So if you know me you’ll know that I’m annoyed about Pluto being demoted last year to Dwarf Planet. Well I’ve decided its now time to let it go. Pluto is still a planet, it may be a dwarf planet but just as dwarf stars are still stars and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies, dwarf planets are indeed still planets.
Indeed, Pluto remains the focus of much scientific attention. Just yesterday during our weekly Astrolunch, here at Uni a talk was given on how Pluto may have formed with its three moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra. They compose the only know quadruple body system, since no one is actually the central body – Pluto and Charon are comparably large and so orbit a centre of gravity.
Pluto is also the target of one of NASA big missions. Seen in the image above, launching into space just over a year ago, the New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to Pluto right now. It is using a new kind of propulsion technology to get there by 2015. As I type it is currently swinging by Jupiter using the planet’s immense gravity to alter and accelerate itself along its trajectory toward the edges of the Solar System.
In July 2015 it will encounter Pluto and Charon and study them up close for the first time ever. After this incredible mission it is set to head out into the Kuiper Belt, the region beyond Pluto filled with many smaller bodies, and study some of the objects there.
To find out where New Horizons is at any time you can check out this page on NASA’s mission site and if you have a Mac then there is a dashboard widget called Magic Number that tells you how far away from Pluto the craft is. Or just refresh this webpage to see the image below update.