The buzz from NASA and the New Horizon spacecraft finally reaching Pluto goes well beyond the 10 year mission from Earth. This dwarf planet has warmed many hearts despite being a mystery of the farthest object in our solar system, at least that many of us grew up believing. The magnitude of the mission just behaving as expected is a tribute to the engineering prowess of the smartest minds to the long history of human exploration. With that said, let’s get to the good stuff like the latest photos.
Keep in mind that Pluto is about 1/6 the size of Earth. The importance of this relates to the latest discover of a mountain range in that heart shaped crater. Some of the peaks reach 11,000 Ft above the surface. If the equivalent was on Earth, it would be 66,000 Ft above our surface. That is more than twice the size of Mount Everest. Still the prize for the tallest peak in our solar system is held by Olympus Mons on Mars which stands 16 miles high, or 88,600 Ft. Just for fun comparison, if Mauna Kea in Hawaii was considered from the ocean floor, it would stand 33,465 Ft.
But this icy peak is not only a refreshing idea in the middle of summer, but may lead to a new idea of geology for the solar system. Pluto is comprised of mostly methane and nitrogen, but the chemical structure could not support such a tall structure. So it is believed that water ice must be a primary feature.
Since the planet is so cold and water ice is like rock, another process must have created the mountains, leading to other ideas for the geology of Pluto, and perhaps other planets as well.
Youthful With A Heart
The heart shaped crater region was all the buzz before the approach of Pluto from New Horizons. A shame this was July 14 and Not February 14. Also, with all this reference to Pluto being Mickey’s dog, you would think Disney would find a way to market Queen Elsa in this ‘Frozen’ land.
The age of the mountains is estimated at 100 million years old. Compared to the age of our solar system at 4.6 billion years, this is rather recent. That timing puts it in line with when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The middle of the Jurassic Period. If only they had made giant telescopes, huh?
The expression age before beauty might apply to the order of celestial flybys. The surface of Pluto at the base of these mountains appear to be surprisingly void of craters. They exist, but with less concentration than expected. This also leads to the notion that whatever is forming those mountains is still active. Perhaps it is this planet’s ring of fire.
More to come
Given the data rate speed slower than a cable modem, plus the nearly 4 billion mile distance, it can take 4 hours for the signal to arrive, plus 42 minutes to download one image to Earth. Plus the data session via satellite is roughly 8 hours long. So there is a lot more information and images on the way.
- Discovered in 1930
- Reclassified a ‘dwarf planet’ in 2006
- Namesake for Mickey Mouse’s dog, which was created in 1930 by Walt Disney
- 40 times the distance form the sun as Earth
- Roughly 4 billion miles from Earth
- Diameter is 1,400 miles. About the distance from Baltimore to Denver.
- Known to have 5 moons
- Kuiper Belt- Located in the same region where many object including Haley’s Comet come from.
- Believed to be made up mostly of water ice (as opposed to dry ice/carbon dioxide)
- The NASA probe launched on January 19, 2006 was the first to be sent out in search of Pluto.
- The Applied Physics Lab (APL) manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. They designed, built, and operates the craft.
- As of today, the mission is 3373 days into it’s journey.
- The 3 billion (with a ‘b’) mile journey made its closest approach on July 14, 2015.
- Closest distance was 7,800 miles form the surface while traveling at 31,000 mph.
- The mission will use various cameras to examine the surface and atmosphere of the tiny planet. Yes, there is weather on all planets and one of my college professors, Mark Wysocki, was one of the scientists that studies them.
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Video: New Horizons Mission
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