NASA craft set to beam home close-ups of Pluto

Artist's image obtained December 1, 2014, courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Researc
Artist's image obtained December 1, 2014, courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute, shows the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its three moons in summer 2015

Nine years after leaving Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft is at last drawing close to Pluto and on Sunday was expected to start shooting photographs of the dwarf planet.

The first mission to Pluto began in January 2006 when an Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and hauled the piano-sized New Horizons craft away from Earth and on a three-billion mile journey.

"New Horizons is set to begin imaging Pluto today, but with the spacecraft still approximately 130 million miles from Pluto, the pictures will be distant," Mike Buckley, a spokesman for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory outside Washington, told AFP.

"Pluto and its largest moon Charon will still appear as dots against a background of stars," he added.

NASA scientists took the spacecraft out of hibernation in December to get it ready for its upcoming close-ups of Pluto and Charon.

The craft will pass closest to Pluto on about July 14, 2015.

Buckley said he expects the first photographs to be received back on Earth this week, and they will be released to the public shortly after.

Despite the weak light levels reflecting from the surface of the dwarf planet, discovered in 1930, New Horizons should be able to gather enough data from the surface of Pluto and Charon and create topographic maps.

The craft carries onboard seven instruments including infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a multicolor camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera and a space dust detector.

After New Horizons finishes its six-month investigation of Pluto, it will pass near other objects in the Kuiper Belt, a vast ring of debris left over from the solar system's birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

Pluto is about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) in diameter, smaller than Earth's moon, and has a mass about 500 times less than Earth.

Pluto and its five moons circle the sun every 247.7 years.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union withdrew Pluto's status as a planet given its small size, reclassifying it as a and leaving the solar system with eight planets.


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NASA craft to probe Pluto after nine-year journey

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Jan 25, 2015
I don't get it...
How is a body with three moons NOT a planet?

Jan 25, 2015
I don't get it...
How is a body with three moons NOT a planet?


I don't have any good idea about that one. Choot, I don't even have a bad idea about that. Maybe Really-Skippy or Bennie-Skippy will come along to help figure it out.

Jan 25, 2015
I don't get it...
How is a body with three moons NOT a planet?


Well, having a moon is not a defining prerequisite. Even multiple ones. There are many asteroids and other minor planets with moons, and they are not considered planets as defines.

ANd calling something "XXXX planet" is also not a defining prerequisite. Minor planets cover everything from asteroids to trojans to kuiper-belt objects - in fact, pretty much anything that is not a planet or a comet. Dwarf planets make up the objects between minor planets and planets.

Personally, I think it would be cool to consider the dwarf planets "planets" - we'd have what, 15 planets now? However, the body tasked with making that distinction (the IAU) doesn't agree with me, and they have the final say,

Jan 26, 2015
I don't get it...
How is a body with three moons NOT a planet?

Semantics, nothing else. Pluto is what Pluto is. If, in popular use, Pluto is still referred to as a planet, who wins? The IAU, or the other couple billion people using English?

If we have trouble fitting things into categories, maybe our categories are not well chosen.

Jan 26, 2015
How is a body with three moons NOT a planet?

It's a dwarf planet. Don't get hung up about it. 'Planet' is just a label.

To quote (from memory) R. Feynman: "You can know all the names of all the birds in the world - but that still doesn't mean you know anything about birds".

Jan 26, 2015
To most people, if it's round and orbits a star, it's a planet, and there's nothing the IAU can do about it.

The IAU does, however, define language for those in the field - because it is sometimes important to be precise what one is talking about (especially in scientific papers).

Whether we laypeople call it a planet, a dwarf planet, or cheesecake doesn't matter. For us one lable is as good as any other (and using one lable over another makes us no more knowledgeable than we were before)

But the takeaway is: learning stuff by rote memorization (bei it countries, capitals, planets, whatever) is pointless - unless those terms are actually applied aithin a knowledge-building process.

Jan 26, 2015
The name for central body with five moons is "Planetary system", not "Dwarf system" no matter how are moons sized.

Jan 27, 2015
True, the IAU defines the term for astronomers, but they also don't represent ALL astronomers, don't have any enforcement power, and can change their minds at any time.
Actually, I believe they do represent all professional astronomers. They set the lexicon, and if you are a professional, you have to follow their dictates or face censure. That means not getting papers published, which is death to a professional researcher.
The problem is saying a "Dwarf Planet" isn't a planet. If it isn't a planet, then it should be a "Dwarf Something Else".
Like what? Dwarf Not-a-Planet? Dwarf Bigger-than-a-Minor-Planet? Maybe we can come up with something and submit it to the IAU for consideration.Dwarf Rocky Ball?

Jan 27, 2015
The name for central body with five moons is "Planetary system", not "Dwarf system" no matter how are moons sized.

With that you now might have to define "moon". Even many asteroids have been found to have small, but natural satellites orbiting them. You wouldn't want that to define an insignificantly small asteroid as a planet.

We could prefer to use the term "mesoplanet", originated by Isaac Asimov to define a number of Pluto-like bodies out there (Eris, Charon, Sedna). Or maybe call them "the major protoplanets", as they seem to be. But then that's a bit verbose.

It does seem that we need a better defining name, but I think we've learned enough to see that Pluto may be one of the larger-mass bodies existing at one end of a spectrum of a different classification of solar objects. (also verbose)

Jan 27, 2015
With that you now might have to define "moon". Even many asteroids have been found to have small, but natural satellites orbiting them. You wouldn't want that to define an insignificantly small asteroid as a planet.

We could prefer to use the term "mesoplanet", originated by Isaac Asimov to define a number of Pluto-like bodies out there (Eris, Charon, Sedna). Or maybe call them "the major protoplanets", as they seem to be. But then that's a bit verbose.

It does seem that we need a better defining name, but I think we've learned enough to see that Pluto may be one of the larger-mass bodies existing at one end of a spectrum of a different classification of solar objects. (also verbose)


Hey, I like mesoplanet! Still has planet in the name though, but I like it cane from Asimov. Plutoids is also out there, and less verbose that tran-Neptunian object. Dwarf Object maybe?

Mesoplanet. Dwarf Planet. I don't know, I kind of like Plutoid.

Jan 27, 2015
antialias_physorg: True, the IAU defines the term for astronomers, but they also don't represent ALL astronomers, don't have any enforcement power, and can change their minds at any time.

For all astronomers care they could call it cheesecake tomorrow and then they'd just plug in the word cheesecake in all their papers from now on. Get over it. It's label it means NOTHING.
Crying about it is like going to your math teacher to tell him that the variable he's putting up on the chalkboard must be named x instead of t.

Jan 27, 2015
antialias_physorg: True, the IAU defines the term for astronomers, but they also don't represent ALL astronomers, don't have any enforcement power, and can change their minds at any time.

For all astronomers care they could call it cheesecake tomorrow and then they'd just plug in the word cheesecake in all their papers from now on. Get over it. It's label it means NOTHING.
Crying about it is like going to your math teacher to tell him that the variable he's putting up on the chalkboard must be named x instead of t.


Awww AA you're taking all the fun out of it! Maybe we can go with Dwarf Cheesecake?

Jan 27, 2015
Maybe we can go with Dwarf Cheesecake?

I thought that was the eighth dwarf from Snow White.

Jan 27, 2015
The name for central body with five moons is "Planetary system", not "Dwarf system" no matter how are moons sized.
Holy shit, A planet have just whizzed by! ;-) http://phys.org/n...firstCmt

Feb 03, 2015
I think it's the same problem as when dust becomes a pebble become a stone or rock, to a boulder etc.

Pluto is a dwarf planet, because it was determined that some sort of definition was required. The rules were laid out, and when applied, Pluto became a dwarf planet. Simple as that. I don't believe moons have anything to do with it, or else Mercury and Venus would be reclassified as well.

Feb 03, 2015
@ jimbo-Skippy. I'm with you on that one. I like the rules to be laid out and then for everybody to follow them or vote to change them and follow them anyway if they lose the vote.

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