Sunday, July 12, 2015

History in the making

Tuesday, July 14th. Mark that day down. New Horizons is going to come within 12,500 km. of Pluto. That's like hitting a hole in one if the golf course was in California and starting tee is in Australia. Even that analogy doesn't come close because the distance is much farther. The craft is traveling 14 kilometers a second so it won't be able to enter orbit around Pluto. The best we can do is a flyby, taking as many pictures as we can along the way.
Here's some of the images our robot messenger has gathered so far. 
Well it's official. We now have portraits of all the classical planets in the solar system. In the last few years the debate arose, and justifiably so, that perhaps Pluto didn't qualify as a planet. Now that we're getting more than a blurry image of a dot, the question came up again. It is spherical, it's in orbit around our sun. (A highly unusual orbit, but an orbit nonetheless.) One could make the argument that it has cleared out the debris in it's orbital plane.
We've also determined that Pluto has a thin, but detectable atmosphere.
While I think the definition of what constitutes a planet should be loosened, I'm not sure Pluto qualifies. Right now I reserve the right to change my mind later in the week. Make no mistake: I want it to be a planet of our system. Those five moons, perhaps all tidally locked to the largest chunk of stone out there should come together to form a larger whole, but I'm not in charge of that.
Charon, while technically Pluto's moon, is such an influence that they orbit each other. Mass and gravity play a part in this celestial dance and it would seem that a nudge from an outside force would send them careening into one another. With a gravity 0.066 of Earth a 190 lb. person would weigh roughly 12.5 pounds. I freely admit I could be wrong about the math because the information available is changing as you read this. Up to this point we only had a rough idea of the size, composition and mass of that chunk of rock that's smaller than our own moon. Simply put: what we have is an estimate. A best guess. Even the first pictures that have been sent have forced the scientific community to reevaluate our tiny guard at the edge of nowhere. 
No, I do not have planet envy. Rather, I feel the Pluto system is lonely and isolated from it's celestial brothers. The red haired bastard child of the solar system should be welcomed by it's larger eight brothers. 
Personally, I'd love to see New Horizons snap a picture of a pyramid or tower on the surface of Pluto. It would drive the conspiracy theorists crazy and sci-fi writers would have a field day.

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