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NASA Space

New Horizons Gets Closer to Pluto, But Mystery Spots Now Out of Sight 98

The L.A. Times reports that the strange spots spotted on the surface of Pluto by the New Horizons mission will be on the wrong side of the planet for the approaching fly-by that the craft will make of the smallest planet (or dwarf planet, depending) of our solar system. (The BBC makes a similar observation.) That doesn't mean that New Horizons' approach is anything short of "a spectacular event."
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New Horizons Gets Closer to Pluto, But Mystery Spots Now Out of Sight

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  • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Saturday July 11, 2015 @11:47PM (#50091571) Homepage
    but aliens!
  • No point linking to an article from July 1 now.

    • why not now? back then, everyone was busy trying to blow their fingers off their hands.

    • HA! Even less point in getting the latest from the original source [nasa.gov], right?

    • Especially when JPL has photos available from yesterday morning [jhuapl.edu].
    • Heh, relax. It's been traveling for over nine years to get here, and it's going to take well over a year before we get the full data set [planetary.org] from the flyby a couple of days from now, as the transmission bitrate is ridiculously low from that distance. What's a week or two?

      On September 14, New Horizons will begin downlinking a "browse" version of the entire Pluto data set, in which all images will be lossily compressed. It will take about 10 weeks to get that data set to the ground. There will be compression artifacts, but we'll see the entire data set. Then, around November 16, New Horizons will begin to downlink the entire science data set losslessly compressed. It will take a year to complete that process.

      • It will take a year to complete that process.

        They must have Comcast. I just hope to hell they don't need tech support.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Now we know were the wires went when we paid them to roll out connectivity for rural people.

  • Every time I go to the doctor with some strange spots, they mysteriously clear up.

  • If the probe finds a big enough body, like a burnt-out brown dwarf, can it make a U-turn and visit the other side of Pluto?

    Then again, such a discovery would probably change the focus to the brown dwarf such that re-visiting Pluto would become a secondary goal.

    • by AC-x ( 735297 )

      Any brown dwarf would be at least a few light years away (or we'd know about it), and at New Horizon's current speed of 52,000 mph it would take around 13 thousand years to travel 1 light year. New Horizon's power source is due to run out in 2030.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        I suppose anything big enough to have U-turn gravity that's within 200 years or so away probably would radiate enough to be detected by now. However, a cluster of smaller bodies may be able to do the job. Suppose we invent better detection technology and find such clusters.

        I know, it's a long-shot. But just imagine a Beowulf cluster of...

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @12:32AM (#50091699) Journal

    Pluto's embarrassed by its age spots, and so is showing its good side to the probe.

  • As soon as I saw the Picture of the spots, it reminded me of when Jupiter got hit by Shoemaker-Levy.

    It's the simplest explanation in my opinion.

    • I had thought the same thing the first time I saw them, but the more recent photos show them to be quite irregular in shape. More interesting to me are the hexagonally-shaped areas above the equator.
    • As soon as I saw the Picture of the spots, it reminded me of when Jupiter got hit by Shoemaker-Levy.

      When I read "a remarkably bright expanse of terrain shaped like a heart." I though thank a deity it's not a face this time.

  • How'ed ya do it Timothy??

  • the more we learn about pluto, the more I think the probe sould have had a detachable orbiter to be left around it
    I imagine that would have complicated things a lot on its design phase, but now we'll have to wait more than a decade to do it, if it ever comes to pass
    • Well, yes, everyone knows that would be awesome.
      Some rough numbers I did indicate that to stop New Horizons (It is only 400kg) at pluto would take a Delta V heavy. That is - around 500 tons.
      A launch campaign to launch 500 tons to pluto is likely to need several thousand rockets.
      Stopping is hard.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        One of the researchers who posted on the Unmanned Spaceflight forum wrote about his efforts to design a miniprobe to decelerate at Pluto - if I remember right, 20kg - using atmospheric drag. But the calculations showed it would have to be made of something with a density like that of carbon aerogel (even silicon aerogel would be too much), making deployment of the deceleraiton system unrealistic, and undergo huge G-loads. He also added that people always suggest inflatable decelerators, but the problem wit

        • To use aerobraking as a technique, you have to know detail about the composition and extent of the body's atmosphere. Now that it has taken New Horizons to find this out, we can design an aerobraking orbiter.

      • of course trying to make it with new horizon's current trajectory would probably be impossible

        I never said that
        • The problem is that you pretty much can't pick another.
          The trajectory chosen was to reduce mission time.
          If you have 9 years, then pretty much the only way you can do a pluto probe is blasting past at >10km/s.

          If you try to make the trajectory more gentle, then yes, you can do this - a hohmann transfer - but this will take literally a hundred years. There is nothing close to pluto that can slow you down meaningfully at all with a gravitational assist.

          Nuclear powered ion engines, nuclear rockets (dusty fiss

      • I suppose you can create a trajectory that will end up catching up to Pluto's orbit and position, but that would take decades or even a century.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        Stopping is hard.

        So it's a Toyota probe?

    • I agree. It's like putting the ring down and turning around to go home just before you get to Mordor.

  • Pluto is -233 degrees Celsius right? Therefore if there was an alien civilization living on the surface, they would need to use materials that could withstand the awesome cold there. If we went there would a spacesuit not freeze solid and shatter like glass? What materials could stay in one piece in this cold? I think that an alien with Helium II blood could live there, but what could sustain it?

    • by msk ( 6205 )

      Maybe we'll find Outsiders.

      Let's hope we can pony up the price for a hyperdrive shunt.

    • What would their rate of metabolism be? Even if they were "technologically advanced" a billion years ago, would they be moving fast enough to notice what's been happening in the last 100 years on Earth?

    • Pluto is -233 degrees Celsius right? Therefore if there was an alien civilization living on the surface, they would need to use materials that could withstand the awesome cold there. If we went there would a spacesuit not freeze solid and shatter like glass? What materials could stay in one piece in this cold? I think that an alien with Helium II blood could live there, but what could sustain it?

      Or they could light a fire and roast marshmallows around the forge. Seriously, lifeforms might exist at such cold temperatures, but a race of ice giants belongs to myth. Thinking beings require warmth and calories to burn.

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      Robert Forward wrote a science fiction book describing such a world with alien life:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @08:14AM (#50092529) Homepage

    A fraction of a percent of the AMA has, out of concern of students having to learn so many bones, voted to declare that there are only 8 bones in the human body, and all of the others are dwarf bones, and that those don't really count as bones. And to tell the difference between a bone and a dwarf bone you have to do a detailed study using a definition that nobody can agree on. But, if you move a bone from one part of the body to the other, it can change between being a bone and not being a bone. Also, other mammals don't have bones at all - their bodies are held together by "something" that isn't defined at all.

    Only a tiny fraction of those present at the AMA vote were in a field doing anything with anatomy; the rests were bacteriologists. But nonetheless, despite the criticism by anatomists, the AMA has adamantly refused to revisit their decision.

    • Re:Meanwhile.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @08:51AM (#50092593)

      Pluto as a planet doesn't really make much sense, without including others.
      Eris, for example. While currently three times the distance of pluto from the sun, at times (next ~2800AD) it is actually closer than pluto to the sun, as well as more massive.
      There is no real inarguable set.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday July 12, 2015 @09:33AM (#50092699) Homepage

        ... without including others

        Exactly. They should be included, obviously.

        The concept of a planet is pretty intuitive - it orbits a star and its big enough that its gravity has pulled it into a sphere. That's what pretty much everyone on Earth outside of the IAU understands a planet to be. The concept that you have to try to pretend that diversity doesn't exist in order to shrink down the list to a number whose names schoolchildren can memorize is a horribly unscientific approach.

        We need to accept the universe that nature has created for us. There are terrestrial planets. There are gas giants. Ice giants. Eccentric giants. Hot jupiters. Super-earths. Water worlds. And yes, dwarf planets. They're all planets by pretty much any reasonable definition. In fact, they're a lot more similar to terrestrial planets than gas giants are.

        We should be thrilled by the number of worlds in our solar system instead of intimidated by it and trying to write them out by a ridiculous definition that leads to absurd consequences. And uses nomenclature ("dwarf") that even the IAU itself doesn't use elsewhere (do they plan to declare "dwarf stars" to not be stars?). An "adjective-noun" is also a member of the group "noun" in any realistic nomenclature.

        Extrasolar planets aren't planets according to the IAU either. You could have an exact replica of Earth orbiting an exact replica of the sun with an exact replica of Earth's "neighborhood" and it'd still not be called a planet. And even if they didn't arbitrary exclude them, we'd have no way to be able to determine if any of them had "cleared their neighborhood" without sending a probe there - aka, effectively impossible at this point in time. Not that "cleared the neighborhood" makes any sense, there's lots of objects in Earth's neighborhood, and new ones keep entering our neighborhood. And many of the planets don't appear to have formed in their current neighborhood anyway. Plus, Neptune has freaking Pluto in its neighborhood. And since when does what something "is" have anything to do with where it happens to be currently located? Would it make any sense for a cow be declared a "dwarf cow" and not really a cow if it was exactly the same but in a location that had several cowlike animal species near it? Would it make sense to make a definition of a "dwarf river", with the only rationale being to limit the total number of rivers in the world to 8?

        I can just imagine an IAU-inspired Star Trek:

        Kirk: "What is that planet on the viewscreen? Prepare a team to beam down to the surface."

        Spock: "Actually, captain, we cannot be certain that it is a planet."

        Kirk: "Spock, I can see it right there, it's a planet - it's a huge round thing orbiting its star."

        Spock: "Yes, captain, but I have not yet completed my scan to see whether it has 'cleared its neighborhood'; I need to first find out if any asteroids that cross its orbit. The survey will take a few hours to complete."

        Kirk: "But Spock... it's right there, it's a planet! It's even got oceans, an atmosphere, clouds - it's a veritable second Earth!"

        Spock: "It could be a dwarf planet, which isn't really a planet, despite being having 'planet' in the title." (beat) "Captain, I have been reviewing the IAU's definition; because it's not orbiting the sun, it's not only not a planet, it's not anything at all."

        Kirk: "Okay, okay - somebody prepare a team to beam down to the nothing-at-all that looks like a damned planet!"

        • Splitters and Lumpers. A very old argument.

          Nature cares not a fig for our 'definitions'. It just is.

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