Sunday, December 7, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

In two weeks the whole family will be together. My intrepid adventurer will be home from Colorado for Christmas break. To that end we are getting ready for her arrival, both on the outside.

And inside was well

Be that as it may, I have to get busy wrapping presents and I spent the morning doing this.

It may not look like much  now, but over the next month that is going to change color and appearance. Yes, I can see where I'm going to start giving bottles of mead out as presents. Note to self: make some labels.

In other news, the New Horizons spacecraft is coming out of hibernation as it approaches Pluto. Brush off your science books, they are about to be rewritten. This is the fun stuff for me. As our knowledge of the universe around us increases, so our understanding changes. Now here's the interesting part. Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet years ago, like Ceres and Vesta. When we launched New Horizons nine years ago, we had just figured out Pluto had a moon. In 2005, 2011, and 2015 we discovered the other moons. Talk about changing your flight plan. As fantastic as discovering five moons can be, another couple of problems unfolded. Charon, Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos have enough mass to effect Pluto. In fact the current theory talked about is Charon and Pluto are tidally locked to each other. Here's a page where they are counting down to the closest approach to Pluto.
Here's the second problem. New Horizons is going fast. How fast?
Try 58,536 km per hour. And it still took a little over nine years to get out there. Pretty impressive, huh? Except it can't slow down. It will be taking pictures and recording information as much as it can, but the actual time in the Pluto system will be about two hours. If all goes well, it will use Pluto's gravity to help point it toward one or two objects in the Kuiper belt. Proto planets, if you will. Don't worry, they were only discovered last year.
Things are so far away, we are only beginning to discover them. Scientists are also getting better at figuring out orbits. The link to Sedna I provided above indicates it would take 10,000 years to  go around the sun. There are other indicators that are making the scientific community scratch their collective heads.
The math doesn't add up.
Sedna's orbit and rotation would indicate it had a moon, but so far they haven't seen it. When a planetary body behaves oddly, an outside force is typically suspected. That's how they found Neptune and Pluto. Uranus was behaving oddly. Scientists in the late 19th century had plotted the orbits for Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. The only problem was Uranus wasn't where it was supposed to be. The math was correct, but nevertheless, Uranus failed to be where it should have been. An outside force must be acting on what was then considered to be the last planet in the solar system. Using the information available, scientists theorized an unknown planet would be in such and such a general area, and they did eventually discover Neptune, but it wasn't behaving properly either. It seems Newtonian law is a bit on the thin side at the edge of the solar system.
Actually Newton's laws worked, but the Sun's pull was reduced and influenced by the planetary bodies exerting their own dance of gravity. It took several teams of scientists on two continents looking through photographic plates in the beginning of the 20th century. At first they didn't recognize what they were seeing, but Pluto was eventually discovered in 1930. Now flash forward to the dawn of the 21st century where we are discovering satellites around the not-quite-a-planet. And we are discovering more.
The universe is a lot stranger than we think.

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