So, the New Horizons spacecraft has successfully flown by 134340 Pluto.
Well, we knew it was going to do that. It was already on the appropriate trajectory. That’s just physics.
Another thing that is physics is the speed of light delay. It takes more than four hours for signals from the New Horizons spacecraft to reach Earth. And at its available data rate, it will require more than a year just to transmit all of the data stored in its onboard buffers.
But it has already transmitted some exciting data and images. We have seen polygons on Pluto, chasms on Charon, and ions in between. But what does it all mean?
There are plenty of people who could tell you. The rest of you have sent questions into the GoobNet Mailbox. We will now open it and answer those questions. Before we begin, please be sure to wear your dream pants at all times when the GoobNet Mailbox is open. This short safety video starring Gary Sinise will show you how.
What is your favourite feature of Pluto? Mine is the heart.
– Ed Perlmutter
Golden, CO, USA
The plasma tail is very interesting. It is made up of nitrogen ions that escaped from 134340 Pluto’s atmosphere. The New Horizons spacecraft is still transmitting data from the flyby, and it will continue to collect more data as it passes through 134340 Pluto’s tail. That will give us plenty to analyse as we continue to learn about what the solar wind does to 134340 Pluto.
Are there more things like Pluto in the solar system? When are we going to explore them?
– Eddie Bernice Johnson
Waco, TX, USA
There are plenty of objects like 134340 Pluto, which is one reason it was reclassified. We are going to explore them whenever you feel like spending the money to do it.
That money is better spent here in America.
– Paul Ryan
Janesville, WI, USA
That money was spent in America. The New Horizons spacecraft was built in America, by Americans, and it was launched from America, by Americans. You don’t know much about economics, do you?
I received a degree in economics and political science from Miami University, and I am currently chairman of the House Budget Committee.
– Paul Ryan
Janesville, WI, USA
So it is your job to fund NASA, and yet you do not understand how its funding is used? Wow. We are fucked.
I understand how NASA is funded.
– Bill Posey
Rockledge, FL, USA
In that case, please instruct the gentleman from Wisconsin.
Pluto has a tail. Therefore it’s a comet, not a planet.
– Dana Rorhabacher
Costa Mesa, CA, USA
The tail is escaped particles from the atmosphere. Mars and Venus have similar tails. Anyway, 134340 Pluto’s status has nothing to do with its composition. It has everything to do with its size and position. There are other large objects near its orbit – in fact, its orbit crosses that of Neptune. For that reason, 134340 Pluto does not meet the criteria to be considered a planet.
Why should Pluto be called a dwarf planet? It’s got a diameter of nearly 2,400 km. That’s one hell of a dwarf.
– Niki Tsongas
Lowell, MA, USA
Yes, we still need to come up with a better name than “dwarf planet”. After all, there could be two objects the size of Jupiter in orbits that cross one another, and by the current definitions, they would both qualify as dwarf planets.
If two objects the size of Jupiter were in orbits that crossed one another, wouldn’t their orbits be unstable? One of them would be ejected from the system or would be diverted into the star.
– Bill Johnson
Marietta, OH, USA
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