Headline Aug 20, 2015/ ''' PLUTO.......... {THY BEAUTIFUL}........ PLUMES '''

''' PLUTO.......... 


Back in 1993, Stern convened a group of planetary scientists to talk about what a mission to Pluto should look like.

At dinner, he asked each of them to think of something that the still unnamed probe might find.

They wrote their predictions on piece of paper, then sealed them away. 

Most of what the scientists wrote concerned highly technical matters    -the thermal structure of Pluto's atmosphere or the mix of isotopes in the surface ice.

All of the forecasts  -technical and fanciful   -are now being unwrapped after the encounter and compared with what  New Horizons  actually finds.

Charon, the largest of the five known moons was discovered as late as 1978. Charon is relatively big   -about half the size of Plato   -leading some scientists to believe that the pair a double-planet system-

And not a planet plus moon.

One possible explanation : a large body slammed into Pluto long ago, creating a debris cloud that coalesced to form Charon. Planetary scientists think a similar scenario created Earth's moon-

Which means  New Horizons could help them understand the Earth-moon system better.

The observations that will yield these answers will be conducted by a suite of onboard instruments measuring Pluto's atmosphere, surface chemistry, gravity field and more-

All with a spacecraft only half the size, two-thirds the weight and almost half the cost of Voyager 2 yet with far more powerful capabilities.

''We're going on to whole new world and to a new region of the solar system ,'' says Stern. 

''And we're doing it with 21st century technology. I think it's as sexy as it gets for a robotic spaceflight.''

But sexy doesn't mean foolproof, and on July 6,  New Horizons had a near death experience when NASA briefly lost contact with the probe, a radio silence that lasted a heart-stopping hour and 21 minutes.

The problem was caused by a timing anomaly in one of the spacecraft's automatic commands  -a command that fortunately won't need to be repeated for any part of the Pluto encounter.

Whatever problems the spacecraft may have had surely be forgotten since the pictures from New Horizons start flowing in. The images that have arrived so far are still blurry, but Pluto and Charon are already looking sharper than in anything seen before.  

The latest surprise : four dark spots evenly spaced along Pluto's equator, each about the size of Missouri.

At closest approach,  New Horizons will be able to spot objects as small as a football field, revealing details Tombaugh couldn't have imagined. 

[Tombaugh died in 1997; at Stern's insistence, some of his ashes are onboard New Horizons].

Once the probe passes Pluto, it will pivot around and continue taking pictures and readings until it is out of range.

New Horizons may then set course for a 2018 or 2019 encounter with a second, smaller KBO. When that is done, the proble could last for decades, just like Voyager 1 and 2, sending back data from the edge of the solar system.

So, when the encounter did come about successfully, the New Horizons team had plenty of questions answered from the mission.

But at the time what they we're more excited about was the possibility of those questions they didn't even know enough to ask.

As Stern always used to say, '' My policy is : 'Let's now go see what's there.'' And the world is holding its breath for disclosures and delights to come, after a nine year journey to the solar system's final frontier.

With respectful dedication to all the Scientists, Students, Professors and Teachers of the world. See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

''' And We Are Here '''

Good Night and God bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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