I mentioned in my very first post that I may use this space to occasionally talk about other subjects that interest me so I may as well get into that now. One of those subjects is space/astronomy. Which does have video games and other entertainment media to thank for keeping people interested in it, even though we don’t have moon colonies and such like they predicted back in the 60s.
A year from now, NASA’s New Horizon’s will finally reach the far off dwarf planet world of Pluto and we will get our first up close look of the place. I’m a bit excited – I have always been intrigued by Pluto ever since I was flipping through an encyclopedia and found a cool artist’s concept of Pluto & Charon. It was different than anything else I had seen in renderings of the pair, it looked like an optical model effect from an 80s movie rather than a painting or CG render. For whatever reason the mystery of what was a planet at the time captured my imagination so I’ve been excited about this mission for a while.
In case you haven’t been following it, the mission launched way back in 2006 and the probe is just about to cross the orbit of Neptune. On maps it looks like just a tiny distance but when you think that it is still a year out from Pluto helps remind you of how gigantic distances are in astronomical terms. The craft has been in a hibernative state for most of the journey but last year in July they took a picture of Pluto to test the cameras and it looked like this:
No, nothing special by simple appearances but this is the first time the probe could notice Charon. As the next year passes along, images are going to start coming in, in fact the next 11 weeks they will test out all of the instruments on board, including the cameras. Obviously we won’t get extreme details yet but I am excited to see the next image of being a year closer to the target. For a simulated view of what the encounter will be like, check out this site. It is really too bad that it will just zip by and not be able to hang out like Cassini but it will be better than nothing.
I can only speculate as to what will be found – most theorize that it will be a lot like Neptune’s moon Triton as that the is closest object we’ve seen to it. I imagine it will have similar features like cryo-volcanism, since it has an atmosphere but the mechanism will probably be the gravitational forces at play with the various moons (mostly Charon). I wouldn’t be surprised if the two bodies share/exchange bits of atmosphere either.
As for my opinion on the “planet status”, I’m fine with it being reclassified as a dwarf planet as people still don’t act as though it is unworthy of study. Speaking of seriousness, I would be fine too with the IAU changing the name of Uranus to something that would be more awesome/less of a butt joke too but I have no idea how astronomers or the general public would feel about that (honestly, it would mean less embarrassment for scientists who constantly try to push a different pronunciation that everyone ignores). It’s probably a long shot on my desire for that to happen but if I ever get one of these space arcade game ideas I have made into something and the player visits that planet, it will not go by it’s current name 😉
Also worthy of note, NASA’s Dawn probe will be reaching a closer dwarf planet that used to be called an asteroid by the name of Ceres less than a year from now. Since our view of Ceres isn’t a whole lot better than Pluto, I’m also looking forward to that. The mission became more exciting when water was discovered there. I don’t follow the idea that life may have started on Earth from microbes from a place like Europa or Ceres or Enceladus, if anything the most likely case scenario is that microbes have traveled from Earth to other places in the solar system. Given how good of a life incubator Earth is, the math tilts more towards that angle but it is less exciting to speculate about. I’m pretty sure that would be considered heretical by some (because it wouldn’t serve as a final answer to that big question from a scientific point of view but the discovery of life elsewhere will not do that once the hype settles down since you would still have to explain, where did that life come from? If outside the solar system or not God, then where did it come from and how did it get started from base elements to possess a consciousness or a soul, and so on) but I never see that point brought up when someone publishes a theory of the origin of life and the potential for such life on icy worlds out there. Anyways, I’m ranting now so let’s just enjoy the coming spectacle of Pluto and Ceres, photos coming to a computer screen near you soon!