New Horizons reaches the ninth planet in our solar system
July 14, 2015 6:48 AM   Subscribe

50 years to day after Mariner IV gave humanity its first closeup glimpse of another planet, the New Horizons spacecraft brings us our first close up image of Pluto.

That image was taken at 4pm EST on July 13th, with a resolution of about 4 miles per pixel. It was final image New Horizons took before getting down to doing some serious size science as it made its closest approach to Pluto at 7:49am.

Currently the craft is too busy to communicate with earth. We'll get a brief message at 9pm EST on July 14th, essentially saying "yeah, yeah, I survived, now go away, I'm still sciencing, will talk to you tomorrow. Then on July 15th, the images will start to flow, beginning a 16 month process of getting all the data back down to Earth. Here's what photos to expect and when to expect them, courtesy of the always informative Emily Lakdawalla at Planetary.org
posted by Brandon Blatcher (303 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
Currently the craft is too busy to communicate with earth

Well, fine.

Seriously, though, this is great. Kudos to all of the people who spent the last decades making this happen, and inspiring us to keep dreaming.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:55 AM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's amazing how homey and endearing that image is. Pluto looks like a cross between a Schnauzer puppy and a rutabaga.
posted by maudlin at 6:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow, so beautiful! Reinstate Pluto as a planet!
posted by TwoStride at 6:56 AM on July 14, 2015


the ninth planet

Of course if we're calling it that then there's about eight other objects that deserve similar nomelecature.
posted by Artw at 6:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [23 favorites]




Go New Horizons! Can't wait for the postcards.
posted by nubs at 6:57 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is the probe nuclear powered? The rendering shows a part on it that looks suspiciously like the little thermonuclear generator from KSP...
posted by backseatpilot at 7:00 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite things about New Horizons is that Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, is getting to visit.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:01 AM on July 14, 2015 [58 favorites]


Incredible. I want to say more than that, because we as a species sent a thing we built 3 billion miles and 10 years away and got it there in one piece. Oh, also, here's a thing none of us had ever really seen before, except as a few dots in a picture, and it's red like Mars. Who saw that coming?
posted by gc at 7:01 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


It is nuclear powered and they are it that "tail" section.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:01 AM on July 14, 2015


Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge planetary exploration fanboy - - but I find the 50 year gap between those two missions sad more than anything else. I had much higher expectations for our species as a child of the 60's.
posted by fairmettle at 7:02 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Negative, New Horizons, the pattern is full.
posted by eriko at 7:03 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also, I can't not think of I'm Your Moon right now, the love letter from Charon to Pluto Jonathan Coulton wrote after Pluto was kicked out of the family.
posted by gc at 7:06 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is the probe nuclear powered?

Yes. It's using a spare RTG from the Cassini mission.
posted by papercrane at 7:06 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Looks like a planet to me.
posted by 445supermag at 7:07 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Is the probe nuclear powered?

Yes. A 2000 era 1 square meter solar panel would produce less than 1W of power at the distance Pluto is at now, so they'd need to have a massive array, on the order of 300m2. That's a huge mass penalty.

New Horizons is a remarkably small probe -- launch mass was 478kg. That large a solar panel would have easily doubled that mass, and that would have made the mission unflyable -- much less the extended Kuiper Belt Object mission they're hoping to try, where the solar flux will only be less.
posted by eriko at 7:08 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:09 AM on July 14, 2015 [31 favorites]


These early pics are fantastic, and they are only going to get better. It's going to take a full year for New Horizons to send the full, uncompressed (well, losslessly compressed) data set back to earth, starting around November 16. Why so long? Because talking to Pluto is hard.
posted by The Bellman at 7:10 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Talking to Pluto is hard! Why it takes so long to get data back from New Horizons":
Pluto is far away -- very far away, more than 30 times Earth's distance from the Sun -- so New Horizons' radio signal is weak. Weak signal means low data rates: at the moment, New Horizons can transmit at most 1 kilobit per second. (Note that spacecraft communications are typically measured in bits, not bytes; 1 kilobit is only 125 bytes.) Even at these low data rates, only the Deep Space Network's very largest, 70-meter dishes can detect New Horizons' faint signal.
They can almost double the data rate to 1.9 KB/s if they use two transmitters simultaneously, but to do that they need to power down the guidance and control systems: "New Horizons' nuclear power source has decayed since it launched nearly a decade ago, and there is no longer enough power to run both TWTAs at the same time as all the other spacecraft subsystems." To keep the spacecraft stably pointed at Earth during the transmission with guidance & control shut off, they need to start it spinning. Then once the transmission is done, they can spin it down again.

And they didn't even develop two transmitter mode until after launch.

Awesome.
posted by jjwiseman at 7:11 AM on July 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


Is this color in the same sense that a photograph is, or is this a false color image as is common in astronomy?
posted by indubitable at 7:12 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Note that if you're figuring this out yourself, you can't work with current solar cells -- you have to build your probe in about 2004-2005 to launch in 2006 to get to Pluto today, which means using parts designed no later than 2000 to have time to be qualified for spaceflight.

The Voyagers, Galileo and Cassini probes were all RTG powered, but better boosters, batteries, and solar cells have pushed out the distance that a solar powered probe can work, so the next Jupiter missions will almost certainly be solar powered, and the next Saturn ones may be solar as well. For anything farther out than that, solar isn't going to work. For them, it's RTG, nuclear fission, or don't fly that mission.
posted by eriko at 7:13 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


fairmettle: "Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge planetary exploration fanboy - - but I find the 50 year gap between those two missions sad more than anything else. I had much higher expectations for our species as a child of the 60's."

I hear you, I was old enough to watch some of the Apollo missions as they were happening and I was certain that we'd have moon bases and Mars missions by now but this is still an amazing thing. To design a craft that could survive for ten years in space and find it's way to Pluto and manage take and radio back such images is an astounding feat. Pluto is ten times farther away than Mars, 5 light-hours from Earth!
posted by octothorpe at 7:13 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Damn, son, where'd you find this?" ...... "About three billion miles that way, give or take."

I slept through the close approach broadcast but am looking forward to sitting around this evening when it's time to wait for the PHONE_HOME signal.

Also, the xkcd guy did what if post about just how incredibly damn fast New Horizons is traveling (it's really dang fast).
posted by sparkletone at 7:13 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


We've had orbital missions to Mercury, Venus, Mars (lots!), Jupiter and Saturn, and we've orbited two asteroids. We've landed on comets and Titan. We have two rovers currently exploring Mars. We are running two missions outside the solar system. We have multiple space observatories, and fleets of satellites monitoring the Sun.

Yes, I'd like more too. But we ain't so shabby.

(ETA: And all in my lifetime, too. Thoughtful of them.)
posted by Devonian at 7:14 AM on July 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


Also, I hadn't seen till this morning this post about some computer trouble they had a week-ish ago that could've meant disaster.
posted by sparkletone at 7:17 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Currently the craft is too busy to communicate with earth

I know the feeling, New Horizons.
posted by Foosnark at 7:17 AM on July 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


And they didn't even develop two transmitter mode until after launch.

Awesome.


Yeah. The lower power TWTAs they did develop in time to include were one of the things that made this mission possible -- they were looking at not being able to fly half the instruments because they couldn't rationally get data from them unless they could double the power until they found those. But the spin-stabilized dual polarization mode was one clever trick.

The issue with it is they do have to spin up the probe to maintain pointing stability, and the only way they have to point the probe is thrusters -- there's no reaction wheels on board. In general, there's very little that moves on New Horizons because of the long cruise time and worries that it would just freeze up and kill the mission, which is why it doesn't have a scan platform for the instruments or a steerable dish.

But this is one reason downlinks are limited -- it costs fuel to turn the probe and spin it up for the downlink, and then more fuel to go back to three-axis stable and aim the probe at imaging targets.

The rule right now is "Screw it, spend the fuel, get the data." One of the factors in the Extended KBO mission decision will be how much hydrazine is left after the flyby, but the primary mission is Pluto, and they're not going to save once milligram of N2H4 for the extended mission. Get the primary mission done, and if there's enough for the extended, then take it, and if there isn't, oh well.
posted by eriko at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]




Is this color in the same sense that a photograph is, or is this a false color image as is common in astronomy?

It's not true color, but it's balanced close to how we would perceive it. The filters are Blue, Red, Near IR and Medium IR, and they're bandpass filters. We also have ground and HST color imagery over the entire visible spectrum to compare to (not in this detail, of course, but enough to get a closer color match.)

The filter bands: Blue (400 – 550 nm) Red (540 – 700 nm) NIR (780 – 975 nm) Methane (860 – 910 nm).
posted by eriko at 7:25 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is there an astronomical/rational argument that Pluto should be a planet, or is it strictly an historical/emotional thing?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:25 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can't wait to read the Plutonian!
posted by blue_beetle at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alternatively: PEPSSI Blue
posted by blue_beetle at 7:30 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is there an astronomical/rational argument that Pluto should be a planet, or is it strictly an historical/emotional thing?

It's round and goes around the sun. But so do these guys, so I guess they are planets too or we start calling things "dwarf planets" or somesuch.
posted by Artw at 7:30 AM on July 14, 2015


That's no moon planet!
posted by peeedro at 7:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's a NASA simulator of what New Horizons will be doing up to, during and after the flyboy. It's busy, taking photos and measurements of Pluto and its five moons.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]




Can we get the planet/notaplanet thing officially declared a derail? I mean, really, give it a rest.

I find the 50 year gap between those two missions sad more than anything else.

We were sold a bill of goods, as far as space exploration goes; our expectations were raised to unreasonable levels. We're doing just fine. Enjoy today's success.

If you're wondering what the Ralph and Alice instruments, then here's a list of the science equipment and what they do.
One of these days, Alice, one of these days . . . Pow! Zip! To the Moon Pluto!

Ahhhh, shaddap an' finish yer NIR survey.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:34 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Is this color in the same sense that a photograph is, or is this a false color image as is common in astronomy?

As I understand it: The main LORRI imager is black-and-white but hi-rez. The color is coming from another instrument, RALPH. So the nice looking color images are actually a composite of the two, and while the LORRI image is very recent, the RALPH data might be from a couple of days ago.
posted by smackfu at 7:36 AM on July 14, 2015


It's not a planet.
posted by mysticreferee at 7:36 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is there an astronomical/rational argument that Pluto should be a planet, or is it strictly an historical/emotional thing?

Mostly emotional. The problem with Pluto being a planet is that, if it is, the Solar System arguably has at least 10 planets, because you have to count Eris as well as Pluto, and really if you're counting them, you should be counting Ceres, Makemake, Haumea, Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, and then you start to realize that there are probably hundreds of planets in the Solar System if you count Pluto as one.

And that bothered a bunch of people, because these objects are clearly different that the four inner planets and the four gas giants. And thus, the breakup of the Solar System into *three* objects, Planets (Rocky and Gas Giants), Dwarf Planets, and Planetoids.

And when they drew the lines, Pluto ended up on the other side.

I dislike it, because I grew up with Pluto as a planet, but the logic is compelling -- and you look at the orbit, and Pluto stands out as *wrong* as a planet. Everybody else orbits in the same general plane, Pluto doesn't. That's why the "Clearing your orbit" definition was adopted for a planet -- full planets are big enough that everything else either gets captured, thrown into resonance, or kicked out of the orbit. Dwarfs aren't big enough to do that. Pluto clearly fails that test, indeed, Neptune clearly did that to Pluto -- Pluto is in a 2:3 resonance with Neptune.

So. I hate it, but they were right.

Many Very Educated Men Just Screwed Up Nine. (Phpppt!)
posted by eriko at 7:37 AM on July 14, 2015 [68 favorites]


The filters are Blue, Red, Near IR and Medium IR, and they're bandpass filters.

It looks like they applied the Instagram filter , perhaps unintentionally.
posted by Rumple at 7:39 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is the probe nuclear powered?

Yes. It's using a spare RTG from the Cassini mission.

So you're saying we just sent plutonium to Pluto? Don't they have enough already?
posted by the painkiller at 7:39 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


They could have just made Xena the tenth, it had the right initial to be Planet X, but nooooo....
posted by Artw at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


The problem with Pluto being a planet is that, if it is, the Solar System arguably has at least 10 planets...

This is totally not a problem. Who wouldn't want to live a solar system with 20 or so planets? Assholes, that's who!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


I took the shot from Hubble I was using as my desktop and just put plain ol' Pluto there instead. Because we're there now, damn it.

Also, the most interesting thing (at least for me) that's come out of this so far is that Pluto is actually larger than Eris in terms of diameter, but less massive (which was already known). So we now know its density is lower than we thought and Pluto is again the king of the TNOs.
posted by Hactar at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]




Meaning not you Eriko, but the scientists who changed the definition.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


That pic from late last night is pretty damn stunning. I've been super-excited about this for months now, & have been tweeting Pluto "facts" since February, but I'm going to wrap it up probably tonight.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:43 AM on July 14, 2015


C'mooooon mass relay!
posted by sonmi at 7:45 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fun fact: The craft is about the size of baby grand piano, here's an image of it compared to humans, taken while it was prepared for launch.

That doesn't look at all like my wife's baby grand piano!

Although, to be fair, I haven't wrapped my wife's piano in metal foil. Let me try that out and I'll get back to you.
posted by Naberius at 7:47 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


For a view on the debate of Pluto's planethood on Pluto by Plutonians, Rick and Morty got you covered.
posted by Atreides at 7:49 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


NASA TV coverage of the Phone Home downlink starts at 2000 EDT tonight, 0000 UTC Wednesday. We're expecting that signal to finish downlinking at 2109 EDT/0109 UTC, but the start of the downlink would be 20 minutes earlier and that alone would tell us New Horizons made it that far, but NASA/JPL really wants to see the fully telemetry to know if the imaging sequences were successful.

We'll get the First Look A downlink tomorrow, that press conference will run on NASA TV at 1500 EDT, 1900 UTC, and should have full disk pictures of Charon, Pluto and Hydra, the Pluto image will make a stereo image with that image we got yesterday.

We won't get much more color imagery, alas, until September -- just takes too much downlink time. We will get one more color shot of Pluto and Charon together, I think we will get one color shot of Hydra and Nix as well, but they'll be small. The first look imagery is just that -- then it's back to data gathering and, if able, prep for the extended KBO mission. Come September, the lossy compressed dataset downlink starts. We won't see the lossless compressed downlink until next year, because it is going to take nearly a year to downlink that!
posted by eriko at 7:49 AM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Although, to be fair, I haven't wrapped my wife's piano in metal foil. Let me try that out and I'll get back to you.

Don't forget to put the big satellite dish on top!
posted by eriko at 7:49 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is there an astronomical/rational argument that Pluto should be a planet, or is it strictly an historical/emotional thing?

I'm going to weigh in in disagreement with eriko above, in that I think a significant part of the exclusion of Pluto is an emotional response "If we do not exclude Pluto, we'd have to include a bunch of other bodies we'd rather not."

I believe there is a rational, unemotional reason that Pluto should be considered a planet, along with Ceres, Eris, and very likely the other bodies mentioned above.

It is a weird planet, to be sure, but I believe that the best scientific descriptors are the simplest. The current AAS definition of a planet has a couple peculiar aspects that are tailored specifically to exclude Pluto and the other bodies.

This doesn't account for any of the planets we have discovered outside the solar system, and also fails to account for free-floating bodies that are not in orbit around any star.

In my opinion, the simplest definition of a planet would be that it is large enough to become spherical, and that it is either in orbit around a star or flying free in space.

Of course, this would end up having us INCLUDE Ceres, Eris, and (probably) Makemake, Quaoar, Sedna and others, but I think it is both the simplest definition and the one most flexible to account for all of the bodies we will find in the greater solar system and in other solar systems as our technology improves.
posted by chimaera at 7:51 AM on July 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


In addition, I think it would be most amusing to find a fairly large body out there in the deep Kuiper belt, orbiting way out above the ecliptic that fits all of the AAS definitions, only for someone to then move to codify "orbiting in the ecliptic" to the definition to avoid having to add it to the planet list. Considering how much we're discovering in the deep solar system, I think the chances of that are fairly good.
posted by chimaera at 7:59 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


a fairly large body out there in the deep Kuiper belt, orbiting way out above the ecliptic that fits all of the AAS definitions, only for someone to then move to codify "orbiting in the ecliptic" to the definition to avoid having to add it to the planet list.

No no that'd just be a Giant Dwarf Planet.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:02 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm going to weigh in in disagreement with eriko above. I believe that Pluto should be considered a planet, along with Ceres, Eris, and very likely the other bodies mentioned above

Well, you can argue that with "Rocky planets, Gas Giant Planets, Dwarf Planets, Planetoids." Basically, there are three kinds of planets, and one kind of thing that's not. But that's not what the IAU decided. The IAU decided that the first two are planets, the latter one is not. Well, technically, the first decided that the first two orbiting around the Sun were planets. Later on, they extended that definition to objects of the same class around other stars.

When they first made that that decision defining "planet", they *very explicitly* said in Resolution 6B that "No, Pluto is not a planet! *BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM*" As Br. Guy Consolmango said to me "Yes, I did, I killed Pluto, and I'd kill it again!"

Bastard.

Actually I love Brother Guy to death and his parents are lovely people and I can no more hate him than I hate Pluto and he had the best evil laugh when he said that.
posted by eriko at 8:04 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Looks like a planet to me.

Hm. Looks more like Triton (Neptune's largest moon) to me.
posted by aught at 8:05 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hello Pluto! Goodbye Pluto!
posted by eye of newt at 8:06 AM on July 14, 2015


The definition of 'planet' is arbitrary. We could expand the definition of pizza to include Pluto and by definition, Pluto would be a pizza. I will never understand all the pedantry about it. Pluto used to be part of the designation 'planet', but as we've learned more we realized that it's different enough from a planet to need a different name. It's not a demotion, it's just a reclassification.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:08 AM on July 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


*excited Kermit hands*

It's so crazy seeing major NASA teams sitting around with laptops to navigate deep space instead of some major Missions Control setup from way back. I'm sure they're pretty much just watching at this point, but it still feels as if there's more to be said here technologically than just getting there.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:10 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah; my feeling on the matter is definitely that they're confusing types and subtypes. Strikes me that they could easily make Pluto be "Planet - Dwarf", Earth "Planet - Terrestrial", and Jupiter "Planet - Gas Giant",* leaving room for more exotic bodies out there in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. Maybe we'll even encounter some directly observable 'rogue' planets that orbit the galactic center rather than a particular star; after all, most of our techniques for finding and confirming planets rely on gravitational tugs and optical dimming produced by planets relative to their stars, so our sample of what's out there is inherently biased.

*Adoping an MTG-style format like this would also facilitate making nifty celestial object trading cards.
posted by fifthrider at 8:12 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not a demotion, it's just a reclassification.

Ha, if I heard that from my boss...
posted by smackfu at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Well, it looks like Yuggoth has a large white area that could be a giant bloom of fungi...
posted by graymouser at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just think how lucrative today would be if you'd all bought ad-space there like I offered!
posted by Navelgazer at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2015


Pluto, like my cat, has a heart-shaped tramp stamp. Who knew?

Have we gotten closer images of Charon yet? Here's to hoping it's a relay.
posted by qcubed at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings . . .
This now concludes our broadcast day. WHIO operates on an assigned frequency of 174 to 180 thousand kilocycles with an effective radiated power of 1,000,000 watts visual and 100,000 watts aural, as authorized by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. . . .
Via NPR: A video tribute to New Horizons, accompanied by Ray Bradbury, reading his poem "If Only We Had Taller Been":
Short man, Large dream
I send my rockets forth between my ears
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall:
We've reached Alpha Centauri!
We're tall, O God, we're tall!
Full Text
posted by Herodios at 8:16 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Because talking to Pluto is hard.

It would have been six fucktons easier if we could have put a second RTG on the thing. Another 100W of transmitter power and we get 6dbi in gain, that's at least 4x the data rate. Okay, maybe four fucktons easier.

But, alas, when you're doing a mission on the cheap you use what you can get, and in 2004, getting one RTG was hard enough, and the only reason this one was available was that it was a flight spare from the Cassini mission.
posted by eriko at 8:16 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems kind of parochial to be tailoring the definition of planet to fit our solar system, when we already know that the solar system is a bit of an oddball, galactically speaking. (Retrograde orbits? Orbiting two stars? Super-super inclined with respect to the ecliptic? Falling apart as we watch? Orbital periods of hours, or millennia? We know about planets with all of those characteristics and more somewhere.)

But whatever. The whole is-it-isn't-it-a-planet debate, while enjoyable to beanplaters everywhere (and who doesn't like a nice plate of beans around here?) is somewhat irrelevant to the fact that Pluto is a beautiful and interesting world, orbited closely by the equally fascinating Charon, with a litter of 4 moons known so far (and I wonder when we'll detect the next one in New Horizons data?). And having followed New Horizons since launch (oh, what we didn't know about planets even a decade ago!) I am super excited to see it finally, finally, finally arrive.
posted by puffyn at 8:16 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


It would have been six fucktons easier if we could have put a second RTG on the thing.

Pssh. Imperial fucktons, maybe.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:24 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is there an astronomical/rational argument that Pluto should be a planet, or is it strictly an historical/emotional thing?

There's no real rational argument on either side. Words mean what they're used to mean. Declaring that Pluto is a planet solves no scientific problems -- depending on what you're doing, you might usefully think of our solar system as having zero, one, two, four, eight, nine, or dozens to hundreds of planets. If you're doing something scientific and a word or concept you're using has an unclear definition, you can simply take a sentence to indicate how, precisely, you're operationalizing it. If everyone in your relevant (sub)field uses it the same way, you don't even need to do that, though the use in your subfield might differ from common usage or even usage in other (sub)fields. Likewise, the same is true for voting that Pluto not a planet.

I think the whole exercise vaguely enrages me because I'm used to using concepts that can have more than one operationalization, and so too should astronomers be, and their vote doesn't help get science done. The notion that everyone else should use the term as defined by their vote is as silly as the notion that we should all start referring to carbon and oxygen as metals, like astronomers (sometimes) do.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:28 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


The Juno mission (arriving at Jupiter next July) doesn't use an RTG for *reasons* and has to use a crazy amount of solar panels. The wikipedia page says that it was a cost issue but not sure I believe that.
posted by smackfu at 8:29 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pssh. Imperial fucktons, maybe.

Fine. 7.3 fucktonnes. I *knew* I should have put that in metric.
posted by eriko at 8:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Why don't we put a communication satellite in orbit around Jupiter. High powered, with gigantic antennas? Deep space communication problems solved for the next century!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like how the entire New Horizons probe is wrapped with roll after roll of Kapton tape. Kapton tape looks like brownish-yellow scotch tape and is the duct tape of the electronics world. It looks like a Red Green backyard duct tape project.
posted by JackFlash at 8:34 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The wikipedia page says that it was a cost issue but not sure I believe that.

Well, I imagine it was a combination of things including cost (the solar panels actually are cheaper, I presume because the scarcity of plutonium is driving up costs), improvement in solar panel technology in recent years, and wanting to save whatever p-238 they do have budget for and access to for missions that absolutely require it.
posted by aught at 8:35 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why don't we put a communication satellite in orbit around Jupiter.

If you think about the planets going around their huge orbits, sometimes Jupiter is way the heck around on the opposite side of the sun from what you'd be trying to relay from, making it actually much *farther* from the transmitter than the Earth would be.
posted by aught at 8:37 AM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why don't we put a communication satellite in orbit around Jupiter. High powered, with gigantic antennas

Costs money better spent on on science probes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 AM on July 14, 2015


Juno also appears to have a bottle opener on it, anyone know what that's for?
posted by theodolite at 8:41 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The wikipedia page says that it was a cost issue but not sure I believe that.

Cost is a big factor, and there's not much Pu238 running around to fuel RTGs right now, because nobody's really making plutonium much anymore, thanks to nuclear weapon drawdowns. The US hasn't made the stuff since 1988, we buy it from Russia, but that's getting hard to do anymore. NASA estimates it can fuel three more MMRTGs , and one is in reserve for the Mars 2020 rover mission, where RTG not only offer power, but heat, a double win on Mars.

So, you really have to justify needing one before you'll get one, and Juno could fly without one by using a larger solar array, given more efficient solar cells. Still, the array on Juno is huge, 60 square meters, generating 490W at Jupiter, which will degrade to 420W with rad damage over time.

But that array masses 340kg. New Horizon's launch mass was 478kg, and that array would have produced a fraction of that power at 38A that it will at 5AU.

And if you build a 60 square meter array today and launch it to Jupiter, it'll put out closer to 700W rather that 490W. Solar cells technology keeps improving, and 490W is basically what the Voyagers started with -- and they didn't have the lower power electronics that we do now.
posted by eriko at 8:42 AM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


The slow communication speed isn't really a problem, just something that needs to be designed around. Store the data and send it back over time. If it was an orbiter, it would be an issue, but for a fly-by it's not bad. The communication delays are a pain, but that's the speed of light so a relay satellite wouldn't help there.
posted by smackfu at 8:42 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Juno also appears to have a bottle opener on it, anyone know what that's for?

That's the magnetometer antenna. It also apparently will open any giant bottles we find in Jupiter orbit.
posted by eriko at 8:43 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Juno also appears to have a bottle opener on it, anyone know what that's for?

Hey, you try traveling 7.5 billion or so kilometers some time and you'll want an ice cold beer, too.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:43 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


they *very explicitly* said in Resolution 6B that "No, Pluto is not a planet! *BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM*"

And then they also very explicitly said Pluto is in fact a "dwarf planet". Which is obviously a type of planet, unless we're in oxymoronic backwards-world. And everyone's mind was blown.
posted by sfenders at 8:46 AM on July 14, 2015


Juno also appears to have a bottle opener on it, anyone know what that's for?

Jupiter likes his beer! Or magnetometer, to study the magnetosphere. Possibly both!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:46 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


A nice article on part of the New Horizons team popped up in my FB feed: The Women who Power NASA’s New Horizons Mission to Pluto. A few paragraphs from it:
In preparation for New Horizons’ Pluto flyby—the mission phase between July 7 and July 16—Ennico works with Leslie Young, another deputy project scientist who is also the encounter planning leader on the science team. Young is tasked with fitting all of New Horizons’ science goals into the precious few days the spacecraft will be in the near vicinity of Pluto. “I figure out the spacecraft’s priorities,” she says, describing the process as, “a job that means scheduling observations that can run simultaneously to gather the most data in a limited time.”

Young’s flyby playbook for New Horizons is turned into spacecraft commands by the science operation team managed by Tiffany Finley, who calls the gender balance on the New Horizons team “refreshing.”

Spacecraft commands are passed on to the mission operations team, managed by Alice Bowman. She personally reads every line of code before it’s sent on a four-and-a-half hour journey to New Horizons. “I’m the last one who signs off on everything we send to the spacecraft,” she explains. “I want to make sure it’s perfect.”
posted by fraula at 8:50 AM on July 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


So, can/would it be reasonable for anyone to produce Pu238 for just this purpose? Do we have any reasonable alternatives for RTG fuel? Wikipedia mentions Americum-241 as a possibility, but I don't know enough about this to know what the hell any of that means practically. I love RTG's and would hate to seem them no longer be a reasonable option for long-term probes. It just seems so perfect.
posted by neonrev at 8:52 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the imperial/metric fuckton ambiguity the thing that lost Proneer-E?
posted by Devonian at 8:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


So you're saying we just sent plutonium to Pluto? Don't they have enough already?

Better than sending uranium to Uranus.
posted by ryoshu at 9:02 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


You say bottle opener, I say it looks like a hard drive read/write arm.
posted by traveler_ at 9:03 AM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Juno also appears to have a bottle opener on it

Jupiter likes his beer!


That's why he's so jovial alla time.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:07 AM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


If Pluto isn't a planet, then neither is Jupiter.

Jupiter should probably be considered our sun's brown dwarf companion (Sol B).

Also, the Earth-Moon system is probably better defined as a double or binary-planet system and referred to as such (i.e, "Earth-Moon").
posted by Avenger at 9:09 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Must be one heck of a fast exposure, if per xkcd that little space ship is moving about 10 times faster than a speeding bullet, ever try to get a photo of something on the side of the road at freeway speeds?
posted by sammyo at 9:11 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, a lot of the controversy about defining planets and such arises from the fact that our exploration of the solar system (Sol A-B?) has grown enormously in the past decade, and we are discovering that our neighborhood is both more complex and more crowded than we previously realized.
posted by Avenger at 9:13 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Avenger: The link to binary-planet systems contradicts your first statement, about Jupiter being a brown dwarf. There's no fusion on Jupiter- not a brown dwarf. Possible a failed brown dwarf, though.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:15 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jupiter does emit more energy than it receives from the sun, which suggests internal power generation, even in the absence of fusion. It's a gray area, I think.
posted by Avenger at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2015


On Science Friday last week, the Principal Investigator for New Horizons said something to the effect of "Pluto's demotion was by astrophysicists -- planetary scientists all say it's a planet." And then essentially called astrophysicists the podiatrists of science.
posted by Etrigan at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: It's a grey area, I think.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:21 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Metafilter runs on a hefty enough server but it's no Grey Area.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


10 years ago, I and 434,737 other people, filled out a form on the NASA website, submitting our names for inclusion on a CD that would be attached to the New Horizons probe.

Today, 9 years later, at 12:03:50 UTC, those 434,738 names streaked past Pluto at over 36,000 miles per hour.

I love science!
posted by garrett at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Fine then: Metafilter: The Podiatrists of science.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:24 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jupiter should probably be considered our sun's brown dwarf companion (Sol B).

No, the coolest thing that anybody is considering a brown dwarf is emitting at 300K, Jupiter is at 125K.

Also, the Earth-Moon system is probably better defined as a double or binary-planet system and referred to as such (i.e, "Earth-Moon").

Nope, there's a easy test for that! Where is the orbital barycenter? If it's inside one of the two bodies at all times, then you have a moon orbiting a planet, and that's the case of the Moon orbiting the Earth.

The barycenter of Jupiter-Sun orbit is outside of the Sun, but the Sun is not a Planet, and Jupiter is not a star, so it's not a double star or double planet.

In the case of Charon and Pluto, neither is true -- the barycenter they orbit is outside of both Pluto and Charon, so calling that the Pluto-Charon system and them a Double Dwarf Planet is correct.

Jupiter does emit more energy than it receives from the sun, which suggests internal power generation, even in the absence of fusion

Simple radiation of heat from formation could account from that -- when all that mass was compressed together, much of it would get hot, see Boyle's law. There's no evidence of fusion at all in Jupiter -- no byproducts, no neutrino flux, no nothing.

Brown dwarfs where things like deuterium fusion have occurred have fusion byproducts and are significantly hotter -- over twice the surface temp or more of Jupiter, and that's true even when they're not orbiting another start.

Plus, there's a simple mass difference. Brown Dwarfs are 7+ Jupiter masses.

Jupiter is a big ass planet, but as far as we can tell, and we've studied Jupiter pretty hard, Jupiter is just a bigger version of Saturn. It's just another gas giant planet. Not a star -- at least six Jupiters short of anything that could be considered a star, at least thirty short of what we classically consider a star -- that is, one that relies on hydrogen fusion as the primary power source.
posted by eriko at 9:24 AM on July 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


Not wanting to reclassify Pluto more often has to do with nostalgia than wanting to carve the world accurately at the joints, at least for me, because of how I memorized it in fourth grade:

mercuryvenusearthmarsjupitersaturnuranusneptunepluto

It's just not the same word without those last five letters.

It's like being the last person picked to play kickball, but then being told you can't play after all, because you are too small. It hurts, man. It really hurts.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:28 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's just not fair to Eris! If Pluto is a planet, so is Eris. If the solar system is kickball, Pluto being a planet is like telling Eris that it can't play because the team is called the No Eris Club.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had a cat named Eris when I was a kid. That cat was an asshole. Fuck Eris.

Pluto, on the other hand, is a friendly dog of uncommon smarts.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


On the matter of planet definitions: there are a lot of astronomers that are deeply unsatisfied with the IAU definition, because it excludes planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. There was a good article from Sky and Telescope a few years ago about this problem (PDF): It's Not About Pluto: Exoplanets Are Planets Too!

At the time the definition was adopted I was taking an astronomy course and the professor spoke at length about the debate. I got the impression that the hydrostatic equilibrium requirement was the only widely accepted part of the definition. He thought the definition was adopted, in part, because of anti-Americanism, since Pluto and Eris had been discovered by Americans (he's Venezuelan and his research was in asteroids and comets, for what it's worth).

Personally, I'd rather the IAU had never defined a planet at all, since the definition of a planet is boring in comparison to planets themselves.
posted by ddbeck at 9:43 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


As an aside, those RTGs are designed to withstand A) the spacecraft exploding during launch B) falling through the atmosphere C) crashing in the ocean and D) being recovered from the bottom of the ocean. Sturdy little fuckers.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:44 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


If the solar system is kickball . . .

A problem which solves itself.

If Pluto isn't a planet, then neither is Jupiter.

Declaring that Pluto is a planet solves no scientific problems

Please read and re-read ROU_Xenophobe's full comment until you feel it down deep in your tummy, warming your insides with the glow of The Is That Is, freeing your mind and soul from the need to noodle the Nine Nillion Names of Nod. When they changed the calendar in 1752 nobody's life was truncated by 11 days, those days just got new names. Pluto was and is a thing that is there, quite far there, and HUZZAH!, we successfully sent some of our things there to have a butcher's. That is not changed by imaginary categories.

For our purposes here, the categorization doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter.

Let it go, El Kabah. . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 9:45 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah the planet thing is dull. Can we get back to the fact that we sent a robot an unimaginably long distance from home, it arrived, and it's sending postcards!?
posted by Monochrome at 9:47 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Fine, Eris can be a planet too. Anyone else?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:48 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Planet eriko. Make it happen, people!
posted by eriko at 9:49 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not wanting to reclassify Pluto more often has to do with nostalgia...

I've seen this accusation before and it seems backwards to me. If there's really somebody out there whose position is, "Nine planets exactly! No more no less!" then maybe this applies to them, but the two actual positions are, IMHO:
  1. Whoa, we're starting to find all sorts of weird bodies in weird dynamical situations. These aren't the sort of (rocky or gas giant) planets we're used to; let's reclassify them and settle on a final number of eight planets.
  2. Wow, we're starting to find all sorts of weird bodies in weird dynamical situations. Let's call all the round ones planets. Who knows how many we may eventually find!
I would characterize the former position as conservative and driven by nostalgia, not the latter.
posted by The Tensor at 9:50 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm a planet! And so's my wife!
posted by Naberius at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'm all up for extending the planet definition. In my book, there's at least 87 planets in our solar system.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:52 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jupiter a failed star? Pluto an 'almost' planet?

We're a solar system of under-achievers…
posted by mazola at 9:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Planet eriko. Make it happen, people

I'm a planet! And so's my wife!


Marvel Comics has you covered.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:56 AM on July 14, 2015


and it's sending postcards!?

OTOH, that's why there's all this idle talk, because it sent postcards but it will take some time for them to get delivered.
posted by smackfu at 9:58 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


We're a solar system of under-achievers…

Uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy, small unregarded yellow sun, yep, that's us.

Can we get back to the fact that we sent a robot an unimaginably long distance from home, it arrived, and it's sending postcards!

Problem is that until, oh, about 8PM CDT, we're not going to hear anything more. So, well, thread is drifting away in the solar wind.
posted by eriko at 9:59 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's like when those dastardly paleontologists threw Brontosaurus into the ash heap of history. Technically correct at the time, but disturbing to 6 year olds everywhere.

And later those cocky eggheads were forced to bring our Bronto back, so hoisted on their own petard.
posted by Rumple at 10:01 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm in the building where the MOC is, eating lunch. It feels like a weird day. We were expecting to be mobbed here, but all the press and the hoopla are across the street at the K-Center, and under the big tent set up on the lawn. It's kind of looks like business as usual here.

People are quietly glad though, and maybe some a little relieved. A lot of my coworkers put a lot of work into New Horizons. (I unfortunately joined the Lab too late to have worked on it.). To work on any NASA mission is a privilege. (Hoping to work on Europa Clipper!)

I'm just struck by the comments people have been putting up, on Instagram, on Twitter, NYTimes and elsewhere. It makes me very grateful, for myself and my colleagues. Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in this.
posted by newdaddy at 10:02 AM on July 14, 2015 [31 favorites]


Well, until we get some new images from the probe itself... I guess I can share this charming illustration. And also google image recognition software's extremely doge-y interpretation of the new photo.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:03 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hope the new images get a shot of Fwiffo and his Spathi Eluder.
posted by TheWaves at 10:06 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


In my book, there's at least 87 planets in our solar system.

I like how your "87 planets" link goes to something which says there are 11 planets. I thought it was 14 or so by the usual definition. Very satisfying how we've gone from a world where everyone knew there were nine planets, to one where nobody is quite sure, not many years from the same time we've gone from Pluto in the popular imagination looking like a mysterious blurry round thing to high-res images where it looks like an actual planet.
posted by sfenders at 10:06 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fuck Eris.

All hail Discordia!
posted by Foosnark at 10:11 AM on July 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also, the most interesting thing (at least for me) that's come out of this so far is that Pluto is actually larger than Eris in terms of diameter, but less massive (which was already known). So we now know its density is lower than we thought and Pluto is again the king of the TNOs.

Tell that to Tommy Burns - - "the only Canadian-born World Heavyweight Champion boxer. The first to travel the globe in defending his title, Tommy made 11 title defences despite often being the underdog due to his size (5 ft 7in)."
posted by fairmettle at 10:17 AM on July 14, 2015


Yeah, but 2 of those "moons" are bigger than mercury and 7 are bigger than pluto. And since at least 3 of those are very geologically active, I'm all for including them as "planets that go around another planet in addition to going around the sun"
posted by sexyrobot at 10:18 AM on July 14, 2015


Sfenders, as of this AM, I have that blurry round thing and today's new image of Pluto side-by-side as my desktop background.

Today's New Image of Pluto.

S'wonderful.

And, Newdaddy, thanks for being part of it.

It's a good day.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:19 AM on July 14, 2015


posted by leotrotsky Best image of Pluto yet released.

Here's an even better image
posted by mattdidthat at 10:23 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can we get back to the fact that we sent a robot an unimaginably long distance from home, it arrived, and it's sending postcards!

If you haven't figured what Plutotime is like for you locally, do so. It's put me in a wonderfully meditative, philosophical and spiritual mood these past few days. Walking around in the dim light, realizing that its about as bright as it is on Pluto, where we've managed to send a spacecraft on flyby and made it there on the first try!

Even more wondrous is that we could have been there earlier. This has been in the planning stages since 1990 and went through one or two actual cancelled projects, which were scheduled arrive at Pluto in 2011. So we have the intelligence and technology to do these things, now it's just a matter of money and being willing to do them.

New Horizons is amazing. It's the size of grand piano! It's only carrying 170lbs of fuel for course corrections and maneuvers! Despite delays in its launch, we managed to get it up in time to get a speed assist from Jupiter, another wise it would have taken another two to four years! How cool is that we've figured out how to use plants and moons to slingshot our way around the solar system? ! It's almost like sailing.

There's so much that is disappointing in the world and so many terrible things humans do. But this, and every spacecraft we launch, is an amazing testament to our potential as a species.

It's also a humble reminder of how vast space is and how incredibly hard space travel will continue to be. If we see a photo tomorrow that has indisputable proof of life on Pluto, it would probably take about 20 years of travel time just to send spacecraft that could orbit the planet. That doesn't include time spent designing, building the craft. Time is prison of sorts and our life spans another, but sometimes we get to see the sunlight through the bars.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:24 AM on July 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


Possible a failed brown dwarf, though.

Jupiter is glad the whole brown dwarf thing didn't work out, really, being a gas giant is actually pretty fulfilling, this is a great solar system, plus he has his moons and they're the light of his life, really I mean if he was a brown dwarf when would he have had time to have all those moons?

Look at this picture of Io, can you believe how big she's gotten

I mean yeah there was that whole Shoemaker-Levy thing and but you just gotta take stuff like that in stride, collisions gonna happen, it's just part of the whole planet game
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:42 AM on July 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Nah, we're stalking Pluto.
posted by pjern at 10:43 AM on July 14, 2015 [6 favorites]




Emily Lakdawalla's first impressions on the geology in the latest photo.
I caught up with Will Grundy in the hallway. Will has done a huge amount of Earth-based observational work on Pluto. He told me that they specifically targeted this hemisphere to be the close-approach hemisphere because they knew it would contain the "contrastiest" part of the surface.
they specifically targeted this hemisphere

Okay, now you're just bragging, Will Grundy. "Hit a 1200-kilometer target that's five billion kilometers away? No problem. Which side do you want us to get?"
posted by Etrigan at 10:52 AM on July 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


I sort of wish NASA had pranked us by running the photo through that Google Deep Dream filter first
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:10 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


New "exaggerated color" image of Pluto: https://twitter.com/elakdawalla/status/621016727627919360/photo/1
posted by jjwiseman at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, now you're just bragging, Will Grundy. "Hit a 1200-kilometer target that's five billion kilometers away? No problem. Which side do you want us to get?"

Not actually that hard -- what he really said was "which side do we pass on." And when you make that choice some 100 million miles out, you need very little energy to do so.

To give you an idea how little energy? Brandon Blatcher already mentioned that this thing only has 77kg of fuel. It's "big" thrusters are 4.4N. We normally measure these things in kilonewtons or meganewtons. The little ones are .9N. It makes trajectory corrections that are measured in single digit meters per second, and it takes minutes to make them.

Where most rockets and probes blast their way through, after the initial launch, New Horizons has to do everything subtly. It doesn't have much specific impulse using hydrazine monopropellant, it doesn't have much total delta V with just 77kg of propellant on board, it can't use most of that for velocity changes because that fuel is also the attitude control fuel, and it doesn't have much in the way of thrust.

So, it just gives a little nudge here and there. But what New Horizons has a lot of is time. So, you give a little nudge, and you wait, and you give another little nudge, and you wait again.

And *bam* -- you fly exactly by Pluto, on the side you want to, nine years later, with fuel to spare. It's not how hard you push. It's how you push, and when.

Now, the Atlas V 551 with the Star 48B third stage? THAT had a whole bunch of thrust and a whole bunch of Delta-V and after it was done New Horizons was past the Moon's orbit in less than 9 hours. But after that? Just a few nudges, a ride around Jupiter, and zoom!
posted by eriko at 11:21 AM on July 14, 2015 [8 favorites]




This won't end well.
posted by eriko at 11:28 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Talking to Pluto is hard! Why it takes so long to get data back from New Horizons

Which is interesting but makes me think of a whole lot more questions: lossless yes, but how do they deal with data integrity? Is there a whole other layer (and overhead) of error-correction coding on top of the data? Is there anything special about the lossless coding to limit the impact of an uncorrectable error? And is there any handshake by which Earth replies "yes, got that one, you can delete it now" or "got an error in that chunk, can you retransmit it" or is it always fire-and-forget?

(Which reminds me of this incredibly sexist Asimov story which is -- whoa -- about a Pluto expedition...)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:43 AM on July 14, 2015


This won't end well.

Well, it makes some kind of sense - Pluto is the god of the Underworld, so I would expect that surface features would take on those kinds of overtones...Still, Cthulhu is a going a bit far, I think. That's just asking for it.
posted by nubs at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2015


The Mi-Go are going to be pissed off.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on July 14, 2015


Is there a whole other layer (and overhead) of error-correction coding on top of the data?

Turbo-coded blocks with an additional CRC per block.
posted by smackfu at 12:01 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Speaking of data corruption, we were in Paris a couple months ago and went to the Musee des arts et metiers where they had on display a sample of magnetic core memory. Apparently it's got lousy storage density and has to be built up by hand, but it's great for spacecraft because it's incredibly resistant to corruption by cosmic rays. I wonder if it's in use on this mission.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:38 PM on July 14, 2015




I wonder if it's in use on this mission.

It isn't; it would be physically impossible to get the kinds of storage densities that New Horizons needs with core memory. This time around, they're using redundant, shielded, and hardened 8GB solid state storage banks.
posted by fifthrider at 12:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


That is a beautiful picture! The heart shaped feature looks to me like it was originally a huge, rough circle - then ice or whatever spilled out from it both downwards and to the right.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:37 PM on July 14, 2015


If you want to recreate New Horizons in Kerbal Space Program in a few weeks, the fantastic Outer Planets mod has been waiting for today's images to update the stand-in Pluto-analogue model of Plock to an accurate representation of the Pluto system.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:40 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Assuming it's still there and functioning, New Horizons has transmitted the "phone home" telemetry message and is back to science.

Of course, we have to wait. The message is inbound, past Neptune's orbit, but it has a long way to go before it gets here -- almost 4 hours more travel time.
posted by eriko at 2:02 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I bet it was crabby about having to stop and phone home.

"#@%# meat bags, don't they know I'm busy? They aren't going anywhere, why can't I just call them tomorrow or Thursday? I'm having too much fun!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:25 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


If New Horizons ever gets lost, I know a surefire way to figure out if you're on Pluto or not. (YTL)
posted by Sunburnt at 2:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the whole exercise vaguely enrages me because I'm used to using concepts that can have more than one operationalization, and so too should astronomers be, and their vote doesn't help get science done.

So basically, scolding people for continuing to call Pluto a planet is like the people who say, "Organic Food? Don't you know plastic is organic?"
posted by straight at 3:32 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski: "One of my favorite things about New Horizons is that Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, is getting to visit."

I only learned this on the bus this morning, but moreso even than this mission (which as a card-carrying member of the Kerbal science team, I love) it felt me with an absolute sense of awe. Wow. The farthest bit of a human from home. Godspeed Mr. Tombaugh!
posted by barnacles at 3:33 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Scott Kelly Recognizes Pluto Flyby from the Space Station: My other vehicle is on its way to Pluto. It's kind of funny to me that social media skills are now one of the requirements to be an astronaut.
posted by Beti at 4:26 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The phone home, assuming it was made, is now inside Saturn's orbit.
posted by eriko at 4:44 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wave to Cassini!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:46 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


My other vehicle is on the way to flew past Pluto.
posted by eriko at 4:57 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The phone home (insert disclaimer here) has passed Jupiter's orbit.
posted by eriko at 5:19 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wave to Europaeans
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:28 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]




I think it's so immensely cool that there is an actual wave of information heading our way from past Pluto from a device we made and sent out into the void.
posted by michswiss at 5:41 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


They had Hawking on the livestream for a sec. Only 15 or so more minutes to go!
posted by sparkletone at 5:41 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


They missed a trick - would have been nice to have had a real-time animation of the signal's passage across the solar system. Or have I just missed it?

(Watching this in HD at home, which is pretty magic in its own right. So is my pal, about a mile down the road. However, we had to give up on Hangout audio between us as the packet loss was too terrible, despite us both having manly amounts of bandwidth. Irony much?)
posted by Devonian at 5:48 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The phone home (std_disc.h) is now passing the orbit of Mars.

As countless pics on the internet say:

Soon.
posted by eriko at 5:50 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah. They've been kinda tweeting about where the signal is but not showing it visually on the stream.
posted by sparkletone at 5:51 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Telemetry lock! Wooo!
posted by Skorgu at 5:54 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


"We are in lock with telemetry in the spacecraft."

So much cheering!
posted by mrgoat at 5:55 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


They're either slow or too busy freaking out. Which, well, I would be.
posted by eriko at 5:56 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Carrier! It's alive!!!!
posted by eriko at 5:56 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Expected amount of data \o/
posted by sparkletone at 5:56 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


YAYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by eriko at 5:57 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Nominal" is my favoritest word ever.
posted by Skorgu at 5:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Header says full data tranmission. That's good news.
posted by eriko at 5:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Nominal status" "Hardware is healthy" "Propulsion is nominal" "Nominal for power" "Thermal reports nominal, all temperatures green"

"We have a healthy spacecraft, and we're outbound for Pluto"

It's good!
posted by mrgoat at 5:58 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Excellent! We should see some images tomorrow afternoon or so.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:01 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nominal is the best word in space flight. Nominal in space flight is equivalent to "sex now" in dating. It does not get any better than nominal.
posted by eriko at 6:01 PM on July 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


YAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!

I'm so happy for the team. All those years, and they made it. Heck yes.

I am having a drink, and it is for you. Well done.

And well done New Horizons!

You will always be a planet to me
posted by eriko at 6:07 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Damn it. I have no suitable alcohol in the house, and this is an occasion that deserves a drink. I'll just have to drink later, possibly when I see the pictures. Huzzah!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:10 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


you know, it's good to see something that is just is a gosh-darn cool example of what humanity is and what we're capable of.

I wonder if landing on the moon was like this, this sort of unexpected warm glow at what human time, thought, and effort can do.

It sort of helps to alleviate the soul-sucking despair that one experiences when one thinks of climate change response or the 2016 elections
posted by angrycat at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Woohoo! No rocks were hit! It was not a way we wanted to discover any new moons.
posted by tavella at 6:16 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lithobraking sucks! New Horizons rocks!
posted by eriko at 6:17 PM on July 14, 2015


I wonder if landing on the moon was like this, this sort of unexpected warm glow at what human time, thought, and effort can do.

Yes...I was seven at the time, but I do remember a whole Yea science! Earth is awesome! feeling. Same as going to Expo 67. And watching the Pioneer 11 Saturn flyby. And the Voyager flybys.

Keep on truckin', New Horizons!
posted by foonly at 6:29 PM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Well, it looks like we're towards" *puts sunglasses on* "a new horizon."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:35 PM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Amazing!
Whales, donuts, and a heart.
posted by RedOrGreen at 6:38 PM on July 14, 2015




I can - just - remember the Apollo missions from 11 onwards (so many countdown halts on the pad...), Viking, the early Shuttle missions, Hubble, Voyager encounters, Galileo, Magellan, Giotto... I listened to the JPL telephone feed for the audio from the Voyager II plasma experiment live at Neptune (no Web back then, so I called in from my home and damn the bill). I still get the Cassini status updates via email (that is one hell of a mission; go look up some of the recent talks on YouTube). I was lucky enough to be at the UK event for the Huygens lander, watching the surface images arrive. Pathfinder. Spirit. Discovery. Curiosity. I sent ham radio signals to Juno on an Earth flyby (HI JUNO!). Holding my breath for Philae... and now, of course, this.

It truly, honestly, totally remains a thrilling experience, no matter how many times, no matter what the mission. It never, ever, gets old.
posted by Devonian at 7:25 PM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


So exciting.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:27 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hooray for science!
posted by Standard Orange at 7:53 PM on July 14, 2015


This website compares what pluto looked like from the Hubble vs. the recent fly-by.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:07 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]






I've been hugely - excessively, really - amused by all the jokes regarding New Horizon's slow data stream that are along the lines of, "Mom, hang up the phone, I'm trying to connect to Pluto on the Internet!"

My four-year-old, the one who's obsessed with the Mars Rover, heard about the fly-by on PBS and has been asking me for a month, "Is it July 14th yet? That is when a robot visits Pluto. Pluto is the farthest planet." We've been looking at the new pictures together every day and counting how many days are left, but today when I tried to show him the last picture before the fly-by, he was so overwhelmed with excitement that he covered his eyes, refused to look, and refused to speak. He still hasn't seen it, it was just TOO EXCITING all day for him to deal with. Probably tomorrow on the 15th he'll be able to look, since the Fateful Day itself will be over!

This kid is really excited about "robot astronauts," though!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:09 PM on July 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


Places on Pluto are Being Named for Your Darkest Imaginings

Cthulhu on Pluto! I'm sure Lovecraft would have loved it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:36 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


This kid is really excited about "robot astronauts," though!

Like any hardcore fan, the kid is treating the lower res photos we're getting now as spoilers for the even cooler higher res photos we're gonna get later! No spoilers, geez!
posted by sparkletone at 2:47 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I move, in light of the characteristic heart feature, that we begin referring to Pluto as the Weighted Companion Planet.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:50 AM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


heart and whale
posted by Wolfdog at 4:59 AM on July 15, 2015


We will have more images today, press conference at 15:00 EDT on NASA TV, this is the First Look A images -- we will get a shot of Charon at the same resolution that we have of Pluto. I don't know if we have a color shot as well, I don't see an MVIC image for color, just the LORRI for detail. We also get another high resolution shot of Pluto that will make a stereo pair with the one we have (oooh) and a shot of Hydra at the same resolution, but Hydra is small, so this will be small as well, on the order of 10x18 pixels.

We will get a better shot of Hydra later.
posted by eriko at 5:24 AM on July 15, 2015


Hail Hydra!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:27 AM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


These photos are awesome.
(And I am symbolically on board - participation certificate no. 337136)
Sorry for the brag
posted by ojemine at 5:31 AM on July 15, 2015


I move, in light of the characteristic heart feature, that we begin referring to Pluto as the Weighted Companion Planet.

We aren't planning on shooting it into the Sun now, are we?
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:02 AM on July 15, 2015


Costs money better spent on on science probes.

Although one of the things MRO does is act as a comm relay for other Mars orbiters and the Mars rovers. They can communicate with the DSN directly, but they can relay through MRO as well, and because of MRO's imaging capability, it has one hell of a comm system to support getting those images back.

There's been talk that if the next few missions to Jupiter happen, that one of them should be made a bit bigger and pick up a comm relay role as well, which would enable the others to carry more science. They would still have to be able to store data and forward back directly in case the probe acting as the comm relay failed, of course, which is why everything at Mars, including the rovers, can talk directly to Earth.

But get something at Jupiter with a 1KW solar array and a 3m dish and you could have a 1mbps downlink easy. BRING UNTO ME ALL THE SCIENCE!
posted by eriko at 6:59 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


A comm role at Jupiter would be nice, but wouldn't it fried by all that radiation pretty quickly?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:04 AM on July 15, 2015


Emily Lakdawalla has been wearing different science related shirts for much of the encounter phase. Today's was particularly humorous.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:18 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Charlie Loyd: "One more thing. This mission – launch, payroll, everything – for deep research into the solar system, cost as much as two Navy F-35C jets."
posted by jjwiseman at 7:31 AM on July 15, 2015 [9 favorites]


I move, in light of the characteristic heart feature, that we begin referring to Pluto as the Weighted Companion Planet.

So, this was a great achievement
I'm making a entry in my journal:
Really successful!

It's hard to state too strongly
the extent of my satisfaction.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:52 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Charlie Loyd: "One more thing. This mission – launch, payroll, everything – for deep research into the solar system, cost as much as two Navy F-35C jets."

According to Wikipedia, "The cost of the mission (including spacecraft and instrument development, launch vehicle, mission operations, data analysis, and education/public outreach) is approximately $650 million over 15 years (2001–2016)"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2015


A comm role at Jupiter would be nice, but wouldn't it fried by all that radiation pretty quickly?

Everything at Jupiter has to survive that environment to return data. You have to keep the electronics shielded, true, but we've done that before -- look at the "vault" design on Juno.
posted by eriko at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2015


Maybe if you put your repeater at one of Jupiter's Lagrange points, the radiation wouldn't be as bad? Just guessing. The whole vault thing is, I understand, very heavy, and so expensive.
posted by newdaddy at 9:17 AM on July 15, 2015


"The cost of the mission (including spacecraft and instrument development, launch vehicle, mission operations, data analysis, and education/public outreach) is approximately $650 million over 15 years (2001–2016)"

Is this to imply the mission is relatively more expensive than the linked tweet was claiming? The jets in question cost $120M each *without engines* (not sure why they're costed that way except to make it look less bad) and the development cost of the program (development, procurement, initial "sustainment" which I guess means repairs) was over $900B. So, even still, the mission cost about what a few of those jets cost.

So, the implied point that the Pluto mission is a relative bargain for the taxpayer, I think, stands.
posted by aught at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2015


If we need more RTGs, maybe we can place a plutonium order with North Korea. I hear they've been making the stuff.
posted by ckape at 9:31 AM on July 15, 2015


Maybe if you put your repeater at one of Jupiter's Lagrange points, the radiation wouldn't be as bad?

It doesn't matter anyway. Just to repeat the concept that Jupiter and its environs are not, much of the time, at a convenient point in their orbit even to serve as a relay, so I'm not sure why people keep belaboring the point. The solar system is huge, orbits go all the way around the sun (planets are not lined up in a straight line by distance from the Sun), and sometimes Jupiter (as it is now) is considerably farther away from a particular outer planet in question than the Earth is, for long periods of time (that is, years).

Solar system scope is a nice website that helps one visualize the layout of our solar system on a given date - be sure to select "realistic mode" for planet distances and sizes in the settings.
posted by aught at 9:35 AM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maybe if you put your repeater at one of Jupiter's Lagrange points...

Make sure to name it "Jupiter Equilateral".
posted by The Tensor at 9:45 AM on July 15, 2015


Is this to imply the mission is relatively more expensive than the linked tweet was claiming?

No, I just thought it would be informative to note how much New Horizons does cost. Though 120 million per fighter does sound high. How much do the engines cost?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:47 AM on July 15, 2015


Just to repeat the concept that Jupiter and its environs are not, much of the time, at a convenient point in their orbit even to serve as a relay, so I'm not sure why people keep belaboring the point.

Well, it's a great place to relay for Jupiter probes, which we're looking at having a bunch of. For Kupier belt and beyond? You're absolutely correct, not useful at all.

Even if I were to send, oh, five of them spread evenly around Jupiter's orbit, that would only put them 5AU closer to New Horizon. So, now I'm reaching 27AU rather than 32AU. Not a huge boost in performance there.

Worse, though, I'm only going to get that occasionally. So, let's put them out at Saturn, at 10AU. Now I'm cutting 5-10AU off the leg. Better.

But I still need:

1) A *lot* of power on this bird. I have to be able to transmit high gain to Earth *and* to the far probe.

2) Large, steerable dishes to point at both the Earth *and* the distant probe.

We're using 34m and 70m dishes on Earth. Assume we won't need quite that big, but you're not going to have the electrical power you have on Earth. You're going to need to fly 34m dishes to make this work to have the gain you need to transmit to Earth and to the distant probe.

In other words, it doesn't work.

The reason MRO as a relay works, and a local Jupiter relay would work, because the local receive/transmit is so close you can do that with a simple, non-tracking omnidirectional antenna and a low power transceiver, so you only need one high-gain rig for talking to Earth. For a Kuiper Belt relay bird, you need *two* of those, and one of them needs to be almost as good as the DSN stations on Earth.
posted by eriko at 9:58 AM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe if you put your repeater at one of Jupiter's Lagrange points...

Make sure to name it "Jupiter Equilateral".


Make sure to design it as a black slab with sides extending in the precise ratio of 1 : 4 : 9.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:28 AM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why would you need to put a relay in orbit around any planet? You can put them in orbit anywhere in the solar system that is convenient for its purpose. It's not like they are going to fall off the solar system if you don't put a thumbtack in them.
posted by JackFlash at 10:48 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why would you need to put a relay in orbit around any planet?

Because there might be other spacecraft on or around that planet. Having a dedicated relay frees up more space for SCIENCE!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:09 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]




I didn't mean to start a derail focusing on the cost of F-35s. I think the point is still valid whether the mission cost is equivalent to the cost of one F-35 or 10, though (and there seem to be credible estimates of F-35C cost being about $337M, which I'm guessing is what Charlie was using--and if you want to argue about that estimate, then I pre-concede!)

Charlie also turned me on to this paper, "Public Opinion Polls and Perceptions of US Human Spaceflight", which mentions that "in 1997 the average estimate of NASA’s share of the federal budget by those polled was 20 percent." Can you imagine!?
posted by jjwiseman at 11:21 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't mean to start a derail focusing on the cost of F-35s

There's two costs. There's program cost, where you take the cost of the entire program and then divide by the number of planes. So, if the F-1000 program cost $1B from start to finish and I bought 100 of them, the program cost is $10M per plane.

The other is the flyaway cost, which is the cost to build one plane. This ignores the development and tooling costs. So, turns out I'm pretty happy with my 100 F-1000s, so I order another 100. The factory churns them out, and it turns out they cost $3M per to actually build, in terms of parts, manufacturing and labor. I don't need to pay anymore development or tooling, I did that with the first 1000, so my second 100 only cost me $300M more.

You can also account for this by saying the 200 planes cost me $600M and the development cost me $700M, but often, when you see "The F-Whatever cost us X to build", they're often looking at the program costs.

So, when you see "The B-2 cost $2B to build", well, the B-2 aircraft itself did not cost $2B to build, in the sense that the aircraft itself didn't cost that, but when you factor in the development and tooling costs, and divide that over the very few B-2s that we built, then the cost of the B-2 program divided by the very few B-2s we built means that in effect each B-2 did cost about $2B.

So. The answer could be Yes, the F-35 cost that much and no, it doesn't. It just depends on the meaning of "cost."

Also: That's just the "cost" of a finished airplane outside the factory door ready for delivery. Let's not talk operational and maintenance costs, because that gets even more complicated!

As to New Horizons, the biggest part of its cost was the Atlas V 551 booster. The 551 today is about $223 million. Figure that in 2006, and toss in the Star 48B third stage and integrating that, it would have cost about $190-200 million -- close to a third of the entire mission cost.
posted by eriko at 11:40 AM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


Having a dedicated relay frees up more space for SCIENCE!

And even better, more time for SCIENCE -- if you forced to stop taking observations because your memory is full and you're having to dump that to Earth. MRO acting as a relay lets the other Mars orbiters and rovers spend more time on science, sorry, SCIENCE! because they spend a lot less time transmitting data, which means they have free memory to store data, so they can get the instruments turned back on and taking data.

MRO hits 6mbps when link conditions are good, and has sent back over 400 terabits of data from its own instruments and others -- more than every other mission combined in the history of manned spaceflight that used the Deep Space Network.

Note that this does leave out the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. LRO only needed to get data back from the moon. So, it had its own ground stations, 100W of power for communications and a high gain antenna downlink that gave it (get this ) 100 to 300mbps downlinks that didn't need to share time with anybody. They could push 900GB a day (not bits, bytes) off LRO! I think the entire dataset ended up at nearly 300TB.

But they were working at lunar distances. We could damn near run TCP/IP to the moon anymore.
posted by eriko at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Woot! Powerpoint slide!
posted by eriko at 11:56 AM on July 15, 2015


Why doesn't NASA TV have a countdown to the press conference? This is NASA! COUNTDOWNS ARE WHAT YOU DO!
posted by eriko at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


On the other hand, every relay is an opportunity for more components to fail, and dependance on a relay that failed might scrub multiple missions in one fell swoop.

(Wow, I am like a professional devil's advocate in this thread for some reason. Not that I don't think my points are valid.)
posted by aught at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2015


Okay, let's play "Spot the scientists and spot the administrators."

GO!
posted by eriko at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2015


Ok here we go.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2015


It's on now for those who care.
posted by aught at 12:02 PM on July 15, 2015


OMG IT HAS PYRAMIDS.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Hydra therapy." 0 to terrible nerd puns in not quite the speed New Horizons travels.
posted by sparkletone at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2015


HAIL HYDRA!
posted by eriko at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2015


Charon maybe looks more interesting than Pluto even?
posted by aught at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2015


OK that is a jaw-dropping image of Charon. That is amazing.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Charon really has a moony look about it.
posted by moonmilk at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2015


Holy cow. That Charon picture is amazing.
posted by eriko at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2015


One does not simply fly by Mordor.
posted by eriko at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh my god, that image of Charon! That's really beautiful and fascinating. Also, they're referring to the dark area near the poles as "Modor".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2015


Geeze that canyon in the upper right!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:16 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can we trade moons?
posted by eriko at 12:17 PM on July 15, 2015




I wish their player would let me pick high or low res. I don't particularly care if I needed to be on low res, but it keeps flipping between them and skipping back a few seconds when it does. This is so cool so far! MORDOR.
posted by sparkletone at 12:18 PM on July 15, 2015


Talk to management.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:18 PM on July 15, 2015


Now the first hi-res Pluto....
posted by eriko at 12:18 PM on July 15, 2015


(The panel can't seem to agree on whether it's pronounced Sharon or Karen)
posted by moonmilk at 12:18 PM on July 15, 2015


Heart -> Tombaugh Regio
posted by aught at 12:19 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


So Clyde Tombaugh will be honored next to Cthulu...
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:19 PM on July 15, 2015


Hard c (or k) sound is the correct pronunciation of Charon as in the mythological thing.

AND HOLY CRAP, THE ZOOM IN.
posted by sparkletone at 12:20 PM on July 15, 2015


But no impact craters! A young region or fairly recent geological activity, like within the last 100 million years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2015


> Hard c (or k) sound is the correct pronunciation of Charon as in the mythological thing.
But the discoverer of Charon, James Christy, allegedly named it after his wife Charlene... (Wiki; of course already updated with new image of Charon.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2015


So. His conclusion that you need a world to power icy moon volcanism, I wonder, how does that square with the possibility Pluto was once associated with Neptune's system of moons? And now he's talking about how similar Triton is. Interesting stuff!
posted by aught at 12:24 PM on July 15, 2015


But the discoverer of Charon, James Christy, allegedly named it after his wife Charlene...

Clearly the deciding factor is whether his last name is "Kristy" or "Shristy."
posted by sparkletone at 12:24 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


There will be 7 more tiles in this mosaic by the end of the First Look sequence, and a three tile mosaic of Charon.

Charon= Χάρων, so Kar-on or Kaer-on, depending.
posted by eriko at 12:24 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder, how does that square with the possibility Pluto was once associated with Neptune's system of moons?

Sorry, I guess that was disproved some time between my compulsive reading in the 70s and today. :-/
posted by aught at 12:26 PM on July 15, 2015


"We could see the heart very far from Pluto"

Sniff.
posted by eriko at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2015


Not gonna watch the Q&A but I secretly hope when they got to the phones someone calls in and asks about the Mass Effect relay.
posted by sparkletone at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2015


"Charon" is actually pronounced "jif."
posted by Chrysostom at 12:32 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Congrats to Pluto, you know you've made it big when there are Pluto Truthers!
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]




Sounds like there is enough fuel for the extended KBO mission as well?
posted by Chrysostom at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2015


As seen on Twitter: Scientists, when they say, "We have no idea at this point," sound excited. Not embarrassed, excited. That's science in a nutshell. (@marsroverdriver)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:37 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher:
"Geeze that canyon in the upper right!"
Oh, that's just the outline of the flush mount cap for the main access portal. The tolerances were a little off during manufacture.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:51 PM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


The big news, suspected but lacking evidence until now, is that Pluto is probably still active. There's only a thin veneer of nitrogen and methane ice, with huge water ice mountains poking out, which absolutely shouldn't be there (due to the outgassing of the atmosphere) unless it was being moved to the surface by some underground process. Also, no impact craters on the first hi-res image. Not one.

Other icy objects with recent surfaces are in orbit around planets, so the theory was that was due to tidal heating. Can't be the case here - the Charon-Pluto pair can't work that way - so some energy source has been going for four and a half billion years. What is it? Radioactivity? Perhaps, but... it's mysterious.
posted by Devonian at 12:54 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


"This exceeds what we came for."
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:00 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, but... it's mysterious

Maybe we should stop with the Elder God names for features.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:06 PM on July 15, 2015


Hail Hydra!
posted by Fizz at 1:10 PM on July 15, 2015


Waiting for imagery of an ice henge or a ring around Charon. (In case of the latter, nobody fire a gravity wave back at Earth.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:17 PM on July 15, 2015


Other icy objects with recent surfaces are in orbit around planets, so the theory was that was due to tidal heating.

Hm! It might be time to expand Velikovskian theories to include icy bodies in the outer solar system. "So then Pluto was ejected from Uranus," audience laughs crazily, "knocking its axial tilt 90 degrees, swung in past Saturn where it smashed a moon into pieces causing the great ring system there," ooh, ahh, from audience, "then swung back outward and passed by Neptune, where it caused the resurfacing of Triton and its retrograde orbit, before capturing a clutch of smaller KBO's and settling into its current bizarro orbit." Perfectly logical!
posted by aught at 1:17 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


"We could see the heart very far from Pluto"

Sniff.


Pluto is so out there. I either think of him like that volcano that was singing during the short before Inside Out, all lonely and alone, wanting someone to love with its big old heart. Or else he's kind of like Wheatly from Portal 2, with its moons spinning around him continually saying, "I'm in space" for all of eternity. Either way, poor guy.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:20 PM on July 15, 2015


or maybe he's muttering bitter curses in proto-Enochian against the planet-siblings who cast him into outer darkness

who knows
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:24 PM on July 15, 2015


Either way, poor guy.

Though to be fair, for 20 years out of every 250 or so, Pluto and Charon and the gang are closer to the action of the inner solar system than Neptune and its moons are. Though maybe that should just make us feel bad for Neptune too.
posted by aught at 1:28 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did anyone catch what fraction of Pluto's surface was observed at the higher resolution we saw today? That picture is beautiful.
posted by newdaddy at 1:43 PM on July 15, 2015


This is so, so amazing. I'm just thinking of the scientists on this project who have been waiting such a long time for this; the design of everything, getting it launched, the flight time, and now getting the first taste of the data and images. The equipment is three billion miles away with no chance of recovery or repair; the pressure and anticipation must have been enormous and now to see that everything worked and that you have data and that more will come over the next several months; it must be an amazing feeling.
posted by nubs at 2:21 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


All of the feels
posted by Rock Steady at 2:53 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


New high-resolution image of Pluto released.
posted by klausness at 3:43 PM on July 15, 2015


Outbound Probe (Bruno Mars parody, 4min14sec)

Rolling in the Higgs (Adele parody, 4 min51sec)
posted by phoque at 4:29 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


New high-resolution image of Pluto released.

Is this a mispaste? That's the color-ized image from yesterday and it's only a 640x640 copy of it, which is much smaller than the one NASA put up (albeit that one's not colorized).
posted by sparkletone at 4:47 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oops, yeah, that was a mispaste. Here's the new high-resolution image.
posted by klausness at 4:37 AM on July 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe we should pause trying to put people on Mars and send a rovers to Pluto and Charon instead.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 AM on July 16, 2015






klausness:
"Oops, yeah, that was a mispaste. Here's the new high-resolution image."
I find Charon much more suspicious...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:00 AM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]




More space porn tomorrow at 1pm Eastern.

In other words:
NASA to Release New Pluto Images, Science Findings at July 17 NASA TV Briefing
NASA will hold a media briefing at 1 p.m. EDT Friday, July 17, to reveal new images of Pluto and discuss new science findings from Tuesday’s historic flyby. . . . NASA Television and the agency's website will carry the briefing live. . . . Media and the public also may ask questions during the briefing on Twitter using the hashtag #askNASA. (whatever that means)

NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information
-- 11110 --

posted by Herodios at 12:38 PM on July 16, 2015


More space porn tomorrow at 1pm Eastern.

*Looks at centerfolds of Enceladus until then*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:46 PM on July 16, 2015


Pluto: The Ice Plot Thickens
posted by nubs at 1:21 PM on July 16, 2015


Pluto's mountains in 3D.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:46 PM on July 16, 2015


The caldera/crater fringed with blacker material (more or less center screen towards the end fo the clip) sure as hell looks like a volcano. If it's a crater, it managed to hit remarkably symmetrically atop a mountain. But the debris fan is darker, not lighter like you would expect from fresh ices from a cryovolcano. What could be causing that?
posted by tavella at 3:05 PM on July 16, 2015


I don't know. But the whole area looks... pushed upwards. Like two big chunks met and are crinkling as they continue to push against each other.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2015


A geologist on Twitter suggested the hills might be pingo type tectonics. I had never heard of a pingo, but apparently they are hills that occur in permafrost regions, where a spring feeds a lens of water and ice that pushes steadily upward. Sometimes they rupture the surface and turn into springs instead. So possibly the crater could be a pingo where the top ruptured, the liquid (nitrogen?) evaporated or froze/sublimated, then the water ice overburden collapsed and made the crater. An image search for "collapsed pingo" does show some structures that aren't far off.

Possibly the dark matter could be some kind of darker mineral that was carried out on a nitrogen fountain, and then when the brighter ice sublimated away, it was left behind.
posted by tavella at 4:46 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]






Quick updata on the NASA presser, if you missed it.

Smoothly done. A moderator, five speakers. Presentation ended at EXACTLY the thirty minute mark, then questions taken from telephone, internet, then live audience.

There was a quick shout out to Dr. Brian May who was in the studio. Someone handed him a mic, and he basically said "Hi, nice to be here, great job, carry on."

Nix pixels
Pics of Nix, only a few pixels, but nix, we'll fix; "Three months ago we didnt have images this good of pluto itself."

Pluto's 'heart' is full of carbon monoxide
The surface of the heart contains a varying layer of frozen carbon monoxide. No one speculated on what that might mean or how it got there.

Sputnik planum: Looks like a brain!
The Planes of Sputnik provided the best new photos: Undulating planes of ice dunes -- the team geologist called them polygons -- separated by much lower trenches; some trenches are filled (?) with darker material; current speculation is that it's some kind of hydrocarbons made of irratidated methane.

How formed? Guesses:
  • Convection?
  • "Mudcracks"?
  • Hard material remaining after erosion of lighter material?
No one is sure.

What this landscape most resembles elsewhere in the solar system is the arctic region of Mars.

"The vast craterless frozen planes of Pluto" are definitely less than 100 million years old.

Elsewhere there are some impact craters, some are far older than the surface of the Sputnik Planum; some show wearing/erosion, suggesting geologic activity.

This and other evidence suggests that "ice planets can do their own thing" without necessarily requiring a nearby gas giants. However, no outgassing / geysers / volcanos found so far.

Full topo maps of both Pluto and Charon are to be expected eventually.

Atmosphere
"Sluggish" rather than "turbulent", compressed into a small area near the surface.

Top layer is mostly molecular nitrogen (most abundant component). Below that, methane, below that heavier hyrdrocarbons.

That molecular nitrogen is escaping due to low gravity; the solar wind is blowing it away, giving Pluto a a tail of ionised nitrogen atoms, a bit like a comet. Estimated 500 tons/hour of Pluto's atmospheric nitrogen is being blown away. By comparison, Mars loses about 1 ton hour.

No info on the atmosphere of Charon yet.

Plutonium supply?
In the Q&A someone on the phone asked about the plutonium supply for future missions. Panel said there's 17kg available, with an additional supply available, with less entergy density. The DoE has authorized NASA to generate additional Pu238, as needed.

No questions asked or answers voluteered about the health of the probe or its next destination.

Next presser is next Friday

Moderator signed off with, "Science never sleeps."
posted by Herodios at 11:41 AM on July 17, 2015 [14 favorites]


Herodios: Pluto's 'heart' is full of carbon monoxide

Related: Frozen Carbon Monoxide in Pluto’s 'Heart' (NASA image of the day)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:48 AM on July 17, 2015


What's Next for New Horizons
Here's a blog entry from last October by Emily Lakdawalla about the search for and decisions about New Horizon's next stop on its tour of the Kuiper Belt.

This animation is interesting, if headache inducing, but this still image shows very clearly why Eris will not be the next stop, and neither will be Makemake or Haumea.

At its current momentum, there simply is not enough fuel to to divert New Horizons to one of these larger bodies, and unless it encounters a thus-far invisible yet massive Planet X, there is no way to slingshot there either.

Chris Gebhardt at nasaspaceflight.com:
Pre-mission planning hoped that New Horizons would be able to fly by at least one and possibly two additional Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) after the Pluto encounter. . . . [but] any KBO visited would have to fall within 1 degree of New Horizons’ trajectory at the time of the Pluto encounter and within an orbital boundary of 55 AU.

The 1 degree tragectory limitiation is because of the limited fuel available for maneuvering. The 55 AU restriction is in part because the communications link will become too weak to at that distance to be reliable, and because the available power will have be too much reduced to power the instruments.

Hubble . . . revealed three Potential Targets, PT1, PT2, and PT3. All fell within an estimated diameter range of 30-55 km and orbiting at between 43 and 44 AU. As of writing, PT2 is no longer in consideration and PT1, with a diameter now estimated at 40–70 km, is the preferred target. A final decision will be made in August.

Back to Emily Lakdawalla:
How close will New Horizons get?
[T]he New Horizons team will be able to choose arbitrarily how close they want to fly to the object, limited by the uncertainty about its orbital path. Picking that distance will require balancing the desire to get high-resolution observations with engineering constraints like how fast the spacecraft can rotate at closest approach to target the object. . . .

They will target the object in a burn . . . between October and December of 2015.
What do we know about PT1?
Its orbit is circular and close to the plane of the ecliptic, so it is a Cold Classical Kuiper belt object, meaning that it has had a very different history from Pluto. Pluto is a [type of KBO] whose orbits were changed as Neptune migrated outward. . . . Cold Classical objects were probably never tossed around in this way.
[All of the Possible Targets are] very small . . . and [and are most likely] fragments from collisions of larger objects . . . it will look very, very different from Pluto. [But w]e'll have to wait until 2019 to find out. . .



While we wait, we can calm our jangled nerves by enjoying this quasi real-time viddy of a Martian sunset courtesy of Rover Curiousity (images), Glen Nagle (editing), and Gyorgy Ligeti (soundtrack).
 
posted by Herodios at 1:03 PM on July 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


At its current momentum, there simply is not enough fuel to to divert New Horizons to one of these larger bodies, and unless it encounters a thus-far invisible yet massive Planet X, there is no way to slingshot there either.

It would take a hell of a slingshot to make that happen. The four circles you see in that image are the outer planets -- you can see the very small change in direction that Jupiter made.

The news that they didn't have any autonomous thruster firings during the flyby means that the observations were basically as planned, and the fuel remaining is nominal. Thus, the extended KBO mission is possible, it's just down to budgetary considerations now.

The primary burn will come after the browse dataset is downlinked in September, should the extended KBO mission be approved. Trajectory corrections would happen late December, before the full data downlink starts, and December 2016, after the main datalink is completed.

The chances of a second KBO really depend on how much fuel the first KBO flyby costs and if they're lucky enough to find a second that would require very little ΔV to reach, and that KBO being close enough to reach before RTG power loss renders it too difficult to acquire and downlink useful data.
posted by eriko at 2:50 PM on July 20, 2015



Well, yeah.
 
posted by Herodios at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2015


Better photos of Nix and Hydra! Nix has a very strange red patch. Jesus, the things that must go on out there!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:33 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is all so much more fascinating than the boring lumps of ice and rock I would have expected.
posted by Artw at 7:43 PM on July 21, 2015


Nix has a very strange red patch. Jesus, the things that must go on out there!

Yeah, it's gonna regret that when it gets older.

This is all so much more fascinating than the boring lumps of ice and rock I would have expected.

Pluto and its cohort somehow seem more like real places you might actually visit one day than do any of the worlds we've sent probes to look at up close past the orbit of Mars.

A planet of one's own . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 9:53 PM on July 21, 2015


OK, how in good conscience can you not use this as a map for a roleplaying game?

"You find yourselves on a vast, almost featureless plain. To the east are craggy grey mountains; to the west is a sea of black ice. It is cold, the sun is a distant dim point. The air is thin. Welcome to Yuggoth."
posted by graymouser at 8:19 AM on July 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a brain cylinder the player lacks agency. At least they left the eyes plugged in I guess.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know that mapping one's visual perception of Earth to other planets can be deceiving, but damn I really cannot see that as anything but the coastline of an iced-over ocean. There's even a bay where a shoreline crater has been flooded. And not even an old frozen ocean, one that looks like there is still liquid underneath in the deeper parts.
posted by tavella at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pluto Dazzles in False Color (NASA, July 23, 2015)
New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. When close-up images are combined with color data from the Ralph instrument, it paints a new and surprising portrait of the dwarf planet. The “heart of the heart,” Sputnik Planum, is suggestive of a source region of ices. The two bluish-white “lobes” that extend to the southwest and northeast of the “heart” may represent exotic ices being transported away from Sputnik Planum.
Pluto – Home To Nitrogen Glaciers And Serious Global Cooling (Astro Bob)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:34 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Exotic ices? So that's where the icery gets their stuff!
posted by Monochrome at 11:13 AM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pluto only rolls with *artisan* ices.
posted by tavella at 12:49 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


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