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Nicodemus

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Cool Stuff: Space [Feb. 4th, 2010|11:28 pm]
Nicodemus
Titan

A little while back, the Cassini spacecraft captured a great photo that's worth sharing. The spacecraft has been tooling around the Saturn system for some time now -- since mid 2004.

Titan is the largest of the Saturnian moons. We've known for some time that pools of liquid methane (possibly with some other hydrocarbons) dotted the surface. In fact, it's the only solar system body outside of the Earth on which a stable liquid is visible. (Europa may have water locked beneath an ice crust; this has yet to be proven.)

But then just recently Cassini snapped this photo:



That's sun glinting off a lake as it comes up over Titan's horizon! That's something that captures the mind. More than anything, this photo demonstrates to me the difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing something emotionally. Sure, we had concluded that there was a liquid cycle with lakes but seeing something like this that connects to our experience puts it into a different perspective.

Pluto

My favorite ("dwarf") planet. It's distant. It's mysterious. We've never visited it with a probe. Yet.

After four years of imaging and processing, photos of Pluto have been assembled basically for the first time.



Yes, that's the best image technology can provide. Pluto is far enough and small enough that most telescopes can't resolve any detail at all. This view is assembled from Hubble image data.

But what it suggests! Pluto isn't a small, featureless iceball. The variations here suggest that we will have something interesting to discover when New Horizons passes it in 2015.

Your random Pluto fact: the Disney character was named after the planet. The then-planet was officially named in 1930, the same year Pluto the dog was created.

Robert Anton Wilson, in his "Illuminatus" trilogy, suggested we might proceed the other way to reciprocate. His books suggested that tenth and eleventh planets would be discovered and named Mickey and Goofy in turn. (However, the next dwarf planet was named Eris, which probably would've also pleased Mr. Wilson.)
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: whitetail
2010-02-05 08:14 am (UTC)
Very interesting! Learn something new every day. ^^
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[User Picture]From: menagerie73
2010-02-05 09:38 am (UTC)
I've got a book about Mars where the author discusses a time when he was going to change the aperture settings to take a wide angle shot of Olympus Mons. This wasn't in the super zoom or super wide angle mode which the spacecraft was normally taking pictures in. His coworkers derided him for just wanting to take 'pretty pictures' but it was his allotted time and he was still allowed to do it. I think what he understands, that most other scientists don't because they are so focused on their own work, that it's these kinds if images that inspire people emotionally to be invested in this exploration. He does wryly note that this image has been used in every power point presentation he's seen his coworkers make about Mars.

The Pluto image is pretty good too. The last image I saw of Pluto was it was two-tone. My hunch is that Pluto is going to look a lot like Triton. I think at least they'll have a lot of similarities. 2015 is starting to look pretty close now.

Pluto can't escape Disney. When it's two new little moons were discovered I really wanted them to be called Pain and Panic.
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[User Picture]From: harvardheinous
2010-02-05 08:05 pm (UTC)
I always thought Pluto was a static ball of ice and rock.  Looking forward to 2015...
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[User Picture]From: fjmccloud
2010-02-06 07:16 pm (UTC)
Pluto went from being the most boring planet to being one of the most interesting in the solar system. For one thing, it has more moons than we thought. For another, its orbit with Charon is more of a binary system. That really amazes me. Is anything caught in the center of gravity that we haven't found yet?

Personally, I am certain the whole "dwarf" controversy is really to massage the scientists' egos. Despite all of the "planets" they claim to be discovering around other stars, the simple reality is our best telescopes are myopic about our OWN solar system's limits. They just don't want to be embarassed about the morass of planets out there after dismissing the whole "Planet X" controversy.

I have no idea if New Horizons is meant for anything beyond Pluto, but I would love to see Eris, Quaoar, Sedna, and every other planet out there. Probably the best thing would be to set up a vast network of space probes analyzing the vastness of our solar system (and relaying data through each other for signal integrity). A Hubble equivalent orbiting Saturn would be useful.
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2010-02-07 04:36 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, none of the other minor planets or known sizable objects line up with New Horizon's flight path. Pluto's gravity isn't significant enough for the spacecraft to have an opportunity to "turn" it's trajectory much via flyby.

So New Horizons will continue into the Kuiper Belt and be searching for any objects close enough to observe. There's a chance it'll pass near comet bodies.
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