Because NASA must visit Pluto again


In 1930, Clyde Tombaugh, a 25-year-old amateur astronomer, spied a small dark object in the night sky.

I had been working on it Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, for about a year when he used a flash comparator – a special type of microscope that can examine and compare images – to spot what was for a time considered the ninth planet in our system. solar: Pluto.

By all accounts, Pluto was – well – weird. At some point, astronomers believed it could be larger than Mars (it’s not). Its unusual orbit of 248 years has been known crossing the path of Neptune. Today, Pluto is recognized as the largest object on the Kuiper Belt – but it is no longer considered a planet.

In 2006, u International Astronomical Union he vowed to degrade Pluto, defining a planet as a body that orbits the sun, is round in shape, and has “uncovered the neighborhood around its orbit” – meaning that it has become gravitational dominant, so it doesn’t there are no bodies in its orbital zone other than its own moons. Since Pluto did not verify that third box, it was considered a dwarf planet.

Now a new concept mission submitted to NASA aims to take a closer look at Pluto and its neighboring systems. Proposed in late 2020, Persephone will explore whether Pluto has an ocean and how the surface and atmosphere of the planet have developed.

Persephone will send a spacecraft armed with high-resolution cameras to orbit Pluto for three years and map its surface and that of its largest moon, Charon.

The proposed Persephone spacecraft would include five radioisotope thermoelectric (RTG) generators and several high-resolution cameras. Courtesy of Carly Howett

But why is it worth visiting Pluto?

The same year Pluto was ejected from its planetary pedestal, NASA sent it New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt to better understand the outer edge of our solar system.

After coming to Pluto in 2015, New Horizons struck what was a scientific treasure. Pluto’s early plans revealed potentially active mountain ranges, flowing ice, and a surprising record of geological history on its surface.

Carly Howett, a planetary physicist and Persephone’s principal investigator, says New Horizons has shown us how complex that part of space is.

“It wasn’t that New Horizons had fundamentally new technology, but it gave people a vision of what the Pluto system could be like,” says Howett. “The world, for the first time, has seen Pluto.”

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