This is extremely good news: after more than a year of analysis, the New Horizons mission and NASA have concluded and agreed that New Horizons' originally-planned trajectory past Pluto is likely safe from dust.
Back in 2005 and 2006, when Pluto’s second and third moons (Nix and Hydra) were discovered, searches by astronomers for still more moons didn’t reveal any. So the accidental discovery of Pluto’s fourth moon by the Hubble Space Telescope in mid-2011 raised the possibility that the hazards in the Pluto system might be greater than previously anticipated.
This month my latest paper made it to print in the Astronomical Journal. It's a short piece that describes a serendipitous discovery that my collaborators and I made while searching for a distant Kuiper Belt Object for the New Horizons spacecraft to visit after its 2015 Pluto flyby.
Last week, I posted an explainer on why Hubble's images of galaxies show so much more detail than its images of Pluto. Then I set you all a homework problem: when will New Horizons be able to see Pluto better than Hubble does? Here's the answer.
How come Hubble's pictures of galaxies billions of light years away are so beautifully detailed, yet the pictures of Pluto, which is so much closer, are just little blobs? I get asked this question, or variations of it, a lot. Here's an explainer.
Recently, several of the Kuiper Belt Objects our team has discovered while searching for New Horizons post-Pluto flyby candidates have been submitted to the Minor Planet Center and their orbital information is now in the public domain.
Pluto is now known to have at least five moons (Charon, Nix, Hydra, P4, and the newly discovered P5), and its burgeoning population might pose a risk to New Horizons during its flyby, three years from now.
Jeff Moore's presentation was cool because of the discussion it stimulated. He considered what exogenic processes might be operating on Pluto's surface. What's an exogenic process? It's something that modifies the shape of the surface from the outside, and doesn't require the body to be geologically active inside.
Today and tomorrow I'm attending the New Horizons Workshop on Icy Surface Processes. The first day was all about the composition of the surface and atmosphere of Pluto, Charon, Triton, and other distant places.
A guest blogger here recently rounded up the large number of participatory research projects that are collectively known as citizen science. I think these are all very cool and I encourage you to check them out but none of them has yet inspired me to spend my precious time as grunt labor on a gigantic collective project. Until now.