Tuesday, July 14, 2015

discovering pluto

later today, the new horizons space craft will fly by pluto at a distance of only 12,500 km - its closest approach is about 1 earth away.   that's incredible!

this mission has already given us way better views of the dwarf planet than we've ever achieved (even with hubble).  what will the new data tell us?  what does the surface looks like? (are there craters? ice? cracks? plumes? mountains?)  what is the atmosphere is made of? (methane, nitrogen, and what else?) does its surface ice turn to gas during different seasons and then does it get released to space?

ultimately, we want to understand what the objects way out in the kuiper belt are made of because they can tell us how all the other planets and the entire solar system was formed.

Created by Alex Parker with NEW images of pluto!
new horizons cannot send data back at the same time it is taking images, so it is following an automatic program, written by the engineers and astronomers, to maximize its data collection during the flyby.  we will receive the first message and prelim images tomorrow (july 15th, 2015 - it takes 4.5 hours for the data to reach earth).  cant wait!

then new horizons will start sending data back to us over the next ~16 months as it flies away out into the depths of the kuiper belt at the outskirts of our solar system.

i'm excited.

i talked (enthusiastically) to Patricia Karvelas on radio national's drive program last friday about pluto and what to expect from this flyby. you can LISTEN HERE.

it also seems like the perfect time to break out this old number: pluto, the previous planet :)

Pluto, the previous planet from carolune on Vimeo.

1 comment:

heroineworshipper said...

Pluto still loves us, despite being demoted to a dwarf.