A conservative news and views blog.

Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

New Horizons

We`re off to Pluto with the New Horizons space probe! Don`t hold your breath; it won`t arrive until 2015!

This is the last ``planet`` to be visited by a spaceprobe, and high time; we know very little about the little world at the end of the inner system. Pluto is the smallest planet (smaller than the Moon, 1410 mi in diameter compared to the Moon`s appr. 2100) in the solar system, but has the largest satellite (Charon) relative to it`s size (727mi-Charon is roughly half the size of Pluto, which is why it was so hard to determine the Plutonian diameter. Pluto looked large when Charon was to the side, while it looked small when Charon was in front of or behind. With older equipment it was impossible to determine that Pluto had a moon.)

For more on Pluto and Charon go here, here,here, and here.

A debate has raged about the status of Pluto. Many think Pluto is too small to be a planet, and want to reduce it`s status to Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). Pluto sits on the edge of the Kuiper Belt, which is a region similar to the asteroid belt, but with chunks of ice and frozen gas rather than stony or mineral bodies. The KBO`s are believed to be remnants from the original formation of the solar system, and we are finding more of them all the time. (Remember the discovery of Sedna?) Beyond the Kuiper Belt lies the Oort Cloud, where the comets hang out and hobnob with asundry interstellar matter.

The point is, Pluto has an eccentric (oblong) orbit, is too small for a planet, and is composed of ice and frozen gases. It fits the definition of a KBO, but tradition has accorded it planetary status, so a planet it remains!

At any rate, we don`t know very much about the King of the Underworld, and New Horizons will greatly expand our knowledge. I`ve always had a special fondness for poor, dark Pluto-shrouded in mystery and left out in the cold. Perhaps now our ignored kid brother can join the family of the solar system.

We will never have a second chance for a first look, and everywhere our probes go these days it is the first visit. These are truly monumental times!



Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Love this article -- it's downright poetic. Poor little Pluto -- wandering out there in the cold -- it has no identity crisis and probably doesn't give a fig what we decide to call it. Sounds like a fun mission.

Love that Oort Cloud!! Now THAT's a good name for something neat in outer space. "Captain, I think we may have inadvertantly wandered into the Oort Cloud. Thank you, Mr. Zulu, proceed Scottie, Warp speed 5..."

4:38 PM  

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