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Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart (The New York Times)

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  • Get Lost in Space! (9/14/2018) - Way back in August, in anticipation of the start of a new school year, I set out to update the pages on this site related to space. Those pages tend to be popular among the teachers and students who use Cosma, and I happen to enjoy updating them, too. It sounded like a short, fun … Continue reading Get Lost in Space!

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Solar System Exploration: Pluto (NASA)
New Horizons: Exploring Pluto and Beyond (Elizabeth Howell, Space.com)
New Horizons: NASA’s Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission (Official Site, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)
New Horizons Mission (NASA)

Dictionary

Pluto : a dwarf planet occupying an orbit that crosses the orbit of Neptune — in 2006 the International Astronomical Union defined planet in such a way as to exclude Pluto, reclassifying it instead as a dwarf planet. Although discussion of the matter continues, the change has been widely accepted — Webster

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Pluto is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, a ring of bodies beyond Neptune. It was the first Kuiper belt object to be discovered.

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and was originally considered to be the ninth planet from the Sun. After 1992, its planethood was questioned following the discovery of several objects of similar size in the Kuiper belt. In 2005, Eris, which is 27% more massive than Pluto, was discovered. This led the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define the term “planet” formally in 2006, during their 26th General Assembly. That definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a dwarf planet.

Pluto is the largest and second-most-massive known dwarf planet in the Solar System and the ninth-largest and tenth-most-massive known object directly orbiting the Sun. It is the largest known trans-Neptunian object by volume but is less massive than Eris, a dwarf planet in the scattered disc. Like other Kuiper belt objects, Pluto is primarily made of ice and rock and is relatively small—about one-sixth the mass of the Moon and one-third its volume. It has a moderately eccentric and inclined orbit during which it ranges from 30 to 49 astronomical units or AU (4.4–7.4 billion km) from the Sun. This means that Pluto periodically comes closer to the Sun than Neptune, but a stable orbital resonance with Neptune prevents them from colliding.

Pluto has five known moons: Charon (the largest, with a diameter just over half that of Pluto), Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are sometimes considered a binary system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body. The IAU has not formalized a definition for binary dwarf planets, and Charon is officially classified as a moon of Pluto. — Wikipedia

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Pluto News -- ScienceDaily Dwarf Planet Pluto News. See images and read science articles on Pluto, Eris and other Kuiper Belt objects.

  • Scientists confirm decrease in Pluto’s...
    on October 4, 2021 at 6:02 pm

    When Pluto passed in front of a star on the night of August 15, 2018, astronomers deployed telescopes at numerous sites in the U.S. and Mexico to observe Pluto's atmosphere as it was briefly backlit by the well-placed star. Scientists used this occultation event to measure the overall abundance of Pluto's tenuous atmosphere and found compelling evidence that it is beginning to disappear, refreezing back onto its surface as it moves farther away from the Sun.

  • Testing the waters: Analyzing different solid...
    on January 19, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Scientists develop theoretical models to predict the presence of clathrate hydrates outside Earth, shedding light on the evolution of other atmospheres.

  • Where were Jupiter and Saturn born?
    on October 29, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    New work reveals the likely original locations of Saturn and Jupiter. These findings refine our understanding of the forces that determined our Solar System's unusual architecture, including the ejection of an additional planet between Saturn and Uranus, ensuring that only small, rocky planets, like Earth, formed inward of Jupiter.

  • The mountains of Pluto are snowcapped, but not...
    on October 13, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    In 2015, the New Horizons space probe discovered spectacular snowcapped mountains on Pluto, which are strikingly similar to mountains on Earth. Such a landscape had never before been observed elsewhere in the Solar System. Scientists determined that the methane snow could only appear at the peaks of Pluto's mountains high enough to reach this enriched zone that the air contains enough methane for it to condense.

  • Evidence supports 'hot start' scenario and early...
    on June 22, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    A new study suggests that Pluto and other large Kuiper belt objects started out with liquid oceans which have been slowly freezing over time.


Phys.org - latest science and technology news stories Phys.org internet news portal provides the latest news on science including: Physics, Nanotechnology, Life Sciences, Space Science, Earth Science, Environment, Health and Medicine.

  • The orbital flatness of planetary systems
    on October 18, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    The planets of the solar system all orbit the Sun more-or-less in a plane. Compared to the Earth's orbit, which defines the plane at zero degrees, the orbit with the largest angle is Mercury's whose inclination is 7 degrees (the angle of the orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto is 17. 2 degrees). The orbital characteristics of planets evolve as the protoplanetary disk of gas and dust dissipates, and as the young planets themselves migrate in the disk in response to their mutual gravitational […]

  • The biggest comet ever seen will get as close as...
    on October 15, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    A mega-comet—potentially the largest ever discovered—is heading from the Oort Cloud towards our direction. Estimated to be 100–200 kilometers across, the unusual celestial wanderer will make its closest approach to the Sun in 2031. However, the closest it will come to Earth is to the orbit of Saturn.

  • NASA's Lucy mission: A journey to the young solar...
    on October 7, 2021 at 11:26 am

    NASA's Lucy spacecraft will launch in October 2021 on a 12-year journey to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids. The Lucy mission will include three Earth gravity assists and visits to eight asteroids.

  • Scientists confirm decrease in Pluto's...
    on October 4, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    When Pluto passed in front of a star on the night of August 15, 2018, a Southwest Research Institute-led team of astronomers had deployed telescopes at numerous sites in the U.S. and Mexico to observe Pluto's atmosphere as it was briefly backlit by the well-placed star. Scientists used this occultation event to measure the overall abundance of Pluto's tenuous atmosphere and found compelling evidence that it is beginning to disappear, refreezing back onto its surface as it moves farther away […]

  • Using dunes to interpret wind on Mars
    on September 30, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    Dunes develop when wind-blown sand organizes into patterns, most often in deserts and arid or semi-arid parts of the world. Every continent on Earth has dune fields, but dunes and dune-like sand patterns are also found across the solar system: On Mars, Venus, Titan, Comet 67P, and Pluto. On Earth, weather stations measure the wind speed and direction, allowing us to predict and understand airflow in the atmosphere.


Pluto New Horizons News and images from the Pluto New Horizons team

  • The PI’s Perspective: On Final Approach to...
    by Bill Keeter on December 20, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    The New Horizons spacecraft is healthy and on final approach to explore Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt. On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, New Horizons will swoop three times closer to “Ultima” than we flew past Pluto! On Saturday, Dec. 15, the New Horizons hazard watch team concluded its work, having found …

  • The PI’s Perspective: Share the News—The...
    by ptalbert on November 27, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    The New Horizons spacecraft is healthy and is now beginning its final approach to explore Ultima Thule — our first Kuiper Belt object (KBO) flyby target — about a billion miles beyond Pluto. And on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, New Horizons will swoop three times closer to “Ultima” than we flew past …

  • The PI’s Perspective: Why Didn’t Voyager...
    by ptalbert on February 28, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    New Horizons is in good health and cruising closer each day to our next encounter, an end-of-the-year flyby of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 (or “MU69” for short). Currently, the spacecraft is hibernating while the mission team plans the MU69 flyby. During hibernation, three of the instruments on New Horizons—SWAP, PEPSSI and SDC—collect …

  • The PI’s Perspective: Wrapping up 2017 En Route...
    by ptalbert on December 6, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    New Horizons is in good health and cruising closer each day to its next encounter: a flyby of the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 (or “MU69” for short). If you follow our mission, you likely know that flyby will occur on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2019, which is just barely over …

  • No Sleeping Back on Earth!
    by ptalbert on April 28, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Today’s blog is from Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado—principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission. Three weeks ago we put our New Horizons spacecraft into hibernation mode, the first time we’d done that since late 2014, before the Pluto flyby. By coincidence, that same day – April 7—was also the …


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New Horizons News Releases Feed New Horizons News Center Archives

  • Using "Charon-light," Researchers Capture...
    by Mike.Buckley@jhuapl.edu (M. Buckley) on October 27, 2021 at 7:00 pm

    NASA's New Horizons spacecraft made history by returning the first close-up images of Pluto and its moons. Now, through a series of clever methods, researchers led by Tod Lauer of the National Science Foundation's National Optical Infrared Astronomy Research Lab in Tucson, Arizona, on the New Horizons team have expanded that photo album to include the portion of Pluto's landscape that wasn't directly illuminated by sunlight — what the team calls Pluto's "dark side."

  • Pluto Landmarks Named for Aviation Pioneers Sally...
    by Mike.Buckley@jhuapl.edu (M. Buckley) on October 25, 2021 at 7:00 pm

    More than 60 years after Bessie Coleman broke the bonds of terra firma to become the first African American woman and Native American to earn a pilot’s license, Sally Ride blasted off aboard shuttle Challenger to become the first American woman in space. The lives and accomplishments of both women aviation pioneers have now been honored with the naming of landmarks on Pluto.

  • The PI's Perspective: Keeping Our Eyes on New...
    by Mike.Buckley@jhuapl.edu (M. Buckley) on October 10, 2021 at 5:17 am

    Principal New Horizons remains healthy and continues to send valuable data from deep in the Kuiper Belt. Principal Investigator Alan Stern provides an update on the latest mission activities.

  • Great Exploration Revisited: New Horizons at...
    by Mike.Buckley@jhuapl.edu (M. Buckley) on July 14, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    New simulated flights over Pluto and Charon include some of the sharpest images and topographic data that New Horizons gathered during its historic flyby on July 14, 2015.

  • After 60 Years, Nuclear Power for Spaceflight is...
    by NASA on June 29, 2021 at 6:00 pm

    Six decades after the launch of the first nuclear-powered space mission, NASA is embarking on a bold future of human exploration and scientific discovery. This future builds on a proud history of safely launching and operating nuclear-powered missions in space, like New Horizons.