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Changing Views of Pluto ... Hubble's Universe Unfiltered 15: Changing Views of Pluto While it may seem that the astronomy community's views on Pluto changed radically with its reclassification in 2006, the truth is that our understanding of Pluto has always been shifting. This small, icy world in the distant reaches of the solar system is so difficult to observe that, even with Hubble's keen resolution, it only shows up as a few pixels in an image. Only with patience, lots of observations, and huge amounts of computing power have we been able to create approximate surface maps of Pluto and discover some surprising alterations to its surface. Improved imagery yields improved insight. We now comprehend Pluto's place within the solar system, and the exploration of that region has really just begun. Hubble's Universe Unfiltered is a collection of video podcasts. Each episode offers an in-depth explanation of the latest news story or image from the Hubble Space Telescope, presented by astronomer Frank Summers. --- Please SUBSCRIBE to Science & Reason: • • • --- NOTES * In the video podcast, I jokingly refer to "Percival Lowell's Greatest Mistakes" being 1.) the claim that Mars had a civilization using canals, and 2.) the prediction of a large planet beyond Neptune. Some may recognize this phrasing as an oblique reference to similar wording used in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series. (If you're going to steal, steal from the best.) However, please do not interpret this humor as a general condemnation of Percival Lowell. The man had incredible zeal for astronomy and used his energy, time, and wealth to further its development. The Lowell Observatory in Arizona is a tremendous legacy with more than a century of observation, research, discovery and outreach. * It bothers me that Hubble's maps of Pluto are often labeled as images. I especially don't like to see that in textbooks, giving schoolchildren the false impression that we know more that we really do. The fact that our best images of Pluto are still pixilated carries with it a powerful message of the small size and great distance to this object. The solar system is vast and not yet fully explored. There are limits to our knowledge and new worlds to uncover. Let's accept the ugly truth and embrace it as a challenge to make more discoveries in the future. * Here's a question to ponder: If Pluto is a large, but otherwise typical member of a family of thousands of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), why did it take 63 years after Pluto's discovery to find the next one? While I can't answer this completely, here are three factors: size, color, and intense dedication. Most KBOs are tiny. Roughly a dozen or two have been detected so far with diameters one-half or larger that of Pluto. Most KBOs are dark. Pluto has bright frost covering enough of its surface to make it much, much brighter than other KBOs. Most observers are not Clyde Tombaugh. The patience, purpose, and skill, as well as the ever-important funding, to tackle a herculean task like that required to find Pluto is rare. When technology developed to find these small, dark objects without consuming excessive resources, the discoveries came quickly. * While it may take many years to get to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the New Horizons mission has done what science it could along the way. In addition to performing routine check-outs of its instruments, the spacecraft was able to make a number of observations during its flight past Jupiter (for a gravitational assist). One of my favorite solar system images ever is this image sequence of the eruption of the Tvashtar volcano on Jupiter's moon Io. Hopefully, such results are a sign of great things to come in 2015 and beyond. --- RELATED HUBBLE PRESS RELEASES Hubble Reveals Surface of Pluto for First Time • Hubble Confirms New Moons of Pluto • New Hubble Maps of Pluto Show Surface Changes • --- "Hubble's Universe Unfiltered" offers an in-depth explanation of the latest news story or image from the Hubble Space Telescope, presented by astronomer Frank Summers. Frank Summers is an astrophysicist at Hubble's Space telescope Science Institute, where he specializes in bringing astronomy discoveries to the public. He helps produce news and educational materials, gives public presentations, and creates science visualizations and animations. • .
Length: 14:31


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