Okay, so I may be stretching it a bit with the title. In 2006, the folks at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to change Pluto’s status to that of a dwarf planet, which many saw as a step down for what was the ninth planet in our solar system. People felt sorry for this distant celestial body. I always wondered if one day we would find out things about it that would make us realize that Pluto was indeed something special. The images from the New Horizons spacecraft has done just that.
Our first story actually took place when observations of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, showed a large red area the size of New Mexico at its pole. It wasn’t until this year that it was discovered that methane gas escaping from Pluto was becoming trapped on Charon, was leading to this interstellar artistry. Click below the picture for the science of how it happens.
Now on to our second story. See that big heart-shaped whitish area on Pluto? That is an icy formation in a region called the Tombaugh Regio. On its western side is a basin called Sputnik Planum. Here is where scientists from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) in France recreated Pluto’s 50,000 year atmospheric history, using computer simulation and data from the New Horizons spacecraft. The result? A beating heart. Click on the link to see the simulation and learn more.
For Pluto, the discoveries made by New Horizons’ images offers more information than ever before. As more information is analyzed, more mysteries are being revealed. Time will only tell if Pluto will see its status change again.
Here is the link to the New Horizons site if you would like to what else has been discovered.
…and don’t forget to check back next Sunday for more news from the world of astronomy!
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