To top
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Oh, Pluto. Poor, poor Pluto. The little demoted planet that could. Pluto’s identity crisis has been a well-documented story, but since it’s demotion from full-bodied planet to dwarf planet in 2006, due to the fact that it failed to meet one of the three qualifications to be defined as a planet – clearing the neighborhood, or becoming gravitationally dominant from its orbit – Pluto hasn’t made many waves in the space-based news cycle. Until recently, that is.

Yes, the reject little stepbrother to the other eight planetary bros is finally getting its moment to shine in the sun, even though that solar light takes a lengthy 5.3 hours to reach it. Recently released video from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, the first ever deployed to neglected Pluto, have made their way back to Earth. The movies have captured the rhythm and flow of the orbital dance between Pluto and its biggest moon, Charon. Though the film is heavily pixelated, because Pluto can never have anything too nice, they are the first colored movies to depict the two bodies.

20150622_loop_bc_final

Pluto, trying to stake its claim as the HBIC of the Kuiper Belt, is the spray-tanned orange hued dot in the video, because, it is summer after all. Charon appears as a smaller, gray dot, just like a moon should. One of the videos, centered around big boss Pluto, shows the dwarf planet stationary while Charon gets its orbit on. The other presents a barycentric view, showing both Pluto and Charon moving around the center of gravity they share.

Having accumulated these movies from images taken in blue, red and near-infrared on nine different instances throughout May 29-June 3, New Horizons is on track to showcase another side of Pluto by going to infinity and beyond. On July 14, the spacecraft will make the closest ever approach to Pluto, hovering just 7,800 miles above the dwarf planet’s surface. NASA hopes this will vastly improve the quality of the colored images and hone in on the surfaces of both Pluto and Charon to get a better sense of their compositions, and to truly determine why Pluto looks way more bronzed than pale ‘ol Charon.

It’s no small feat launching a hunk of metal the size of piano into space and have it travel three billion miles to investigate a dwarf planet. Pluto had better smile and say cheese, because its moment is now.

Images courtesy of New Horizons

Leave a Reply

We are on Instagram