Sunday, January 15, 2006

Breaking News In LA Times! Proposed Pluto Perceived Perturbations Plainly Problematic!

Since my detailed study of all things astronomical ended back in the day - and which day I will not reveal, other than to say it is many decades past - I was previously unaware that the long debated orbital osculations of Uranus and Neptune have been proven to be as error-filled as a typical copy of the... LA Times....,0,7818381.story?coll=la-home-headlines&track=morenews

After the discovery of Neptune in 1846, astronomers believed that odd perturbations in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune could not be entirely explained except by the presence of yet another massive planet somewhere beyond Neptune. They named that body Planet X. The astronomical mystery became a cause celebre.

"I believe in the new planet," Mark Twain wrote. "I hope it is going to be named after me; I should just love it if I can't have a constellation."Twain was long dead by the time the answer came.

As it turned out, much of what astronomers thought they knew about Planet X was wrong. It wasn't big. In fact, there are seven moons in the solar system that would be larger than the planet.

And it didn't cause the perturbations in Uranus' and Neptune's orbits that were the primary reason for believing there was a ninth planet. Scientists eventually determined the perturbations were the result of inaccurate observations.

Among other interesting observations by John Johnson, Jr. in his article about an impending NASA Pluto probe, is that after taking until at least 2015 to get there, the piano-sized craft (an superb visual imental mage supplied by him) the craft will then have but one earth day to take close-up photos of the planet.

After traveling billions of miles, New Horizons must thread a needle 186 miles wide to approach Pluto. Swinging over the small planet at a distance of 6,200 miles, it would have just one Earth day to get the best pictures. The onboard cameras should be able to resolve features as small as 80 feet across.

One challenge facing NASA controllers is the time it would take to communicate with the spacecraft once it reaches Pluto — about four hours and 25 minutes, one way. At those distances, New Horizons would be well into its observations before controllers find out whether they are getting good data.

And yet it still takes two weeks for the US Post Office in LA to transfer a letter exactly twelve miles - and to then still deliver it to the wrong address...

No comments: