February 2006 Archives

Looking at Pluto

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Interesting developments... it looks like 2003 UB313, about which I wrote here and here, is smaller than it was thought. It is so reflective that it looks larger than it is, and this means that it may not be larger than Pluto after all (update: it turns out that it is, indeed, 30% larger than Pluto). Not that this changes much about the discussion of whether it is a planet or not, and the same goes for Pluto.

And, speaking of Pluto, New Horizons is on its way there, and you now can see exactly where it is. It is the fastest spacecraft ever made: it crossed the Moon's orbit barely nine hours after its launch. But it will still take ten years to get to Pluto, even after a gravity-assist maneuver around Jupiter. When it gets there, it will study closely Pluto and however many moons it has: it looks like two more, in addition to Charon, were recently found. If New Horizons is as effective at finding moons as the Voyagers where, people should start thinking about new names before it gets there... (then, again, Earth-based telescopes get better every day; in ten years we may well have found them all)

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