Thursday, April 16, 2015

New Horizons Update! -OR- Even Though You're Just a Dwarf Planet, We Really Love You, Pluto

This item must be noted ...

Pluto and Charon in the first-ever color photo taken by the Ralph visible / infrared imager aboard the New Horizons probe on April 9, 2015 from a distance of 71 million miles / 115 million kilometers.

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The awesome, intrepid, wonderful little New Horizons probe is now just 88 days (less than 3 months!) from its truly historic rendezvous with dwarf planet Pluto and its retinue of at least six moons including "double dwarf planet" Charon.

While New Horizons is still too far away to see things clearly, the Ralph visible and infrared imager on board the space craft captured the first color image of Pluto and Charon.

Artist's rendering of New Horizons during its rendezvous with the Pluto and its retinue of moons.

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The full caption to this provided by New Horizons mission control reads:

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 and downlinked to Earth the following day. It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. The image is a preliminary reconstruction, which will be refined later by the New Horizons science team. Clearly visible are both Pluto and the Texas-sized Charon. The image was made from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)-roughly the distance from the Sun to Venus. At this distance, neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved by the color imager, but their distinctly different appearances can be seen. As New Horizons approaches its flyby of Pluto on July 14, it will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.

Source here.

A labeled diagram of the instruments on board the New Horizons probe.

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In addition to Ralph, there is another instrument named Alice (a compact, general-purpose UV imaging telescope/spectrometer) on board New Horizons ...

"You're going to the Moon, Alice!"

"BANG! ZOOM!"

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Additional news on New Horizons is available here (link embedded): NASA's New Horizons Nears Historic Encounter with Pluto. The main mission control page is here.

Illustration of the relative size of the Sun to the 8 planets (and Earth's Moon) of our Solar System (in the usual order of increasing distance from the Sun) as well as four dwarf planets including (left to right) Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

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Here is a Space.com article that provides additional details (link embedded): 1st Color Image of Pluto Snapped by Approaching NASA Probe (Photo).

I also would like to direct you to this Vox.com article (link embedded): Sorry, Pluto: You're really not a planet. The article includes several of the images that I've reposted in this entry including the one directly above and the three below.

Artist's rendition of Pluto based on Hubble Space Telescope images.

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Alas, I am afraid I have to agree with this view: Pluto is simply the closest-in largest known Kuiper Belt object. It really can't be considered a bona fide planet without considering all the Kuiper Belt objects (countless thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, including some larger than Pluto) as planets.

Earth compared to five dwarf planets including Kuiper Belt / trans-Neptunian Objects such as Pluto and asteroid belt ones such as Ceres.

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(As an aside, Vox.com is run by the incredibly annoyingly arrogant Ezra Klein, the ultimate urban liberal sort and why Dems lose elections, and the articles are usually written in a condescending know-it-all way, but some are useful, including this Pluto one.)

A relative (fractional) mass comparison to Earth of the rocky terrestrial planets in our Solar System and a selection of dwarf planets including Pluto.

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As an all-important concluding thought ...

GO, OUR NEW HORIZONS! GO BOLDLY, LITTLE ONE!

We're with you in spirit and watching closely! 

--Regulus

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