Strange Object Boosts Kuiper Belt Mystery
NOV 13, 2013 01:48 PM ET // BY IAN O’NEILL
There’s something odd floating around in the outer solar system. Actually, there’s lots of odd things floating around in the outer solar system, but 2002 UX25 is one of the most baffling.
The mid-sized Kuiper belt object (KBO) measures 650 kilometers (400 miles) across, and yet it has a density less than water (less than 1 gram per cubic centimeter). Yes, if you put it in a huge bathtub, 2002 UX25 would float.
As we probably all know by now, the Kuiper belt — a populated region of the solar system found just beyond the orbit of Neptune — is a strange place. Once thought to have a population of just one, astronomers have identified thousands of other minor planetary bodies. In fact, it was the accelerated discoveries in the Kuiper belt that ultimately led to the reclassification (or demotion, depending on which way you look at it) of Pluto from “planet” to lowly “dwarf planet.”
JUL 30, 2013 12:03 PM ET // BY RAY VILLARD
Hurtling toward the Pluto system at 33,000 mph, NASA’s New Horizons probe was briefly awakened from electronic hibernation earlier this month to go through a full dress rehearsal for the July 2015 flyby.
With eight cameras and four spectrometers running on an anemic 30 watts of power, New Horizons is “the most sophisticated payload ever sent on a first reconnaissance mission,” said principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute during a presentation at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., on July 23.
Stern emphasizes that this is a mission of superlatives. New Horizons is the fastest manmade object ever built. It is not only reaching the farthest classical planet in the solar system, but also surveying a new class of binary world.
There is little doubt that Pluto could have fascinating weather and geology, and serve as a Rosetta stone for the history of the solar system’s vast outer rim. This region, called the Kupier belt, contains countless icy bodies — perhaps 900 others the size of Pluto.
The marathon flight will complete our initial reconnaissance of the solar system that began over 50 years ago at the dawn of the Space Age. There will never be another time like this in the history of mankind.
Yes, we’ve sent orbiters and landers to follow in the track of the trailblazing probes like Voyager and Pioneer. But to people under age 30 today, the Pluto mission will be their first — and maybe last — experience at the thrill of seeing a new world close-up for the first time. The last planetary flyby was of Neptune in the summer of 1989 by Voyager 2.
Published on May 19, 2013
After 10 years and more than 3 billion miles, the New Horizons spacecraft is now halfway between Earth and Pluto, on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy planet and its moons in July 2015.
Published on Aug 8, 2012
Planetary exploration is a historic endeavor and a major focus of NASA. New Horizons is designed to help us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto and Charon – a “double planet” and the last planet in our solar system to be visited by spacecraft. Then, as part of an extended mission, New Horizons would visit one or more objects in the Kuiper Belt region beyond Neptune.
Kuiper Belt Was a ‘War Zone’ — A Detective Story
MAR 16, 2013 08:11 PM ET // BY IAN O’NEILL
Astronomy can be a cosmic detective story, and our enduring fascination with the solar system’s mysterious hinterland of small icy objects in the Kuiper belt is no exception.
In fact, as wonderfully detailed by Mike Brown, professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), his detective work focuses on the growing population of dwarf planet discoveries in the Kuiper belt, revealing the frigid region used to be a pretty violent place.
Brown took a retrospective look at his research during the W. M. Keck Observatory 20th Anniversary Science Meeting at The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, the Big Island, on Thursday. Brown is famously known as the “Pluto Killer” — he discovered the dwarf planet Eris in 2005 that, ultimately, led to Pluto being reclassified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006. The fascinating story is revealed in his best-selling book, “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming.”
Although each Kuiper belt object its own unique story of discovery, Brown discussed the detection and investigation of the oddball dwarf planet (136108) Haumea — a world approximately a third of the mass of Pluto. Originally discovered by Brown’s Caltech team using the Palomar Observatory in 2004, key observations were carried out with the Keck Observatory telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. “We named the object Haumea in honor of the work done at Keck,” said Brown. In Hawaiian mythology, Haumea is the goddess of fertility and childbirth.
The Kuiper Belt – Scanning The Skies: The Discovery Telescope
Published on Dec 10, 2012