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Pluto and New Horizons

  1. Aug 8, 2014 #1


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    The New Horizons space probe is getting close enough to get some interesting pictures of Pluto and Charon, including this little animation that illustrates how Pluto and Charon orbit around their combined center of mass.

    I find this amazing.

    When I was born, no one had ever launched an object into space, no one had ever seen a picture of the Earth from space, and the only pictures of the planets in the solar system were artists conceptions based on very limited data.

    Pluto may not be a planet now, but it was when I was a kid. And I was always amazed whenever we got pictures from each planet for the first time (especially Mars). By next year, we'll have real pictures from every planet (or near planet) in the solar system. That is pretty amazing in itself!

    I was around 5 when I watched both Alan Shepard's and John Glenn's launches (Glenn's was a bigger deal). And, space being a huge deal back then, my parents bought me a model of a space station (the concept based on creating artificial gravity by having a huge space station that rotated like a tire) and this weird plastic mechanical computer (being only 5, the computer thing was a little over my head - I got as far as adding two numbers and finding out whether the sum was odd or even, but that was about it).

    I also had a huge map of the world on my wall, and a huge map of the solar system on my wall that stayed up for years. The planets were just artists conceptions, seeing as how there were no photographs of any of them at the time. They also gave information on how far away they were, how long each took to orbit the Sun, and .... the thing that really put things into perspective .... how long a trip to each would take.

    A trip to Pluto would take 99 years!* I can't remember how old I was when one of my cousins came to visit (but I was probably around 8 or 9) and we were looking at the solar system poster in great detail. Talking about a trip to Pluto with her was the first time in my life that I had any sense of mortality. I was still at the age where I thought 100 years was probably about the normal life span but never really thought about what that meant. While talking to her, it suddenly dawned on me that I could never visit Pluto! I'd never live long enough! It was kind of a significant moment in my life (which is why I remember the 99 years).

    *This being PF, I'm sure many of you would say this can't be right - especially since New Horizons was launched in 2006. But I think there were some assumptions made in this calculation: one being that a person visiting Pluto would probably want to actually land on it instead of just creating a crater named after him or just flying by it (as New Horizons will) and a second being that a person visiting Pluto would probably want to also return home. I'm pretty sure the 99 years was for the round trip using Hohman transfer orbits (although we just assumed the 99 years would be just for the trip out - at 8 or 9, "coming home" doesn't exist when you haven't even left home yet). And, yes, I'm sure some of you would comment that the round trip would only take 60 years if you visited Pluto when it was at perihelion. It could also take about 125 years if you visited Pluto at aphelion. I have no idea what data they used to come up with 99 years, but it's at least within reasonable time frames.
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  3. Aug 11, 2014 #2
    I'm also ecstatic about New Horizons. Watched the launch on NASA TV back in '06. I grew up going to an elementary school in the 80's which had a sub-par library. Especially when it came to books centered around the sciences. My favorites were hands down the astronomy and geology ones. Most were from the 50's and 60's. It was interesting reading about that stuff for the first time from a 50's perspective; Percival Lowell and his speculation on Martian irrigation channels, Pluto and the wild guesses on it's size, mass, composition and atmosphere. For myself, 27 years later, i'm excited that we're actually going to be able to get up and close to it... amazing!
  4. Jan 23, 2015 #3


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    NASA spacecraft almost to Pluto: Smile for the camera!
    http://news.yahoo.com/nasa-spacecraft-almost-pluto-smile-camera-153919436.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  5. Jun 27, 2015 #4
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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