Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pluto Pictures

The New Horizons spacecraft has been sending wonderful pictures of Pluto after having arrived at the celestial body formerly known as the ninth planet, concluding a decade-long journey.
The probe found mountains of water ice with craterless plains, the plains pockmarked by troughs and, possibly, pits caused by erosion, or maybe a convection of carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen ices just below the surface.
Special attention has been focused on the heart-shaped area on the dwarf planet's southern hemisphere, which features a vast plain stretching for twelve miles.  Many of the troughs referred to above were found here, as were several hills.
Noticeably absent were any signs of impact craters from meteors, suggesting that the surfaces are only a hundred million years old . . . which would be very recent for the solar system, just 100 million years, or so.
Our perceptions of Pluto are definitely changing as a result of New Horizons missions, with pictures of the Kuiper Belt, where Pluto resides, still to come.  What won't change is Pluto's "dwarf planet" status; despite suggestions that Pluto's former status as a full-fledged planet, rescinded in 2006, be restored, not too many astronomers are cool with that suggestion.  Nevertheless, what we are learning about Pluto and its neighborhood in the vast reaches of space are helping us to understand the solar system in general, as Dr. Stephen Hawking explained:
"The revelations of New Horizons may help us to understand better how our solar system was formed.  We explore because we are human, and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey."

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