Reid Wiseman is a national treasure.
On July 24th, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially defined what constitutes a planet. For a celestial body in our solar system to be defined as a planet, it must:
1. Be in orbit of the Sun
2. Have sufficient mass to assume a nearly round shape (officially known as hydrostatic equilibrium)
3. “Clear the neighborhood” around its orbit
This designation meant that Pluto — first discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh — was no different than any of the other 70,000 icy objects that comprise the Kuiper Belt, a region that extends from the orbit of Neptune out to 55 astronomical units (55 times the distance of the Earth to the Sun).
After decades of observation, astronomers have continued to discover other large Kuiper Belt objects, such as Eris in 2005, which was determined to be larger than Pluto itself. The discovery of Eris — which has approximately 25% more mass than Pluto — posed an interesting question to the scientific community: would this object be the 10th planet in our solar system?
"If Neptune were analogized with a Chevy Impala in mass, then how big is Pluto compared to that? Pluto would be a matchbox car sitting on the curb." - Neil deGrasse Tyson
Based upon the IAU’s definition above, any object that doesn’t meet the third criteria is classified as a dwarf planet — including Pluto, Eris, and many of the other objects located in the distant reaches of the Kuiper Belt. In spite of this new designation, Pluto still holds a special spot in the hearts of scientists and astronomers, as NASA has sent their New Horizons spacecraft to observe it closely. Slated to arrive in 2015, New Horizons will capture the first close-up images of the surface.
Image Credit: PBS
1. Pluto and the Developing Landscape of Our Solar System
2. Why Pluto is No Longer a Planet
MOON MOSAIC — A gorgeous image of the Moon from Noel Carboni via NASA: “No single exposure can easily capture faint stars along with the subtle colors of the Moon. But this dramatic composite view highlights both. The mosaic digitally stitches together fifteen carefully exposed high resolution images of a bright, gibbous Moon and a representative background star field. The fascinating color differences along the lunar surface are real, though highly exaggerated, corresponding to regions with different chemical compositions.” (NASA)
The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, has seen a cluster of newborn stars enclosed in a cocoon of dust and gas in the constellation Camelopardalis. The cluster, AFGL 490, is hidden from view in visible light by the cloud. But WISE’s infrared vision sees the glow of the dust itself, and penetrates this dust to see the infant stars within.
Not much is known about this stealthy star cluster. Its distance from Earth is estimated to be about 2,300 light-years. The portion of the star-forming nebula captured in this view stretches across about 62 light-years of space.
All four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this mosaic. Color is representational: blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is dominated by light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is mostly light from warm dust.
*trys to hit high note of favorite song*
Saturn’s hexagonal storm system in it’s north pole
Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified the source of a mysterious blue light surrounding a supermassive black hole in our neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy (M31).
The blue light is coming from a disk of hot, young stars. These stars are whipping around the black hole in much the same way as planets in our solar system are revolving around the Sun. Astronomers are perplexed about how the pancake-shaped disk of stars could form so close to a giant black hole. In such a hostile environment, the black hole’s tidal forces should tear matter apart, making it difficult for gas and dust to collapse and form stars.
What if the universe looks closer to the flower of life but it’s occupying that space in a form we can’t (yet?) perceive
Since NASA’s Kepler space telescope launched in 2009, it has found hundreds of new worlds within the Milky Way. Now it has spotted the first planet outside our solar system that could support life. The planet, called Kepler-186f, is located about 500 light-years from Earth and orbits a star similar to our sun. Its orbit is within the star’s habitable zone, the region where temperatures should be neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for liquid water to exist—a precursor for life as we know it. Scientists are unsure if the planet is habitable or what it’s made of, but this discovery proves there are worlds like our own that reside in life’s celestial sweet spot.
Click through the above images for descriptions.
If you don’t think space is the tightest shit then you’re wrong
100 Planetary Nebulas
Credit: Hubble, Judy Schmidt
The world’s largest telescope made with data
Look up on a starry night and consider this: in our lifetime we just might find the answers to one of life’s biggest mysteries. Dutch research institute, Astron and its international partners are building the world’s largest radio telescope, aka The Square Kilometer Array. This big telescope will be made up of thousands of interconnected smaller telescopes, arranged in fractal patterns, to let us glimpse back in time more than 13 billion years ago—mere seconds after the universe was created. How on Earth is this possible?
Mars Close Up!