March 31, 2020

26.04.11: New Horizons and the Hunt for KBO’s.

A sky survey has begun this month for a very special mission. In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons mission will whiz past the Pluto-Charon system on its way out of the solar system. Scientists will collect data on the pair for a frenzied few days…and then what?

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29.04.10-Name a Minor Planet!

Break out those mythological encyclopedias; the Committee for Small Body Nomenclature and the International Astronomical Union wants YOU, the school age public, to name a minor planet. Tomorrow, April 30th will have been one year since the passing of Venetia Burney Phair. At age 11, Miss Burney had the opportunity to suggest a name for the ever-controversial planet Pluto. Fans of this site will remember that she was also the subject of the outstanding documentary film Naming Pluto by director Ginita Jimenez.  Saturday, May 1st will also be the 80th Anniversary of the official adoption of the name Pluto.  Tomorrow, Friday April 30th 2010, a competition entitled Naming X will open to give school children the chance to duplicate Venetia Burney’s feat. Recognition will be first come, first credited, so don’t delay! Also, keep in mind that this is about the children; no bloggers (as jealous as we are!) can crash this party. Categories are detailed on the site for groups and individuals from elementary school age on up, with prizes that would make any astronomy fan blush. The judging panel includes notables such as Astroguyz former next door neighbor David Levy (I heard he’s discovered a comet or two), Professor Ian Morison, and Dr. Marc Buie. Now would be a perfect chance to get the kids excited about Kuiper Belt and Trans-Neptunian Objects, and maybe the whole celestial object naming business.

…And kids, don’t forget to take a few pointers from Venetia and how she accomplished her proposal; the name Pluto was selected from Roman mythology and fit well with the tradition of naming solar system objects. Resist the urge to submit the names of pets, favorite cartoon characters, and the like. And don’t forget, you have a tool that at your cyber-disposal that young Venetia didn’t have, the Internet. Not only will this allow you to scour the respective mythological pantheons, but will also give you the ability to check possible names for originality in astronomical use. Just think, Astroguyz has given you the edge already…beyond that, the rest is up to you. Astroguyz will be following to see what original ideas you come up with. Further instructions are on the site. Names are not to be longer than 16 characters, easily pronounceable, and to be accompanied by a brief justification of not more than 25 words. May the best student and/or group win!

20.04.10: Hubble Smashes KBO record.

The Hubble Space Telescope has shattered yet another record; the smallest Kuiper Belt Object yet recorded. But the discovery came not from the telescope’s main optical array, but an unlikely source; its Fine Guidance Sensors. These star trackers point the HST and sample target stars 40 times a second. Using an innovative technique, a team led by Hike Schlichting sifted through 4.5 years of data to find a single 0.3 second in duration event. This is estimated to be a tiny KBO inclined about 14° degrees to the solar ecliptic. At an estimated 975 meters across and 6.8 billion kilometers distant, this object stands as the tiniest distant object ever detected. The Kuiper belt is a ring of icy material extending just beyond the orbit of Neptune out to about 55 astronomical units. At an estimated +35 magnitude in brightness, this icy body is far too small for even Hubble to see. The object was inferred indirectly by what’s known as a stellar occultation. This discovery also highlights the utility of pouring over the backlog of astronomical data generated by such platforms as Hubble. What other discoveries lay hidden it that thar’ data?