Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New Horizons

I am so embarrassed!  How do I not know this?

It seems that while I’ve been spending the last decade or so in Fictionville, real life has passed me by.  Real life as in NASA Space Exploration, that is.

I just learned that a space probe called New Horizons has just been “awakened” on its approach to explore Pluto.  Launched on January 19, 2006, it spent the next eight years travelling the several billion miles that separates our planet from the ninth *, coming back to life on December 6 of this year as it gets set for its final approach.

Now, since nothing happens as fast as our attention-deficit species likes it, New Horizons won’t reach the dark icy world until July 15 (the date of its closest approach).  But in the meantime, leading up to that magical date and up to a month afterwards, the investigations will commence.  Look for plenty of pictures of the crazy pseudo-planetary system that is Pluto to be released over the next year.

Artist rendering of the surface of Pluto, with Charon on the left and the Sun on the right

For years Pluto has been Little One’s favorite planet (after Jupiter, for some reason).  However, being young and impressionable and all, she falls into the “Pluto is a dwarf planet” camp.  So there’s been that playful back-and-forth between us.  I brought up the New Horizons mission with her and she wants to be a part of it – which means I will update her whenever we – the public – get updates from NASA regarding the mission.  It’ll be fun.  Like exploring the world together.

But I felt I had to get up to speed on Pluto.  Last I was truly into the whole astronomy thing was about ten years ago when I got a telescope for Christmas and a buddy bought me a surprisingly nice night sky guidebook.  I read it cover to cover, took notes, looked at Mars and Venus through the scope.  But that was when Little One was very, very little.

So I read up a bit on Pluto.  Didn’t know it had five – FIVE! – satellites.  I last left off at one, Charon.  Didn’t know that Pluto-Charon is a binary planet.  Or maybe I did, but forgot.  But I studied up on its highly irregular orbit (it comes closer to the Sun than Neptune for 20 years out of a 284-year “year”, but will never collide with the eighth planet), the composition of its sometimes-gaseous-sometimes-sold atmosphere (nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide), its crazy seasonal night and days (it revolves on its side like Uranus, which leads to all sorts of weird lengths of days and nights – plus its locked into synchronized orbit with Charon, so each body only shows the same face to the other.)

I think I’ll post anything of interest I find or anything of interest Little One says (the funniest lines come out of those little mouths!) here.  NASA pics, too, once they’re released.  A fun, six-month journey of bonding with Little One.  Or maybe not.  You know, she’ll be an official tween in less than a year, and she already has that practiced eyeroll down.  We’ll see.

* = Pluto is still a planet in this household!!!

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