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Vesta & Ceres, Pluto : Dwarf planets, asteroids, or Stranger still ?

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Pluto looms larger as scientists anticipate images from NASA probe


LAUREL, MD. — The Globe and Mail


Monday, Jul. 13, 2015

If all goes according to plan, by Tuesday at 8 a.m. Eastern Time, the best images of Pluto ever taken will be sitting safely in the computer memory of the fastest moving spacecraft in history as it heads out of the solar system.

But no one will know until Tuesday night whether those images exist or whether NASA’s New Horizons probe even survived barrelling past Pluto at 50,000 kilometres per hour. At such a breakneck velocity, a drifting speck of grit the size of a grain of sand could easily prove fatal to the two-metre-wide spacecraft if it’s hit in the wrong place.

pluto-surface-craters-star-trek.jpg?1372 : more

Mission scientists say the chances of such a strike are less than one in 10,000.

“It’s a measured risk,” said principal investigator Alan Stern during a news briefing Monday at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., where the mission is based.

Even so, those favourable odds have not diminished the note of anxiety mixed in with the anticipation as researchers await their first post-encounter contact with New Horizons, scheduled for 8:53 p.m. on Tuesday.

That crucial link will last only about 15 minutes, not long enough to download any science data, but it will at least allow scientists to assess how much data is there. The spacecraft will then orient itself back toward Pluto to acquire more images and measurements as it rapidly recedes from Pluto and its moons, taking advantage of what many here are calling a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the solar system’s most enigmatic world.

“There’s no dress rehearsal,’ said Ralph McNutt, a NASA scientist and co-investigator on the mission. “You know you’re going to do this once and you’ve got to do it right.”

. . .

On Monday, with the closest approach still to come, scientists were poring over images of Pluto and its large moon Charon that were taken over the weekend.

The images show the northern region of Pluto covered in a bright, frosty polar cap and other measurements have confirmed the presence of frozen nitrogen and methane there. With a surface temperature of less than -220 C, it’s not a surprise to see some of the gases that make up Pluto’s thin atmosphere freezing out near the poles.

Pluto also has a zone of darker-looking material around its equator and there are signs of what could be circular crater rims and cliffs there.

Both Pluto and Charon are “very interesting and very different worlds,” said deputy project scientist Kimberly Ennico Smith.

Charon features a prominent dark splotch at its north pole, causing some researchers to speculate that the dark material may somehow be drifting from Pluto and sputtering onto its moon, about 12,500 kilometres away. New Horizons will pass that same distance from Pluto and about twice as far from Charon at closest approach. The spacecraft carries a spectrometer that should help scientists identify the nature of the dark features on both worlds and better pin down their origins.


> more: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/nasas-new-horizons-probe-set-for-long-awaited-encounter-with-pluto/article25487167/

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The new symbol of Valentines Day? ... Or a fascinating former planet?



The Heart-shaped area is called Tombaugh Reggio, after the discoverer of Pluto

(Clyde Tombaugh):

Tombaugh died on January 17, 1997, when he was in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at the age of 90. A small portion of his ashes was placed aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. The container includes the inscription: "Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system's 'third zone'.

All it took was one vote in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union, and Pluto was no longer a planet. Depending on who you ask, this was either a long time coming or a declaration of war.

Nine years later, as New Horizons becomes the first spacecraft to fly past Pluto, the wounds are still fresh. But look: It doesn't matter whether you call Pluto the p-word or not. It's becoming increasingly clear that this is a fascinating world with fascinating neighbors in a strange faraway part of the solar system that deserves more of our attention.

Up until 1992, we didn't know if there was anything beyond Pluto. It was a just very small world, smaller than our own moon, occupying an oddball place in our solar system pantheon thanks to its weird orbit and strange icy composition. Now, thanks to a decade of studies of Pluto's region and New Horizon's gradual approach, we know that the Kuiper Belt where Pluto resides is home to other strange worlds that could blow our minds, whether they're "planets" or not.

. . .

We get hung up on the term "planet." But even the eight that remain in the canon are not alike. Jupiter and Saturn are compositionally similar—big balls of hydrogen and helium that make them gas giants. Uranus and Neptune appear to have large concentrations of hot "ices," compressed gasses in hot solid states that gives them the classification of an ice giant. Then there are the four terrestrial planets, which are ultimately not so dissimilar in nature.

The same is true for the asteroids in the asteroid belts and the objects in the Kuiper Belt, respectively. The composition of the Kuiper Belt Objects seems to point to a common origin, around the formation of the solar system. Each is a bit of debris from that time, in varying scales. Some very big, some very small, but all very ancient.


Dwarf planet, then, is just another category. A word to describe space objects that look and act in a similar way. While only five are recognized currently, Mike Brown keeps a running tally of other candidates on his site. (Note: his group includes only trans-Neptunian objects, though some debate exists over adding the asteroid Vesta to the overall IAU list.) By his mark, there are 10 objects of "near certainty." Another 13 objects are "highly likely" to be dwarf planets, and 25 more listed as "likely." That's up to 48 dwarf planets—86 if we stretch it to Brown's rank of "probably."

. . .

> more: http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a16425/why-it-doesnt-matter-if-pluto-is-a-planet/

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Pluto is bigger than we thought

New Horizons mission scientists have found Pluto to be 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers) in diameter, somewhat larger than many prior estimates. Images acquired with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were used to make this determination.

This result confirms what was already suspected: Pluto is larger than all other known solar system objects beyond the orbit of Neptune.

“The size of Pluto has been debated since its discovery in 1930. We are excited to finally lay this question to rest,” said mission scientist Bill McKinnon.

Measuring Pluto’s size has been a decades-long challenge due to complicating factors from its atmosphere.

One of the reasons why Pluto became a 'dwarf' planet is because of its size. Those who feel the new measurements should force a rethink on its status, hear this: even with a 2,370 km diameter it is only half the size of the smallest planet, Mercury.

> http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pluto-nasa-new-horizons-analysis/article1-1369293.aspx

Pluto is so far from the sun - between 2.8 billion and 4.6 billion miles - that twilight reigns. At high noon on that planet, it looks as though it would be dawn or dusk on Earth.

Photo: NASA website

It takes about 5.5 hours for sunlight to reach Pluto at its average distance. Compare that with the time sunlight takes to reach Earth: 8 minutes, 20 secs

New Horizons took a tiring 9 1/2 years to cover the three billion miles to that planet. And that spacecraft travels at about 31,000 mph.

> http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pluto-nasa-new-horizons-analysis/article1-1369293.aspx

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BBC News - ‎55 minutes ago‎
Pluto has mountains made of ice that are as high as those in the Rockies, images from the New Horizons probe have revealed.
They also show signs of geological activity on Pluto and its moon Charon.
A new close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveals a surprise: a range of youthful mountains. Photograph: nasa/Corbis

We’re going to close our live coverage of the New Horizons mission to Pluto with a quick summary of Nasa’s most recent revelations from the edge of our solar system.

  • The first ever close-up of Pluto’s surface shows a young and icy mountain range that ascends 11,000ft, evidence of water ice and, mysteriously, no impact craters so far. Lead scientist Alan Stern said that the images so far show a surprising diversity of activity on Pluto. “I don’t think any of us could’ve imagined that it was this good a toy store,” he said.
  • The first high resolution image of Charon, the dwarf planet’s largest moon and orbital partner, also revealed an active and puzzling world, with cliffs that run for hundreds of miles across and canyons four to six miles deep.
  • The early data already sends many ideas about planetary activity back to the drawing board. Radioactive heat, an internal ocean or energy stored during formation may all be causes for the activity on these small, distant worlds, the scientists said. “There’s something very different about Plutonian geology,” said researcher John Spencer. “Pluto has so much diversity,” Cathy Olkin added. “There’s nothing like it.”
  • Stern, Spencer, Olkin and nearly everyone at the Nasa briefing expressed elation and pleasant surprise at the data so far. Stern said that his 20-year-old prediction that Pluto would be “something wonderful” had borne out, and Olkin said: “This exceeds what we came for.”
  • New Horizons, now more than a million miles past Pluto and voyaging out into the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our solar system, will continue to transmit data about Pluto, Charon and more for the next 16 months. Stern and his cohorts will host their next briefing on Friday to present new images and data.

> http://www.theguardian.com/science/live/2015/jul/15/nasa-pluto-new-horizon-photos-discoveries


A one hour press conference


Seeing Pluto in a New Light

Published on 15 Jul 2015

NASA officials and team members of the New Horizons mission to Pluto participate in a news conference featuring release of close-up images of Pluto’s surface and moons, and initial reactions from the New Horizons science team.


Hydra, a smaller moon, seems to be composed of "mostly ice" (given its brightness)

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NASA's Dawn Probe Is in a Holding Pattern at Ceres After Glitch

NBCNews.com-9 Jul 2015
NASA's Dawn probe is staying in its current orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres a bit longer than originally planned while engineers try to figure ...
. . .

Just after Dawn fired up its ion engines to begin spiraling down toward its third science orbit of Ceres on June 30, the spacecraft's protective software detected a problem of some sort, NASA said. As a result, Dawn shut off its engines and went into safe mode.

Mission team members got the probe back up and running over the next two days. Dawn is healthy and out of safe mode, but it's staying put for now.


NASA spacecraft orbiting Ceres, a dwarf planet
FOX 10 News Phoenix-15 Jul 2015
Ceres is a dwarf plant over 250 million miles away from Earth, right between Mars and Jupiter. The Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres ...

Another dwarf planet is stealing some of Pluto's thunder.

New images of Ceres were beamed back by NASA's Dawn spacecraft; they are stirring up more questions than answers.

The images show some bright spots and a pyramid-shaped structure.

Ceres is a dwarf plant over 250 million miles away from Earth, right between Mars and Jupiter. The Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres for months taking pictures and video. Some of those images show mysterious bright lights and not even NASA is sure what they are.

One image taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows a pyramid-shaped mountain standing 3 miles high! But it's another set of pictures taken of Ceres surface that really have scientists talking.

"What's being seen on Ceres right now are just some really just outright baffling bright spots that have been defying explanation until now," said Gerard Van Belle.



Gerard Van Belle is an Astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. He says that Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet. As Dawn has gotten closer to Ceres surface scientists have a better idea of what those mysterious lights might be.

"Probably salt deposits or ice deposits from lakes that evaporated or sunk into the surface," said Van Belle.

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Is This what we are looking at?



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The Mystery of Dwarf Planet Ceres' Missing Craters
Space.com-13 hours ago
HONOLULU — Planetary scientists have a new mystery to investigate: Ceres, a dwarf planet that orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter, ...
the count has come up short, said Simone Marchi, a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Images of Ceres' surface taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft have provided scientists with an initial crater count, which Marchi said is only one-tenth what models predict it should be.

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Now they found a pyramid on Ceres



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"Exquisite Desolution" on the surface of the planet Pluto


What happened here?




> source: http://thehiddenmission.com/Shine/alightthroughthedarkness.htm

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Images of Pluto and Charon continue to captivate Nasa: 'This world ...
The Guardian-6 Oct 2015
The 'snakeskin' of Pluto, a landscape of rolling and grooved mountains revealed in recent images of the planet taken by Nasa's New Horizons ...

Pluto: Images reveal huge fractures and hints of icy 'lava flows' on ...
In-Depth-The Independent-6 Oct 2015

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Pluto: The "Trantor" Planet?


Part 1 - The Other Side of Pluto


In Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy of novels Trantor is the capital planet of the Galactic Empire. Apart from the emperor's palace and pleasure gardens, the whole surface of Trantor is encased in one huge city. This city was entirely roofed over with metal, which effectively made it one planet wide arcology.


(An arcology is a single self contained habitat able to house the population of a town or city - or in the case of the fictional Trantor city, a whole planet).


Figure 1 - One artist's envisaging of the planet Trantor



As the New Horizons spacecraft approached Pluto in July 2015 it was apparent that one side of the dwarf planet was completely covered with some kind of rectilinear, maze-like pattern. Was it possible that this huge area had been artificially re-arranged? Was something similar to Asimov's Trantor City covering half the surface of Pluto?


Therefore, it was a great disappointment to learn that New Horizons would be making its closest fly-by of Pluto on the opposite side of the planet. Our next visit to Pluto could be as far away as January 2039, (see µµµ).


The poster below displays an analysis of the closest image of the "Trantor" side of Pluto. The first picture shows this image as it was published. (The original can be downloaded from here µµµ).


The second picture is a contrast enhanced and sharpened version of the first. The maze-like, rectilinear patterns can clearly be seen. What was amazing is that the pattern appeared to be a 3D one formed out of linear mountain ridges and valleys. Could such high relief exist on such a frozen little world? Was it just an optical illusion formed by different ground coloration?


When New Horizons made its closest approach the first image sent back to Earth showed the three mile high Norgay Mountains. So yes, the "Trantor" side of Pluto could be covered with a pattern of features as high as the Alps. The third, enlarged, image in the poster display certainly appears to show that the maze-like pattern is a gargantuan 3D landscape. It also looks like an out-of-focus aerial picture of some magnificent ruined city.


> http://www.cydoniaquest.com/journal_16.htm

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Pioneer News - ‎49 minutes ago‎
NASA has shared yet another backlit image of Pluto, quite similar to the one released last month, which adds yet more impressive imagery of the agency's collection as a result of the New Horizons mission.
=== ===
New Horizons spots a mysterious crater on Pluto's largest moon
What's This?
Organa Crater (green) and Skywalker Crater on Charon.

Pluto's moon Charon has an ammonia mystery.

Scientists combing through data collected during New Horizons' flyby of Pluto and its moons have found a very young crater awash in ammonia ice on the dwarf planet's largest moon Charon.

This chemical composition appears to be unique to the crater, based on what researchers have been able to find so far, and it may provide clues as to why Charon looks the way it does.

The ammonia-rich crater — informally named Organa, Princess Leia's surname in Star Wars — is close to another crater, called Skywalker (of course). While Organa and Skywalker are of a similar size and located in the same area of the moon, Skywalker is rich in water-ice, like other features on Charon, NASA said.

"Why are these two similar-looking and similar-sized craters, so near to each other, so compositionally distinct?" Will Grundy, New Horizons scientist, said in a statement.

"We have various ideas when it comes to the ammonia in Organa. The crater could be younger, or perhaps the impact that created it hit a pocket of ammonia-rich subsurface ice. Alternatively, maybe Organa’s impactor delivered its own ammonia."

Before New Horizons arrived at Pluto, scientists had detected ammonia at Charon, but the concentrations of the molecule that New Horizons found are unprecedented, according to NASA.




Ever since New Horizons beamed back images of Pluto and Charon in July, scientists have wondered why the two worlds look to have been geologically active in the recent past. This kind of geological variation — from Pluto's ice mountains, to Charon's relatively young surface — wasn't thought possible before the New Horizons mission because of the cosmic bodies' significant distance from the sun.


> http://mashable.com/2015/10/30/charon-ammonia-crater-pluto/#a71SxGd6JPqo

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Why Are Pluto And Charon So Different?

...what happened to all the volatiles that Charon surely had at one point? You see, if Pluto is 30% ice/70% rock, but Charon is almost 100% ice, that means they couldn’t have formed together! They must have different origins, and therefore must have coalesced to form a binary pair later on. But when you get two worlds that are this close together, the one that’s denser, with more concentrated mass, can potentially strip the most loosely-held material off of the other one. In the case of the less dense, lower mass Charon, that likely means it once had these same volatile materials — like nitrogen and methane — and that Pluto stole them!



Image credit: ESO, of an artist’s impression of the double asteroid 90 Antiope. If both of these asteroids had atmospheres, the denser, more massive one could steal the entire atmosphere of the other.


If Charon and Pluto had never found one another, Charon would quite possibly still have those volatiles, and would be as bright and reflective as Pluto appears to be. This also means that most large objects out in the Kuiper belt probably look a lot more like Pluto than they do like Charon. For a long time — nearly 50 years — we thought that Pluto was quite possibly alone in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Now, we know it’s not only the largest body in a belt filled with millions of objects and dozens-to-hundreds of large ones, but that it’s the reason Charon, quite literally, has no clothes.


> http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/01/05/why-are-pluto-and-charon-so-different/

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