September 22, 2017

04.02.10: Pluto Re-imaged.

The brave new face of Pluto. (Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Buie).

The brave new face of Pluto. (Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Buie).

The most controversial planet (or do you say dwarf planet, or plutoid?) got a new look today. In a press conference, NASA researchers revealed the new “face” of Pluto; a series of images spanning 270 degrees of rotation. To complete these, astronomers scoured 384 images for 4 years using no less than 20 computers. These images were acquired from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Cameras for Surveys, and span a period from 2002-03. Even under the most favorable conditions, Pluto is a tough target; at around 0.1” arc seconds in size, Pluto only covers only a few pixels even in the best cameras and telescopes. The images are in true color, and present a tan-ish to grey world that is perhaps Mars-like in appearance. This is suggestive of a broad diversity of plutonian topography, and comparisons with the 1994 images show correlations with bright surface features, but also changes that hint at seasonal variations. Specifically, Pluto appears significantly redder and shows a magnitude variation of 0.2 magnitudes, which is surprising over a short 8 year span…Pluto takes 248 years to complete one orbit. Charon, Pluto’s large moon, was a good “color test” as it stayed the same throughout both imaging cycles, lending credence to the idea that the changes throughout were real and not an artifact.

Spectroscopic analysis reveals that Pluto is a dynamic world, covered by frozen methane and fluro-hydrocarbons. In fact, it’s suggested that the world may be a twin to Triton, Neptune’s largest moon. “Certainly, the Kuiper Belt is an amazing place,” such researcher Mike Brown, who laughed at the idea that perhaps Pluto was getting redder in anger at him due to its recent demotion. Hubble’s newly installed WFC3 camera will begin imaging Pluto over a five month period starting April 2010, in anticipation of the New Horizons flyby in 2015. And all this on today, Clyde Tombaugh’s 104th birthday! Expect those astronomy text books to be changing soon…

The Maine Solar System Model: An Update.

The Solar System has become a much more complicated place. As reported in this space last year,  The Maine Solar System model (MSSM) in Aroostook County, Maine was constructed starting in 2000 and was renowned as the world largest solar system representation.

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Astro-Event of the Week: July 22nd-28th 2008:Spot Pluto!

Now, for the telescopic challenge of a lifetime; a chance to spot the elusive and controversial Pluto. Even experienced amateur astronomers have yet to accomplish this feat, and I’ve only done it once with the 14″ Schmitt-Cassegrain at the Flandreau Observatory.

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Are you a Planet? A humble proposal.

Here’s a fun proposal. Next time you find yoursef bored, go into the science department of your local university and just casually pose the question “gee, maybe Pluto should/shouldn’t be a planet.” Then stand back and watch the slide rules fly (yes real science geeks still pack slide rules, for when the apocalyspe comes!)

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Is Pluto a Planet? by David Weintraub

The issue of planet-hood has become a hot button topic in the astronomical community as of late.

In is “Pluto a Planet?” Author David Weintraub tackles the thorny issue that has plagued astronomers and school children alike.  [Read more...]

July 08 News & Notes.

Attack of the Plutoids? On June 11th, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) handed down yet another definition for trans-Neptunian objects; a new class of planetary bodies, now classified as Plutoids, have sprung into existence.

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