Pluto Flyby!

As Trace Dominguez said on “Pluto is Coming,” a livestream by TestTube Plus and DNews on YouTube, Pluto is the first flyby in the social media era. The space probe New Horizons launched in January 2006, passed Jupiter with a gravity-assisted new trajectory in February 2007, and spent much of its flight since in hibernation. Indeed, the Pluto and Charon–and later Kuiper Belt objects–flybies are perfectly timed for some social media fame.

Behold Hubble versus New Horizons:

As John Grunsfeld said, “It took hundreds of years to map the continents on Earth; it took just fifty years to see all the planets up close.”  

This is where the oceanographers pipe in about how we haven’t fully mapped the oceans. Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen started in the 1950s and we’re still counting. But that is not what today is about.  

I love how many people see the resemblance between Pluto the dwarf planet and Pluto the Disney dog, but does anyone else think the bare area known as “the whale” is better fit for Snoopy? Superposed drawings of “I love Pluto” with “the whale” as a heart is also very popular.   

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During one of the many videos I’ve watched today, the one on TestTube Plus included a Q&A segment when someone asked what I have been wondering: is Pluto the gray we’ve seen rendered before or is it actually the tan we’re seeing now?
 
Ian O’Neill, a physicist working as a contributor to Discovery, enlightened us that Pluto is covered in -173 degree Celsius (-280 degrees Fahrenheit) methane frost, which can turn to a reddish color. Other hypotheses over the decades included ultraviolet light interactions in Pluto’s atmosphere. Even though we’ve had the means to speculate that Pluto might have a red tint based on chemical composition, it’s exciting to see, essentially, the natural photographic image–which NASA describes in-depth.  
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The natural world does not usually reveal itself 100 percent in one instant, so for now we have a pre-flyby image. New Horizons cannot collect data and communicate with NASA at the same time, and it takes over four hours to transmit information, so we have to wait for the rest of the photos. The New York Times created a visual to easily follow what New Horizons will do in the next 24 hours.

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