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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)

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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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New Horizons: Exploring Pluto and Beyond (Elizabeth Howell, Space.com)
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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.

  • How icy outer solar system satellites may have...
    on June 25, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    Beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune, there are a multitude of icy and rocky small bodies, smaller than planets but larger than comets. These likely formed at the same time as the Solar System, and understanding their origin could provide important clues as to how the entire Solar System originated. Using sophisticated computer simulations and observations of TNOs, astronomers have shown how these so-called trans-Neptunian Objects (or TNOs) may have formed.

  • Neptune's moon Triton fosters rare icy union
    on May 22, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Astronomers using the Gemini Observatory explore Neptune's largest moon Triton and observe, for the first time beyond the lab, an extraordinary union between carbon monoxide and nitrogen ices. The discovery offers insights into how this volatile mixture can transport material across the moon's surface via geysers, trigger seasonal atmospheric changes, and provide a context for conditions on other distant, icy worlds.

  • Gas insulation could be protecting an ocean...
    on May 20, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Computer simulations provide compelling evidence that an insulating layer of gas hydrates could keep a subsurface ocean from freezing beneath Pluto's icy exterior.

  • Crater counts on Pluto, Charon show small Kuiper...
    on February 28, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    Using New Horizons data from the Pluto-Charon flyby in 2015, scientists have indirectly discovered a distinct and surprising lack of very small objects in the Kuiper Belt. The evidence for the paucity of small Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) comes from New Horizons imaging that revealed a dearth of small craters on Pluto's largest satellite, Charon, indicating that impactors from 300 feet to 1 mile (91 meters to 1.6 km) in diameter must also be rare.

  • Missing-link in planet evolution found
    on January 28, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    For the first time ever, astronomers have detected a 1.3 km radius body at the edge of the Solar System. Kilometer sized bodies like the one discovered have been predicted to exist for more than 70 years. These objects acted as an important step in the planet formation process between small initial amalgamations of dust and ice and the planets we see today.


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.

  • KATRIN cuts the mass estimate for the elusive...
    on September 16, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    An international team of scientists has announced a breakthrough in its quest to measure the mass of the neutrino, one of the most abundant, yet elusive, elementary particles in our universe.

  • ALMA dives into black hole's 'sphere of influence'
    on August 7, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    What happens inside a black hole stays inside a black hole, but what happens inside a black hole's "sphere of influence"—the innermost region of a galaxy where a black hole's gravity is the dominant force—is of intense interest to astronomers and can help determine the mass of a black hole as well as its impact on its galactic neighborhood.

  • The uncertainty of detecting planets
    on August 2, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Uncertainty in science is a good thing. Because here's how the scientific model works: you observe a phenomenon, then form a hypothesis about why that phenomenon is taking place, then test the hypothesis, which leads you to develop a new hypothesis, and so on. That process means it can be difficult to ever definitely know something. Instead, scientists work to understand the uncertainty in their measurements, their models, their conclusions.

  • 'Unprecedented' discovery of unique infrared...
    on July 30, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Triton orbits Neptune, the eighth planet from the Sun, some 2.7 billion miles from Earth—at the cold outer fringe of the Solar System's major planet zone. Surface temperatures hover near absolute zero, so low that common compounds we know as gases on Earth freeze into ices. Triton's atmosphere, which is 70,000 times less dense than Earth's, is composed of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide.

  • Image: Ahuna Mons on Ceres
    on July 29, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    This image, based on observations from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, shows the largest mountain on the dwarf planet Ceres.


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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