Monday 27 July 2015

Pluto on the Horizon

NASA completed a historic mission of New Horizons to the Pluto system this month, which consisted of exploring Pluto and its moon's; Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra. To get this mission approved it took around 14 years spanning from 1989 to 2003. 

Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930 at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. In Tombaugh's time one could only determine Pluto's orbit and color. Pluto's orbit is 284 Earth years and is very elliptical. At perihelion, Pluto is closer to the Sun than Neptune. Pluto's orbit is locked in a 3:2 ratio with that of Neptune's.

In 1978, Christy & Harrington discovered Charon, Pluto's largest moon.  Pluto and Charon have a rocky core which is encapsulated with water ice mantle. They both are also tidally locked, each having a hemisphere that faces the other. 

Not much detail is known about Pluto, but the New Horizon's mission should shed more light in the coming months. Currently around 90% of the data is still aboard the space craft and yet to be transmitted back to NASA communications back on Earth.

Pluto's surface is an icy mix of frozen water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. Pluto also has a very thin atmosphere which holds gasses that freeze when Pluto is further away from the Sun, but when it is closer these gasses heat up.

The Changing Faces of Pluto
First look at Pluto by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Pluto and Charon are perhaps a product of an impact between Kuiper belt objects. Both at one time were thought to be close a double planet system.
Pluto has many interesting features with the dark and light patches in the south mainly consisting of large icy solids.
Pluto is at a distance of 5.9 billion kilometers and has a temperature of -229 °C.

Amazing features with alot of details can been seen from this image. The ice glaciers would perhaps flow similar to those on Earth.

Icy mountain ranges of Pluto stretch for hundreds of kilometers.

Pluto and Charon from final approach of New Horizon's.

Size of Pluto and Charon compared with Earth.

Pluto has a diameter of 2372 km according to recent measurements taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. When we compare this with Earth's 12,742 km, we get an idea of how tiny Pluto really is. Pluto maintains a surface gravity of just 0.063g, while Earth's is 1g.

A spectacular view of Pluto with the Sun's light creating  a halo.

Image of Pluto from New Horizon as it made its approach through the years.

Pluto comparison with other moons and Planets.

Simulation view of Nix
Nix is a satellite of Pluto which was discovered in 2005 by the Hubble Space Telescope. New Horizons measured Nix to be 32 Kilometers in diameter.

Simulation view of Kerberos with Pluto and Charon in view.
 Kerberos is another small moon which orbits Pluto.
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Until next time goodbye for now.

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