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Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Latest and Greatest on Pluto

NASA's $700 million New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the Pluto system in mid-July after a nine-year 3 billion mile flight that started before Pluto was demoted to dwarf-planet status. 

But thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we already some fascinating stuff about Pluto and its five known moons. The Pluto system consists of four tiny satellites —Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx — orbiting a "binary planet" comprised of Pluto and its largest moon Charon. They’re locked in odd rhythmic gyrations in a dance unlike anything in our solar system. 

What makes it so odd is that there's a double set of dances going on. First, Pluto and Charon are locked together in their own waltz "as if they are a dumbbell" with a rod connecting them. It's the solar system's only binary planet system, even though Pluto and Charon aren’t technically planets. 

But Pluto and Charon aren't alone, and that's where it gets more complicated. The four little moons circle the Pluto-Charon combo, wobbling a bit when they go closer to either Pluto or Charon, being pushed and pulled by the two bigger objects. 

Those four moons orbit Pluto-Charon in a precise rhythmic way, but with a twist: They also interact when they near each other. So it seems like they all dance to one overarching beat but not quite in the same way, just doing their own thing. 

Nix and Hydra exhibit chaotic rather than synchronous rotation, meaning they don't always keep the same side facing Pluto-Charon — and that it's very tough to predict their rotational movement. (Nearly every other moon in the solar system, including Earth's, is a synchronous rotator.) 

If you lived on Nix, you would not know if the sun is coming up tomorrow; it is that extreme. You'd have days where the sun rises in the east and sets in the north. 

Thanks for stopping by. I post here every first and third Thursday of the month. Don’t miss my June 17th blog as I’ll be posting on the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Stephen Tremp is a Speculative Writer and blogs at Breakthrough Blogs. His latest work, Salem’s Daughters, is due for release October 1, 2015. 

References: Associated Press and Space.com

13 comments:

  1. Sounds sort of like a dance party, where there aren't enough boys. One couple waltzing while four girls dance free-style around them. And you know that Pluto will always be a planet to me.
    Life & Faith in Caneyhead

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  2. How fascinating. Didn't know all that Stephen. What a vast amount of money. I wonder how many of the original team are still around to see the results. I like Barbara's description. of the dance party. I cannot imagine planning something like this which I may not be around to see the results of. I know nine years isn't that long, but... and $700 billion phew.

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    1. Jo, some people cringe when they see the dollar figures (and that's millions not billions) but a lot of good paying jobs are associated with the space industry that help support many communities. And the investment pays off. Maybe not right away. But just think of economies tied to space exploration will bring us. Mining asteroids. Colonizing the moon and Mars. Building space telescopes and satellites and the rockets that launch them. All of these create countless good paying jobs and all these people pay taxes which also helps the economy.

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    2. Million, billion, what's in a few million!! Must admit I never thought of all the jobs this provides. I wasn't complaining so much as gasping. To the yous and mes of this world it is inconceivable expenditure. I love that they are making my favourite stories come true, gradually. I am just sorry I won't be around for when we really start developing space.

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  3. That's rather fascinating. Would be wild to be on a planet that had an erratic rotation.

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  4. Very interesting! Of course, I'm wondering about colonization of the moon and Mars. Since I'm reading Ray Bradbury's books now, I couldn't help but think of the Martian Chronicles! Have you read it? It's really fascinating!

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  5. I just read about that weird celestial "dance" this morning. Kinda cool. Figures. We demoted the "cool" planet.

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  6. This is really fascinating as i have been searching these details for my research paper writing works. Being working as a research paper writer in one of the leading custom written research paper website, i have been searching this information in order to write a research paper about this topic for a client and also i could learn and enlarge my knowledge about space to some extent today on learning about this topic.

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  7. Our universe is full of fascinating phenomena, isn't it! Thanks for sharing. Pluto sure has a interesting neighbourhood.

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  8. Wow. That's amazing! I wonder what gravity is like on Nix.

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