Pluto

Considered the ninth planet for nearly 75 years, the second biggest dwarf planet discovered in the solar system. Pluto was originally given the name of the Greek god of the underworld by 11-year-old Venetia Burney.

This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. The center disk (180 degrees) has a mysterious bright spot that is unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost. Pluto is so small and distant that the task of resolving the surface is as challenging as trying to see the markings on a soccer ball 40 miles away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute). Photo No. STScI-PR10-06a
This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. The center disk (180 degrees) has a mysterious bright spot that is unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost. Pluto is so small and distant that the task of resolving the surface is as challenging as trying to see the markings on a soccer ball 40 miles away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute). Photo No. STScI-PR10-06a

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets in the solar system –

The furthest of the original nine planets in the solar system from Sol at 3.7 billion miles (5.9 billion km) or 39.5 AU, Pluto is the second biggest dwarf planet behind Eris, which is about 28 percent more massive.

In 2005, this image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was used to identify two new moons orbiting Pluto. Pluto is in the center. The moon Charon is just below it. The newly discovered moons, Nix and Hydra, are to the right of Pluto and Charon. Credits: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST
In 2005, this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was used to identify two new moons orbiting Pluto. Pluto is in the center. The moon Charon is just below it. The newly discovered moons, Nix, and Hydra are to the right of Pluto and Charon.
Credits: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST

Orbited by moons Charon, Nix, Styx, Kerberos, and Hydra, Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930, by Clyde W. Tombaugh. Charon is almost 50 percent the size of Pluto and is believed to be the result of a collision between a planet-sized object and the dwarf planet early in the history of the solar system.

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If the icy surface of Pluto's giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study.
If the icy surface of Pluto’s giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study.

With only 12, 173 miles (19, 591 km) between Pluto and Charon, astronomers and space scientists consider the pair to be a double planet system. The entire Pluto system is part of the distant Kuiper Belt, a distant disk-like region beyond the orbit of Neptune full of icy bodies formed during the early history of the solar system.

darksideimage
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this image of Pluto’s dark side with the Sun on the other side of this distant, lonely wanderer. Sunlight filters through and illuminates complex layers of atmospheric haze. Credit: NASA/New Horizons/JHUAPL/SwRI

A day on Pluto is about 153 hours long, which is the time it takes the dwarf planet to spin once on its axis, and a year, the time it takes this distant object it orbit the Sun, takes about 248 Earth years.

The structure of Pluto is not very well understood at present. Nevertheless, spectroscopic observation from Earth in the 1970s has revealed that the planet surface is covered with methane ice. Surface temperature is -230 degrees C, and the frozen methane exhibits a bright coloration. However, with the exception of the polar caps, the frozen methane surface is seen to change to a dark red on the basis of observation of eclipse by its moon Charon. Image Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute
The structure of Pluto is not very well understood at present. Nevertheless, spectroscopic observation from Earth in the 1970s has revealed that the planet surface is covered with methane ice. Surface temperature is -230 degrees C and the frozen methane exhibits a bright coloration. However, with the exception of the polar caps, the frozen methane surface is seen to change to a dark red on the basis of observation of eclipse by its moon Charon.
Image Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

What are planetary scientists saying?

Some planetary scientists think Pluto could have an ocean hidden beneath its icy surface, but this cold and distant body isn’t thought to be a place life could exist. Scientists estimate this dwarf planet has three times as much water in the form of ice as contained within the oceans of Earth.

How big is Pluto’s atmosphere? This is not a typical question one finds in planetary science. Earth’s atmosphere has an equivalent thickness – the thickness if you compress the atmosphere to uniform pressure and density – of about 10 kilometers, or six miles. Compare this with the radius of Earth, 6,370 kilometers, and you see that the razor-thin thickness of Earth’s atmosphere is about 0.17% of its radius. Even if you consider the “outer limit” of Earth’s neutral atmosphere, what we call the exobase, that reaches about 600 kilometers altitude, the atmosphere’s equivalent thickness is only 10% of Earth’s radius—still very thin. So the volume of Earth’s atmosphere is tiny compared to Earth’s volume. Michael E. Summers is a professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy at George Mason University, and specializes in the study of the chemistry and dynamics of planetary atmospheres. He is a New Horizons co-investigator and member of the atmospheres science theme team.
How big is Pluto’s atmosphere? This is not a typical question one finds in planetary science. Earth’s atmosphere has an equivalent thickness – the thickness if you compress the atmosphere to uniform pressure and density – of about 10 kilometers or six miles. Compare this with the radius of Earth, 6,370 kilometers, and you see that the razor-thin thickness of Earth’s atmosphere is about 0.17% of its radius. Even if you consider the “outer limit” of Earth’s neutral atmosphere, what we call the exobase, that reaches about 600 kilometers altitude, the atmosphere’s equivalent thickness is only 10% of Earth’s radius—still very thin. So the volume of Earth’s atmosphere is tiny compared to Earth’s volume.
Michael E. Summers is a professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy at George Mason University and specializes in the study of the chemistry and dynamics of planetary atmospheres. He is a New Horizons co-investigator and member of the atmospheres science theme team.

The surface is also covered by frozen methane and nitrogen gas, which thaws as Pluto nears the Sun, forming a thin atmosphere composed primarily of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, with a little methane thrown in.

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this enhanced-color image of the southeastern region of Pluto’s great plains of ice called Sputnik Planum. At lower right these plains border rugged, dark highlands that rise 1.5 miles above them. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is the only human envoy to be sent to the Pluto system.

For more information on Pluto go here.

Follow New Horizons as it writes space history here.

Follow NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it closes in on Pluto and Charon and prepares to write space history.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn how your firm or private institution can become a leader in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Saturn

Stunning Saturn, with its spectacular rings composed of pieces of rock and ice ranging in size from dust grains to city blocks, and mini solar system composed of at least 53 known moons, with another nine needing confirmation 

This montage of images of the Saturnian system was prepared from an assemblage of images taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft during its Saturn encounter in November 1980. This artist's view shows Dione in the forefront, Saturn rising behind, Tethys and Mimas fading in the distance to the right, Enceladus and Rhea off Saturn's rings to the left, and Titan in lts distant orbit at the top. The Voyager Project is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
This montage of images of the Saturnian system
was prepared from an assemblage of images taken
by the Voyager 1 spacecraft during its Saturn
encounter in November 1980. This artist’s view
shows Dione in the forefront, Saturn rising
behind, Tethys and Mimas fading in the distance
to the right, Enceladus and Rhea off Saturn’s
rings to the left, and Titan in lts distant orbit
at the top. The Voyager Project is managed for
NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
California.

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets in the solar system – 

Called Saturnus by the Romans and Chronos by the Greeks, Saturn was first recorded by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC, and first seen through a telescope by Galileo in 1610.

The second biggest planet in the solar system at a radius of 58,232 km, Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun, and orbits at a distance of 1.4 billion km (886 million miles) or 9.5 AU from Sol. 

It takes 29 Earth-years for Saturn to orbit the sun once, which is the length of a year on the most distant planet viewed by ancient astronomers. Spinning on it’s axis once every 10.5 hours, the length of the day and night cycle on this distant world, the seasons on Saturn are long and hard.

The least dense of all the planets, with a specific density 0.7 less than water, you wouldn’t be able to stand on the surface of Saturn. A boat composed of water would do the trick, since water would float on the surface of this planet composed primarily of helium and hydrogen.

Reaching the surface of Saturn would be an amazing and dangerous journey, considering the average wind speed in the atmosphere is 500 meters per second (1650 feet per second) near the equator.

The first human envoy to reach Saturn was Pioneer 11 in 1979, when it flew to within 13,700 miles (22,000 km), and discovered the planet’s strong magnetic field and two previously unseen outer rings.

For more information on Saturn go here.

Read about the southern polar region on Enceladus erupting icy grains of water and organic material into Saturn’s E ring.

Learn about the way the stars seed the universe with the building blocks within us all.

Learn how thousands of years ago Peruvian astronomers used 13 towers spread along the horizon to mark the rising and setting of the sun through the year.

Mars

A symbol for war and aggression for human tribes for thousands of years, fear and foreboding grew in the heart whenever a blood-red star, Mars (the Red Planet) appeared and moved across the night sky.

Global mosaic of Mars. Visible in the center of this mosaic is the largest known chasm in the solar system, Valles Marineris. Reproduced from Volume 14 of the Mars Digital Image Model (MDIM) CD-ROM set.
Global mosaic of Mars. Visible in the center of this mosaic is the largest known chasm in the solar system, Valles Marineris. Reproduced from Volume 14 of the Mars Digital Image Model (MDIM) CD-ROM set.

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets of the solar system –

With 11 percent of the mass and half the diameter of Earth, Mars is smaller than Venus and bigger than both Mercury and the Moon. A world of geological wonders, with ancient volcanoes dwarfing the biggest mountains on Earth, the Red Planet had warm and wet geological periods in the distant past.

The most studied of the nine planets besides Earth, Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun at an average distance of 142 million miles and is named after the Roman God of War.

Tuesday was Mars Day in ancient Babylonia, who first created the seven-day week because they believed on this day Mars influenced their lives. With two small moons called Phobos and Deimos, that look much more like asteroids from the Main Asteroid Belt, and a surface that looks Earth-like in photographs, the Red Planet is probably the best planet to terraform.

Mars has an atmosphere primarily composed of carbon dioxide, with a little water vapor, and not enough oxygen for you to breath. With a gravity field .375 of Earth’s and an average surface temperature of -81 degrees Celsius, it will take generations to make the Red Planet habitable for human life.

You can find out more about Mars here.

Read about the first Earth-sized planet found orbiting in its host star’s habitable zone.

Learn more about main sequence stars like our Sun.

Read about floating debris or waves space scientists see on the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan.

 

Pisces

The 14th biggest constellation in the night sky, Pisces the Fishes is visible in the night sky between latitude 90 to -65 degrees.

The constellation of Pisces actually consists of two fish, one working its way north, the other west. You’ll find Alpha (α) Piscium located at the southern tip of the constellation, at the point where the two segments are joined. That strange name, Alrescha, is derived from the Arabian name, Al Risha, meaning “cord,” which refers to the point at which the two piscatorial cousins are bound together in a knotted cord. Note that the locations shown for Jupiter and Uranus on this chart are current as of the first half of November, 2011. (Stellarium image with labels added, click for a larger view).
The constellation of Pisces actually consists of two fish, one working its way north, the other west. You’ll find Alpha (α) Piscium located at the southern tip of the constellation, at the point where the two segments are joined. That strange name, Alrescha, is derived from the Arabian name, Al Risha, meaning “cord,” which refers to the point at which the two piscatorial cousins are bound together with a knotted cord. Note that the locations are shown for Jupiter and Uranus on this chart as of the first half of November 2011. (Stellarium image with labels added, click for a larger view).

Space & astronomy wiki – the constellations in the sky –

Northeast of Aquarius the Water Bearer and Northwest of Cetus the Sea-monster, observers in Canada best look in early Autumn to view this faint, but huge V-shaped constellation occupying 889 square degrees of the 1st quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere.

The best time to see Pisces is around 9 p.m. (10 p.m. local standard time) between November 6-9. This changes to around 8 p.m. during the early days of December.

Look for the celestial signpost most observers use to find Pisces the Fishes, the Great Square of Pegasus as shown in the image below. Look for the Circlet of Pisces – often called the head of the Western Fish – to the south of the Square of Pegasus. Once you locate the Circlet of Pisces, head east of the Square of Pegasus to the Eastern Fish.

One of the first constellations in the night sky to be identified by ancient astronomers, Pisces the Fishes is believed to be based originally on the Syrian goddess of love and fertility Atagartis. Half-fish and half-woman some archaeologists believe Atagartis is the inspiration Babylonian astronomers used to originate both Greek and Roman goddesses of love and beauty Aphrodite and Venus.

For more information on Pisces, the Fishes go here.

Learn more about how stars seed the universe with the building blocks of the cosmos.

Read about Einstein’s spacetime.

Read about NASA’s Spitzer Telescopes view of the chaotic heart of supernova M82.

Uranus

British astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus accidentally on March 13, 1781, with his telescope while surveying all stars down to those about 10 times dimmer than can be seen by the naked eye. One
British astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus accidentally on March 13, 1781, with his telescope while surveying all stars down to those about 10 times dimmer than can be seen by the naked eye. One “star” seemed different, and within a year Uranus was shown to follow a planetary orbit.

The seventh planet from the Sun at 2.9 billion km (1.8 billion miles) or 19.19 AU, Uranus is a world tinted blue due to more methane in its mainly hydrogen and helium atmosphere than a similar gas giant like Mighty Jupiter or Spectacular Saturn.

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets in the solar system –

A year on Uranus, the amount of time it takes the planet to orbit the Sun, takes about 84 Earth-years to complete, but a day is only 17 hours in length. 27 moons of various sizes orbit this planet, which is just about the same in size as Neptune, moons name after characters from the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Although it’s not as apparent looking at Uranus through a telescope, this light blue world does have a ring system, composed of narrow and dark inner rings and brightly colored outer rings. As you look at this far off world through a telescope, you’ll notice it’s tipped on its side, compared to the other planets. Some planetary space scientists believe this orientation could be due to a collision over 4.5 billions years ago, when the solar system was being formed.

This distant world has only been visited by one man made spacecraft, Voyager 2 flew by Uranus, and the other outer planets, before heading off out of the solar system. The majority of the facts we have concerning this amazing world are due to this flyby, and unfortunately humans presently have no missions to Uranus planned for the future.

You can learn more about Uranus here.

Learn more about planets found in star systems composed of four suns.

Read about the Rosetta spacecraft’s historic decade long voyage to a meeting with comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko.

Learn more about calculating the possibility of intelligent life existing in the universe.

The Sun

NASA has just released five new videos called
NASA has just released five new videos called “Mysteries of the Sun“. The videos describe the science of the sun and its effects on the solar system and Earth. Scientists study the sun not only to better understand the orb that influences life, but also to study how it sends solar material out into space, filling up the bubble that defines the farthest reaches of the solar system. The sun can also impact Earth’s technology: solar storms can affect our communications satellites and cause surges in power lines. These movies cover the breadth of solar, heliospheric, and geospace science, a field known as heliophysics.

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the closest star to Earth –

Worshiped by every recorded human culture, the Sun – or Sol as the Romans called it – contains over 99.8 percent of the mass in the solar system, and is over a thousand times as massive.

Composed of 7.8 percent helium (He) and 92.1 percent hydrogen (H2) along with 0.1 percent oxygen and other elements, Sol looks solid in photographs, but its surface is a sea of hot 5,500 Celsius (10,000 degrees Fahrenheit) gas.

Called ‘Helios’ by the Greeks, the Sun is a stellar type G star called a main-sequence star but will change into a brighter, bigger and cooler red dwarf star around 5 billion years after its birth.

With a diameter over 100 times that of Earth at 1.4 million km (840,000 miles), the Sun is a common medium-sized yellow star you could fit over a million piles of earth inside.

Sitting at a distance of 149.6 million km (93 million miles) from our planet or 1 astronomical unit (AU), a distance which is used as a common measuring stick by astronomers viewing the solar system, the Sun transforms over 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 tons of helium every second through nuclear fusion.

Dominating the gravity pool of the solar system, the mass of the Sun warps spacetime, which determines the orbits of the planets, and governs the movements of all mass bodies within the boundaries of the system.

For more information on the Sun go here.

Learn more about the connection between the Earth and Sun here.

To learn more about the Sun go here.

The Human Journey to the Beginning of Space and Time; Who are we?

Learn more about the search for habitable planets beyond Earth.

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Jupiter’s Opposition

Space & astronomy wiki – the planets in the solar system –

Jupiter's opposition
Jupiter’s opposition

Is when Earth passes more or less between the Sun and Jupiter, placing mighty Jupiter opposite the Sun in our sky

The opposition of Jupiter occurred on February 6 in 2015. On this date, Jupiter came to within 404 million miles of Earth (650 million km), the closest opposition until 2019.

The opposition of Jupiter occurs on March 8 in 2016. Jupiter comes into opposition every 13 months, which is the amount of time it takes Earth to travel once around the Sun relative to Earth.

Read about ancient dust falling onto Mars from Oort Cloud containing metal ions.

Learn how to calculate the orbit of asteroids within the Main Asteroid Belt.

Read about the Rosetta spacecraft preparing to make history by landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.