diligence by NASA’s New Horizons probe spanked antiquated notions that size matters – meager prescience became irrelevant the moment Pluto intensified before our very eyes.

A dainty 2,370 km. wide (Earth – 8,000 km ), 30 times farther from our Sun, the average temperature on Pluto is minus 232 degrees Celsius. At that temperature on Earth, oceans would freeze almost to the briniest depths, our collapsed atmosphere measured as an 11 meter layer of frozen gas.

Last week NASA released images from New Horizons July 14, 2015 close encounter with Pluto. Glorious, in your face photographs defining my need to ponder the cosmos.

http://earthsky.org/space/closest-pluto-images-ever-returned-dec-4-2015

View larger. | NASA calls this image 'the mountainous shoreline of Sputnik Planum.' It's not a shoreline as on Earth, of course; it's a place where two kinds of ice meet. The mountainous region - informally named al-Idrisi mountains - is made of great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust. Some stand as much as 1.5 miles high. The mountains end abruptly at the shoreline of the informally named Sputnik Planum, where the soft, nitrogen-rich ices of the plain form a nearly level surface.

View larger. | NASA calls this image ‘the mountainous shoreline of Sputnik Planum.’ It’s not a shoreline as on Earth, of course; it’s a place where two kinds of ice meet. The mountainous region – informally named al-Idrisi mountains – is made of great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust. The mountains end abruptly at the shoreline of the informally named Sputnik Planum, where the soft, nitrogen-rich ices of the plain form a nearly level surface. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI. Read more about this image.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

New Horizons’ First Colour Photo of Pluto


NASA’s New Horizons probe left Earth over 9 years ago.  Where does nine years find Horizons? 4.8 billion Km. from Earth, barely 3 months away from Pluto and able to transmit the first colour photograph of Pluto and its largest  moon Charon.

This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on April 9 Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Still 115 million Km. away, New Horizons first image is being called a “preliminary reconstruction”.  Mark July 14 on your calendar as the anticipated date New Horizons officially enters the “Pluto system” – close enough to capture detailed surface images of areas no wider than a few kilometers, despite traveling at speeds of 50,000 Km/hour.

Discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto’s brief distinction as ninth planet from the Sun fizzled in 2006 with International Astronomical Union rewriting the definition of “planet”. Tiny Pluto, abut half the width of America, has since answered to the name “dwarf planet”. Size isn’t everything – Pluto holds a planetary designation unique in our solar system, that of “binary planet”. Binary because the largest of Pluto’s 5 known moons is so close in size.

Ponder New Horizons – consider a decade of relentless travel across many billion kilometers of space. Keep in mind New Horizons path, science can’t draw a straight line, gas up a probe, send it on a road trip – consider plotting a course through the labyrinth of space, one that depends on gravitational pull of planets and their moons for propulsion.

I was an 8 years old dreamer when we landed on the moon. The world stopped, holding a collective breath to mark science fiction dissolving into science reality. It saddens my inner dreamer to ask how many 8 year old children today even care about remarkable space missions. Fantastic accomplishment might be commonplace these days, that doesn’t make them ordinary. New Horizons is an extraordinary realization of science. Take a moment to grasp the enormity of mankind’s progress.

http://earthsky.org/space/new-horizons-first-color-pic-of-pluto?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=2fa2f02ccf-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-2fa2f02ccf-393970565

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