Sunday, May 22, 2016

Extrasolar Planets

The status of Pluto as a planet was never entirely certain for over 75 years since its discovery. It is the tenth largest planetary object in order of ascending size, right after dwarf planet Eris. Our former ninth planet was discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh on February 18, 1930, and it is the most widely recognized dwarf planet in our Solar System, and the Kuiper belt's largest object. Pluto's status as the ninth planet from our Sun was reviewed in 2006 due to an International Astronomical Union debate on how to classify such large objects. Even up to this current day and age, despite its status demotion to dwarf planet, Pluto is still widely regarded as a favorite among planetary objects in our Solar System and these provocative photographs were taken as firsts by the New Horizons satellite just last year to finally show just how much of a mysterious and puzzling place it really is.

The New Horizons space probe was designed by NASA to study the extreme conditions of dwarf planet Pluto and its natural satellite Charon, about 3.6 billion miles away from our Sun. This mission, not unlike NASA's Messenger probe, which also finalized a journey to explore the innermost conditions of our Solar System near Mercury earlier the same year, took nine and a half years to complete since its launch in January 19, 2006. The New Horizons satellite was successful at localizing and imaging Pluto and its moon, also detecting many surprising and familiar surface features including an atmosphere, glaciers, mountainous regions, great plains, and even water ice distributed all over its surface terrain. Arriving at Pluto has appealed to our collective sense of bewilderment for reminding us about how beautiful and exciting rediscovering a foreign planet really is.

Pluto with its moon Charon on the left as New Horizons quickly approaches its main objective (Image: NASA).

In the midst of this first look at Pluto as our ex-ninth planet, we now have theories of a new extrasolar object, harboring ten times the gravity on Earth and a wondrously eccentric orbit, located right outside our Solar System. The ninth planet spot is now more coveted than ever!

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