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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

If Only We Had Taller Been: New Horizons Makes the 3 Billion Mile Trip Past Pluto

       The startlingly clear images of dwarf planet Pluto's surface have captivated me all day. 

     Images from 3 billion miles from earth being transmitted by the New Horizons piano-sized probe have dominated nearly every news and science outlet. There's a Google doodle  and a New Yorker cartoon:

     Nine years after the 2006 launch we are treated to these false-color composite images of Pluto and Pluto's moon, Charon:

      There's even a New Horizons tribute with Ray Bradbury's voice reciting  If only we had taller been.

     For me, all of this spectacular imagery has me thinking about the U. S. space program's first probe of Mars on this very date (Bastille Day!) 50 years ago in 1965 . And, of course, the Moon Landing on July 20, 1969. 

       What is it about our space program and July?! Best time for good publicity? Best time for images? Other ideas?

All hail Pluto, the (round) dwarf planet and Happy Quatorze Juillet!


P.S. Hey. . .'Sup?


  1. July 20, 1969, Evening:

    At my house. My 18th birthday. Pizza Party. Mom serving as waitress, plying us us with 16-ounce bottles of Coke. Doug, Jack, Jimmy, Walt, Wilf, the twins Matt and Mike. Playing Charades and Probe. TV on in the background. One small step...

    Memories don't get any better than that.


    1. Ah, 1969. Summer of Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, Vietnam, and Tranquility. My 17th birthday was a few days later. I was working as an infirmary aide at a summer camp (getting to play doctor for the first time). That night, all the counselor and staff were gathered around a TV in the infirmary watching the moon walk.

    2. Looks like mid-July is a popular PEOTSers birthday time. Have another luminescent trip around the sun, jan and Lego!

      My family and I were gathered around our TV with a neighbor family. Their religion did not allow them to have a TV but they knew this was a really big deal. It was. . .

    3. My friends and I played Monopoly, waiting for the moon landing.

    4. Perhaps for that day it was Monopoly, David ;-) ? Thanks for the flyby, by the way. . .

    5. Darn auto correct-- MOONopoly!

    6. Btw, David, any thoughts on the Scientific American article (below) on a potential big Seattle/Portland earthquake?

  2. Replies
    1. I was in the midst of posting this article yesterday when a phone call came. I am glad you did, Jan.

      The illustrations are especially great.

      Yeah, sdb rarely comes over here so he'll never know (from us ;-)). David also lives in Seattle (as well as many other folks). Maybe David and other Seattleans will see the link here and comment.

    2. My girlfriend has relatives in Portland and Seattle.

      "...the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten."

      Chilling stuff. If I lived there I think I would consider moving, not tomorrow, but in a year or two or so.

      Great link, jan... and "intended" link, Word Woman. You two are really on top of breaking science.


    3. A likely 8.0 - 9.2 earthquake on the Richter Scale in the next 50 years? That is chilling, not chillaxing for sure!

  3. Replies
    1. Yeah, I heard a report about buckyballs on NPR. Seems tentative still. They seem too unlikely to be that prevalent. But you know what they say: anything possible, no matter how improbable, is mandatory, given enough time.

    2. Ah time. . .

      I was a bit leery when the astronomer's quote at the end of the story had an exclamation point after it. Period.

  4. Lego, I thought of you while visiting this art installation on the High Line in NYC yesterday. Someone had spelled out "LEGO" in Legos in the cityscape.

  5. OK, here's a question I feel really dumb asking. Pluto is over 3 billion miles from the sun, 40 times the distance we are. By the inverse square law, the sunlight is 1/1600th as bright as on Earth. So, the brilliant photos we're seeing -- just image enhancement, or what? Is it really dark and gloomy there, or is 1/1600th of what's available above our atmosphere enough to count as a reasonably sunny day?

    1. I think it's a great question. Here's a quote I found:

      "Just hours after its flyby of Pluto on July 14, the spacecraft will observe sunlight passing through the planet's atmosphere, to help scientists determine the atmosphere's composition.

      "It will be as if Pluto were illuminated from behind by a trillion-watt light bulb," noted New Horizons scientist Randy Gladstone."

  6. Replies
    1. That was fun. Ties, Tang and Klondike bars!
      Object, indeed. . .

  7. Replies
    1. Ha ha ha ha!

      New post on "DNA ties between Indigenous People of Australasia and Amazon: Free Shipping Included?" is now up.

  8. To continue following the New Horizons Pluto Probe, including the newest false color composites, see the link in blue. We ought to have a year or more of new images :-) :-)!