NASA's New Horizons Brings Pluto Into Focus - InformationWeek

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7/17/2015
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Nathan Eddy
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NASA's New Horizons Brings Pluto Into Focus

The outermost planet in our solar system comes into breathtaking relief as NASA successfully completes a nine-year, 3-billion-mile expedition to Pluto.
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It's a historic week for astronomers -- and one could argue for all of humanity -- now that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has successfully completed its flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto and beamed back mesmerizing images from the edge of our solar system.

After a nine-year journey, the grand-piano-sized probe swung by the planet this week at a distance of 7,800 miles, traveling at 31,000 miles an hour -- fast enough to cover 150 football fields per second.

In addition to photographing the ninth planet from the Sun, New Horizons will also snap shots of Pluto's five moons, including the abnormally large Charon.

(Interesting side note: Charon is known in Greek mythology as the ferryman of the dead, but the moniker was assigned by shortening the discoverer's wife name, Charlene.)

Little was known, and much remains to be discovered, about this lonely heavenly body of rock and ice, which swings around the sun in a strangely pronounced elliptical orbit.

New Horizons will take detailed measurements and images of Pluto and its moons. The spacecraft has already revealed that the planet is 50 miles wider than previously thought (or rather, dwarf planet, depending on who you ask, since Pluto was officially demoted half a decade ago).

[Read about NASA's MESSENGER mission on Mercury.]

NASA's no stranger to showing us sights that eclipse even the most fervid imaginations, from nebulae to galaxies and quasars, all viewed from a distance that makes Pluto seem like a next-door neighbor.

However, this mission brings the exploration of our solar neighborhood to a fitting, not to say patriotic, milestone -- the US is now the only nation to have visited every planet within it, in some cases multiple times.

But the larger spoils of this achievement go to those of us who have spied Saturn's rings through a telescope, to the introverted astronauts and science fiction aficionados pining for a trip to the stars, and to the stalwart supporters of Pluto's status as our ninth, and furthest, planet.

(All images: NASA)

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
7/30/2015 | 4:40:38 PM
Geologic Activity
In my head I will always think of Pluto as a planet. Maybe now that it is larger, It could be promoted back to a plantet. I am curious about the geological change mentioned in the article. With the mountains I'm assuming plate tectonics, but with the heart shaped blotch, what are we talking about, volcanoes? Have the scientists been more specific than 'geological activity' yet?
NJ Mike
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NJ Mike,
User Rank: Moderator
7/24/2015 | 8:08:10 AM
Re: Not a planet
In my book, it will always be a planet.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2015 | 9:39:07 PM
Re: This project cost less than a pro football stadium
@Bert I agree with you there but request you to review your decision sympathetically for sake of all players. Not every one is associated with exploration and these stadiums are a must for healthy life. So on behalf of all the players I again ask you to review your decision and let them play.  :)
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2015 | 9:33:42 PM
Re: Not a planet
@Banacek I must have heard that NASA has discovered another planet after pluto and now our solar system is of one more planet. Is it true or I am day dreaming :)
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2015 | 8:44:20 PM
Re: Closer to Earth - with People
We do actually want to send the robots first, at the very least to minimize the deleterious effects of Murphy's Law, but a permenent presence on the Moon is long overdue, as is a manned trip to Mars.

And I think unmanned probes for the purpose of exploring the outer solar system are completely appropirate.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2015 | 8:38:19 PM
Not the farthest out
If one rejects Pluto's reclassification as a dwarf planet (and I'm somewhat sympathetic), then to be consistent, one would probably have to classify Eris as a planet as well, and the latter has an average distance from the Sun three times that of the former (according to Wikipedia).
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2015 | 8:33:00 PM
Re: This project cost less than a pro football stadium
I suspect you're right that New Horizons was a better use of money than the Vikings' new stadium, but the latter is part of the correction of a rather severe historic mistake: the Metrodome.  Pre-Metrodome, cold weather at home was a competitive advantage and made the Vikings fun to watch late in the season (on TV, anyway); especially when they seemingly took their weather to normally more temperate climes like the L.A. Colosseum.

And as I'm from San Diego, I probably can claim impartiality.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2015 | 2:05:22 PM
Closer to Earth - with People
This was an absolutely awesome accomplishment. But, I'm not as enamored by robotic exploration as many others are. I'd like to see humans in space in permanent outposts. Obviously, I can't hope to see that on Pluto in my lifetime, but no reason why not on the moon. And sooner or later, China will if we don't.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2015 | 1:16:09 PM
Re: Not a planet
>> It took nine year for this probe to get there. One wishes they would have kept this in the public eye a bit more than just in the last few weeks. A good reason for news casts to bulk up on science education, even in 3 minute segments. This way it's not like watching water come to a boil, and the news would be more uplifting than reports of the latest disaster, murder or accident. 
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2015 | 1:12:49 PM
Re: This project cost less than a pro football stadium
really well done factoid

>> This project cost less than a pro football stadium 
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