I’ve written about this a couple of times before and put up polls here on Lights in the Dark, but now it’s actually semi-official: you can vote on the names for Pluto’s newest moons!
(Looks like they may have taken some of our earlier suggestions too!)
Since we’re all in the democratic mood here today in the U.S., how about another chance to put your vote in on something: names for Pluto’s newest moons!
Real planet, dwarf planet, KBO… who cares? What matters here is that astronomers from NASA, NOAO and the Gemini Observatory have created the sharpest image of Pluto ever made with ground-based observations — and developed a new way to verify potential Earth-like exoplanets at the same time. Not too shabby, I’d say.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the first Kuiper Belt Object, 1992QB1. Called KBOs for short, these are distant and mostly tiny worlds made up of ice and rock that orbit the Sun at incredible distances, yet are still very much members of our Solar System. Since 1992 over 1,300 KBOs have been found, and with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft speeding along to its July 2015 rendezvous with Pluto and Charon (which one could reasonably argue are technically the first KBOs ever found) and then onwards into the Belt, we will soon know much more about these far-flung denizens of deep space. But how has the discovery of the Kuiper Belt — first proposed by Gerard Kuiper in 1951 — changed our understanding of the Solar System?
It’s a dwarf planet with a giant family! Astronomers working with the Hubble Space Telescope have announced a new moon around distant Pluto, bringing the known count up to 5. The image above, just released by NASA, shows the Pluto system with its newest member, P5.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is currently speeding through the outer solar system toward its July 2015 date with Pluto, when it will take a good close look at the dwarf planet’s mysterious surface, atmosphere, moons, and… rings?
Less than three-quarters the size of our moon, Pluto nevertheless has no shortage of fascinating features. It has a curiously mottled coloration that seems to change with its seasons, an atmosphere that expands and falls back onto its surface, a system of four moons in orbit around it — the most recent of which, currently called “P4″, was announced just last summer — and, according to Planetary Science Institute senior scientist Henry Throop, possibly even a system of rings.
Hey, at this point… why not?
My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine…… um… Nine…………. Just Served Us Nachos?
Like it or not, everyone’s favorite far-flung world Pluto is no longer considered a full-fledged planet, at least not in the International Astronomical Union’s book. It’s now a dwarf planet, sharing its status with other icy worlds beyond the orbit of Neptune (as well as an overgrown asteroid called Ceres.) But why was Pluto demoted in the first place? What prompted the astronomy community to scrutinize Pluto’s credentials, and make a decision that upset millions of people worldwide (not to mention more than a few grade-school classes)?
Personally, I’m ok with it either way. Regardless of what we call it Pluto is still a fascinating world deserving of our investigation. And if anything, it’s gotten it even more attention over the past several years than it ever got since its discovery! Not bad for a chilly little planet – er, dwarf planet – over 5 billion km away.