We are searching data for your request:
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.
By "dominating another object's orbit" my understanding is that the most massive body's gravity has so much influence that, when they come close, it makes the other body/bodies' orbits shift or change, either certain parameters (such as apoapsis, periapsis, inclination etc.) or up to pulling it completely out of its current orbit (thereby perhaps ejecting the body from it or making the body collide with the dominating body or a satellite of the dominating body). However, as far as I can determine, Jupiter is unable to alter the orbit of Ceres; both of them are in stable orbits, nor can any other of the main belt's equilibrium-shaped object's orbits (Interamnia, Hygiea, Pallas and Vesta) ever influence themselves to the point that one's orbital parameters are altered nor does Jupiter exert enough gravitational influence on any equilibrium-shaped main belt object to alter its orbit.
The same seems to be true for the Kuiper belt: For every two complete orbits made by Pluto, Neptune makes exactly three orbits. So both object's orbits are stable and Neptune doesn't influence Pluto's orbit in a way that it would be altered, nor is any other spherical TNO's orbit manipulated either by Neptune or by themselves between each other.
Am I right and is there even any equilibrium-shaped object directly orbiting the Sun that ever altered another equilibrium-shaped object's orbit in recorded history, or would be able to do so in a close approach? As I see it, all ellipsoidal objects orbiting the Sun in our system are on stable orbits that won't change unless some interstellar 'visitor' might meddle any up.
Orbits aren't knife-point balances of speed, distance and direction. For two objects separated by distances much larger than their diameters, almost any combination of the three where the speed is below the local escape velocity results in a stable elliptical orbit whose specific parameters are determined by the combination.
Ceres (and all the other objects in the solar system) are affected in their orbits by the gravitational influence of Jupiter (and everything else, for that matter). However, because the orbital periods of Jupiter and Ceres aren't low-denomination multiples of each other, the influence of Jupiter, while present, remains small, and the orbit remains pretty much the same, year to year.
Where the periods are a low-denomination multiple of each other, however, the gravitational interactions reinforce repeatedly over billions of years, and can serve to both alter orbits such that the resonance is no longer maintained (see the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroid Belt), or in specific situations, lock an object into maintaining that resonance.
With Pluto and the Plutinos, the fact that their periods are clustered around 3/2 Neptune's orbital period is a direct result of Neptune's gravitational influence over time, rather than in spite of it; The regularity in the amount and the direction of Neptune's perturbations to their solar orbits keeps them near the 3:2 resonance, similar to the way Jupiter keeps the Jovian Trojans near the 1:1 resonance and the Hildas near the 2:3 resonance.
Note that all the orbital parameters of all the bodies in the solar system are changing over time (For example, the perihelion of Jupiter precesses approximately 6.55 arcseconds per year). The Keplerian Orbital Elements of the planets that you may find online are based on measurements taken at a specific time, and define orbits that assume that the planet and the Sun are the only bodies in the universe.
Kuiper Belt Objects (woah)
Was I the only one who thought that only the 8 main planets that everyone knows about + Pluto and a couple other dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets here or there were the only things that orbited our sun? Yeah well, I am very wrong, and if you thought that too, so are you :0. The Kuiper Belt is the huge area of space typically beyond Neptune’s orbit, and is approximately 50 AU from the sun. The objects that dwell in the Kuiper Belt are called KBOs, and NASA has catalogued and documented over 2,000 KBOs, but they believe that number is only representative of a fraction of the total number of objects in the belt. The objects in the Kuiper Belt are thought to be mainly made up of comets, dwarf planets, icy objects and dust. What is even crazier is the fact that scientists believe that the Kuiper Belt used to be home to a lot more KBOs. According to NASA, the Kuiper Belt is ever-eroding itself away, as sometimes objects impact one another, and turn into smaller KBOs that go on to become comets or are blown away from solar wind. That’s crazy right! So many other objects orbit our sun besides the 8 planets everyone knows about! But wait…. it gets even better. Beyond the Kuiper Belt, there is another region of space called the Oort Cloud, which is home to many of the same objects as the Kuiper Belt. Unlike the Kuiper Belt which is a disk, the Oort Cloud is more like a sphere that encapsulates all of the solar system, and is estimated to extend as far as 200,000 AU in all directions from the sun! Now guess how many objects are in the Oort Cloud? No one really knows, because no one has actually ever seen the Oort Cloud, but scientists estimate around 10^12 objects are currently in the Oort Cloud orbiting our sun. That’s 10,000,000,000,000 (10 trillion) objects :0. Looks like our solar system is home to a lot more than Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and a couple extra dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets here or there…. The sun is so popular, trillions of objects want to feel its warmth and call it home. What are your guys’ thoughts on this topic, I think it’s super interesting!
By National School Observatory
The Kuiper Belt For Kids
The Kuiper Belt is a comet-rich area which is situated between 30 to 50 AU from the Sun . One AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and as such, the Kuiper Belt is rather enormous.
The Kuiper Belt contains millions of comet nuclei, and it is similar to the theoretical Oort Cloud . In the Kuiper Belt, the dwarf planet Pluto was first discovered.
Astronomers think the icy objects of the Kuiper Belt are remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Similar to the relationship between the main asteroid belt and Jupiter, it's a region of objects that might have come together to form a planet had Neptune not been there. Instead, Neptune's gravity stirred up this region of space so much that the small, icy objects there weren't able to coalesce into a large planet.
The amount of material in the Kuiper Belt today might be just a small fraction of what was originally there. According to one well-supported theory, the shifting orbits of the four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) could have caused most of the original material -- likely 7 to 10 times the mass of Earth -- to be lost.
The basic idea is that early in the solar system's history, Uranus and Neptune were forced to orbit farther from the Sun due shifts in the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. As they drifted farther outward, they passed through the dense disk of small, icy bodies left over after the giant planets formed. Neptune's orbit was the farthest out, and its gravity bent the paths of countless icy bodies inward toward the other giants. Jupiter ultimately slingshotted most of these icy bodies either into extremely distant orbits (to form the Oort Cloud) or out of the solar system entirely. As Neptune tossed icy objects sunward, this caused its own orbit to drift even farther out, and its gravitational influence forced remaining icy objects into the range of locations where we find them in the Kuiper Belt.
Today the Kuiper Belt is slowly eroding itself away. Objects that remain there occasionally collide, producing smaller objects fragmented by the collision, sometimes comets and also dust that's blown out of the solar system by the solar wind.
Structure and Characteristics
Best Supporting Actor Award
The Best Supporting Actor Award goes to the member of a binary KBO (that is, two KBO’s that orbit each other) that is the smaller body of that pair. Which KBO has best supported its dominant partner? (Envelope, please.)
The winner is Nunam!
Inuit man in an 1854 photograph. Credit: National Maritime Museum, London.
You’ve probably never heard of the KBO Nunum, mainly because it is so closely associated with its dominant partner Sila that their names are spoken together as the hyphenated Sila-Nunam. In the minor planet data base they share their number together as “79360 Sila-Nunam”. That’s unusual. Most binaries are named for their primary member while the secondary is listed as a moon. Sila and Nunam were given Inuit names. The Minor Planet Center says, “Sila is the Inuit god of the sky, weather, and life force. Nunam is the Earth goddess, Sila’s wife. Nunam created the land animals and, in some traditions, the Inuit people (in other traditions Sila created the first people out of wet sand). Sila breathed life into the Inuit.”
Jovian Planet Research Paper
Processed meteorites are fragments of larger asteroids that underwent differentiation. 8. The Kuiper Belt is a ring of comets that orbit the Sun beyond the orbit of Neptune. The Oort cloud is located in the the outer solar system and the comets orbit around the Sun.These were developed from planetesimals that were thrown outward after their formation between the Jovian planets. However the Kuiper Belt comets that formed still remain in the outer regions of the planetary realm. 14. If Jupiter did&hellip
Figure 1: Chiron’s Orbit. Chiron orbits the Sun every 50 years, with its closest approach being inside the orbit of Saturn and its farthest approach out to the orbit of Uranus.
In the outer solar system, where most objects contain large amounts of water ice, the distinction between asteroids and comets breaks down. Astronomers initially still used the name “asteroids” for new objects discovered going around the Sun with orbits that carry them far beyond Jupiter. The first of these objects is Chiron, found in 1977 on a path that carries it from just inside the orbit of Saturn at its closest approach to the Sun out to almost the distance of Uranus (Figure 1). The diameter of Chiron is estimated to be about 200 kilometers, much larger than any known comet.
In 1992, a still-more-distant object named Pholus was discovered with an orbit that takes it 33 AU from the Sun, beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pholus has the reddest surface of any object in the solar system, indicating a strange (and still unknown) surface composition. As more objects are discovered in these distant reaches, astronomers decided that they will be given the names of centaurs from classical mythology this is because the centaurs were half human, half horse, and these new objects display some of the properties of both asteroids and comets.
Beyond the orbit of Neptune lies a cold, dark realm populated by objects called simply trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). The first discovered, and best known, of these TNOs is the dwarf planet Pluto. We discussed Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft encounter with it in Rings, Moons, and Pluto. The second TNO was discovered in 1992, and now more than a thousand are known, most of them smaller than Pluto.
The largest ones after Pluto—named Eris, Makemake, and Haumea—are also classed as dwarf planets. Except for their small size, dwarf planets have many properties in common with the larger planets. Pluto has five moons, and two moons have been discovered orbiting Haumea and one each circling Eris and Makemake.
Is Jupiter really shepherding the main belt, and Neptune the Kuiper belt? - Astronomy
The Kuiper belt includes tens of thousand of large bodies and millions of smaller objects. The main part of the belt objects is located in the annular zone between 39.4 and 47.8 au from the Sun the boundaries correspond to the average distances for orbital resonances 3:2 and 2:1 with the motion of Neptune. One-dimensional, two-dimensional, and discrete rings to model the total gravitational attraction of numerous belt objects are considered. The discrete rotating model most correctly reflects the real interaction of bodies in the Solar system. The masses of the model rings were determined within EPM2017—the new version of ephemerides of planets and the Moon at IAA RAS—by fitting spacecraft ranging observations. The total mass of the Kuiper belt was calculated as the sum of the masses of the 31 largest trans-Neptunian objects directly included in the simultaneous integration and the estimated mass of the model of the discrete ring of TNO. The total mass is (1.97 ± 0.35)× 10^ <-2>m_
A Prehistoric Puzzle in the Kuiper Belt
The farthest object ever explored is slowly revealing its secrets, as scientists piece together the puzzles of Ultima Thule &ndash the Kuiper Belt object NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew past on New Year's Day, four billion miles from Earth.
Analyzing the data New Horizons has been sending home since the flyby of Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69), mission scientists are learning more about the development, geology and composition of this ancient relic of solar system formation. The team discussed those findings today at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Ultima Thule is the first unquestionably primordial contact binary ever explored. Approach pictures of Ultima Thule hinted at a strange, snowman-like shape for the binary, but further analysis of images, taken near closest approach &ndash New Horizons came to within just 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) &ndash have uncovered just how unusual the KBO's shape really is. At 22 miles (35 kilometers) long, Ultima Thule consists of a large, flat lobe (nicknamed "Ultima") connected to a smaller, rounder lobe (nicknamed "Thule").
This strange shape is the biggest surprise, so far, of the flyby. "We've never seen anything like this anywhere in the solar system," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "It is sending the planetary science community back to the drawing board to understand how planetesimals &ndash the building blocks of the planets &ndash form."
Because it is so well preserved, Ultima Thule is offering our clearest look back to the era of planetesimal accretion and the earliest stages of planetary formation. Apparently Ultima Thule's two lobes once orbited each other, like many so-called binary worlds in the Kuiper Belt, until something brought them together in a "gentle" merger.
"This fits with general ideas of the beginning of our solar system," said William McKinnon, a New Horizons co-investigator from Washington University in St. Louis. "Much of the orbital momentum of the Ultima Thule binary must have been drained away for them to come together like this. But we don't know yet what processes were most important in making that happen."
That merger may have left its mark on the surface. The "neck" connecting Ultima and Thule is reworked, and could indicate shearing as the lobes combined, said Kirby Runyon, a New Horizons science team member from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Runyon and fellow team geologists are describing and trying to understand Ultima Thule's many surface features, from bright spots and patches, to hills and troughs, to craters and pits. The craters, while at first glance look like impact craters, could have other origins. Some may be pit craters, where material drains into underground cracks, or a result of sublimation, where ice went directly from solid to gas and left pits in its place. The largest depression is a 5-mile-wide (3-kilometer-wide) feature the team has nicknamed Maryland crater. It could be an impact crater, or it could have formed in one of the other above-mentioned ways.
"We have our work cut out to understand Ultima Thule's geology, that is for sure," Runyon said.
In color and composition, New Horizons data revealed that Ultima Thule resembles many other objects found in its region of the Kuiper Belt. Consistent with pre-flyby observations from the Hubble Telescope, Ultima Thule is very red &ndash redder even than Pluto, which New Horizons flew past on the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt in 2015 &ndash and about the same color as many other so-called "cold classical" KBOs. ("Cold" referring not to temperature but to the circular, uninclined orbits of these objects "classical" in that their orbits have changed little since forming, and represent a sample of the primordial Kuiper Belt.)
"This is the first time one of these 'ultra red' objects has been explored, and our observations open all kinds of new questions," said Carly Howett, a New Horizons science team member from SwRI. "The color imaging even reveals subtle differences in coloration across the surface, and we really want to know why."
New Horizons scientists have also seen evidence for methanol, water ice and organic molecules on the surface. "The spectrum of Ultima Thule is similar to some of the most extreme objects we've seen in the outer solar system," said Silvia Protopapa, a New Horizons co-investigator from SwRI. "So New Horizons is giving us an incredible opportunity to study one of these bodies up close."
The Ultima Thule data transmission continues, though all of the data from the flyby won't be on the ground until late summer 2020. In the meantime, New Horizons continues to carry out distant observations of additional Kuiper Belt objects and mapping the charged-particle radiation and dust environment in the Kuiper Belt.
The New Horizons spacecraft is 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth, operating normally and speeding deeper into the Kuiper Belt at nearly 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometers) per hour.
Astrobites Airlines: We’re going to Planet Nine!
Editor’s note: Astrobites is a graduate-student-run organization that digests astrophysical literature for undergraduate students. As part of the partnership between the AAS and astrobites, we occasionally repost astrobites content here at AAS Nova. We hope you enjoy this post from astrobites the original can be viewed at astrobites.org.
Title: Injection of Inner Oort Cloud Objects Into the Distant Kuiper Belt by Planet Nine
Authors: Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. Brown
First Author’s Institution: California Institute of Technology
Status: Accepted to ApJL
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Astrobites Airlines with service from the Earth to Planet Nine. We are currently fourth in line for take-off, but you can learn more about other take-offs to Planet Nine here, here, and here. We are traveling at the speed of light and the duration of our flight will be about 70 hours. We ask that you please enjoy our long journey to the outer solar system.
Figure 1: The Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud location. [ESA]
Figure 2: Census of distant KBOs. The orbits of stable KBOs are depicted in purple and grey. Unstable ones are depicted in green. [Batygin & Brown 2021]
We Forgot That the Universe Is BIG!
The authors have been working on Planet Nine for a long time (their first paper hypothesizing the existence of this distant, unseen giant planet in our solar system was published in 2016)! During this time, they made some estimates on dynamical properties of the planet we are heading to right now. For example, Planet Nine might have a mass of 5 Earth masses, with a semi-major axis of 500 au, an eccentricity of 0.25, and an inclination of 20 degrees from the data that was observed (Planet Nine itself has not yet been observed). However, all this time, the authors treated the solar system as an isolated object, neglecting all the bodies that attain a heliocentric distance of over 10,000 au. But these bodies are still there! The authors’ assumption is valid for representing the evolution of objects with semi-major axes on the order of a few hundred au. More recent detections of trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), however, increasingly point to a pronounced abundance of long-period TNOs with a heliocentric distance of over 10,000 au. This orbital domain borders the inner Oort cloud (IOC). More importantly, the population of debris in the IOC is stable, just like the KBOs mentioned above! So, the authors’ hypothesis is that some of these stable KBOs were injected into the Kuiper Belt from the outside, possibly due to the influence of Planet Nine.
The Tug-of-War Between Giant Planets and Stars
As we go further and further from the Sun on our spaceship, it is important to note that the Sun’s birth environment played an important role in shaping the solar system. After all, the Sun is the reason we have our solar system in the first place! The Sun, like any other star, was born in a big family of stars — a cluster. Now, it’s time to wear your glasses, because it’s simulation time!
The authors made an N-body simulation of the formation of our solar system including Jupiter and Saturn (they are significant because they are huge) and 100,000 planetesimals, spanning the 4.5−12 au range in the heliocentric distance in initial circular and coplanar orbits. They modeled the Sun’s birth cluster as a Plummer sphere. The Plummer sphere is often used in N-body simulations to “soften” gravity at small distance scales. This is needed to prevent the point particles from scattering too strongly off of one another on a close approach. Along with Jupiter and Saturn, they also modeled “passing stars” — members of the Sun’s family that might have affected the debris gravitationally. All of it, the concurrent growth of giant planets and the passing stars, affects the planetesimals. Think of it as a tug-of-war between Jupiter and Saturn on one side and the passing stars on the other side. Because these icy objects (a.k.a. planetesimals) don’t know where to go, they choose to “freeze” in place, thousands of au away from the Sun. These are what the IOC is formed of.
Have We Reached Planet Nine Yet?
Dear passengers, it’s the time for another simulation! In absence of Planet Nine, the IOC created by the tug-of-war between giant-planet scattering and the passing stars would essentially remain dynamically frozen over the main-sequence lifetime of the Sun. But that’s because Planet Nine wasn’t considered in the first simulation. Let’s see what happens when the authors add Planet Nine.
In this simulation, the authors accounted for the dynamics driven by Neptune, Planet Nine, and the passing stars as well as the effect of the galactic gravitational tidal field and the average effect of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. They found that over the lifetime of the Sun, a significant fraction (that is, on the order of 20%) of the IOC gets injected into the distant Kuiper belt. The authors also found that these re-injected IOC objects exhibit orbital clustering, which is important for the Planet Nine hypothesis (see this previous bite for more details). However, the degree of clustering is considerably weaker. The data suggests that Planet Nine might be even more eccentric than we thought. So, our journey might take a little longer! Another key result of the simulation is that IOC objects display a very extended semi-major axis distribution, which might explain objects like the Goblin.
Figure 3: Sequence of events modeled within this work. A population of trans-Neptunian objects forms while the Sun is still in its birth cluster. Subsequently, over the billion-year lifetime of the solar system, Planet Nine slowly affects these extremely long-period objects, mixing them into the observed census of Kuiper belt objects. [Batygin & Brown 2021]
We are happy that you chose us again for your journey. We are really excited to see what is really out there, far away in our solar system. Thank you for choosing Astrobites Airlines!
Original astrobite edited by Catherine Manea.
A Russian translation of this article is available on Astrobites, also written by Sabina Sagynbayeva.
About the author, Sabina Sagynbayeva:
I’m a graduate student at Stony Brook University and my main research area is planets. I’m currently working on planet formation using hydrodynamical simulations. I’m mainly interested in planet-disk interaction but nearly any topic related to planets is fascinating to me! In addition to doing research, I’m also a singer-songwriter. I LOVE writing songs, and you can find them on any streaming platforms.
It Looks Like These Are All the Bright Kuiper Belt Objects We’ll Ever Find
The self-professed “Pluto Killer” is at it again. Dr. Michael Brown is now reminiscing about the good old days when one could scour through sky survey data and discover big bright objects in the Kuiper Belt. In his latest research paper, Brown and his team have concluded that those days are over.
Ten years ago, Brown discovered what is now known as the biggest Kuiper Belt object – Eris. Brown’s team found others that rivaled Pluto in size and altogether, these discoveries led to the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet. Now, using yet another sky survey data set but with new computer software, Brown says that its time to move on.
Instigators of the big heist – Rabinowitz, Brown and Trujillo, left to right. The researchers co-discovered dozens of Kuiper Belt objects (KBO) including nine of the ten largest KBOs including the largest, Eris.
Like the famous Bugs Bunny cartoon, its no longer Rabbit Season or Duck Season and as Bugs exclaims to Elmer Fudd, there is no more bullets. Analyzing seven years worth of data, Brown and his team has concluded we are fresh out of Pluto or Charon-sized objects to be discovered in the Kuiper Belt. But for Dr. Brown, perhaps it now might be Oort Cloud season.
His latest paper, A Serendipitous All Sky Survey For Bright Objects In The Outer Solar System, in pre-print, describes the completion of analysis of two past sky surveys covering the northern and southern hemisphere down to 20 degrees in Galactic latitude. Using revised computer software, his team scoured through the data sets from the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) and the Siding Spring Survey (SSS). The surveys are called “fast cadence surveys” and they primarily search for asteroids near Earth and out to the asteroid belt. Instead Brown’s team used the data to look at image frames spaced days and months apart.
Update: In a Twitter communique, Dr. Brown stated, “I would say we’re out of BRIGHT ones, not big ones. Could be big ones lurking far away!” His latest work involved a southern sky survey (SSS) to about magnitude 19 and the northern survey (CSS) to 21. Low albedo (dark) and more distant KBOs might be lurking beyond the detectability of these surveys that are in the range of Charon to Pluto in size.
Animation showing the movement of Eris on the images used to discover it. Eris is indicated by the arrow. The three frames were taken over a period of three hours. More images over several weeks were necessary to determine its orbit.(Credit: Brown, et al.)
Objects at Kuiper Belt distances move very slowly. For example, Pluto orbits the Sun at about 17,000 km/hr (11,000 mph), taking 250 years to complete one orbit. These are speeds that are insufficient to maintain ven a low-Earth orbit. Comparing two image frames spaced just hours apart will find nearby asteroids moving relative to the star fields but not Kuiper belt objects. So using image frames spaced days, weeks or even months apart, they searched again. Their conclusion is that all the big Kuiper belt objects have been found.
The only possibility of finding another large KBO lies in a search of the galactic plane which is difficult due to the density of Milky Way’s stars in the field of view. The vast number of small bodies in the Kuiper belt and Oort Cloud lends itself readily to statistical analysis. Brown states that there is a 32% chance of finding another Pluto-sized object hiding among the stars of the Milky Way.
Artists concept of the view from Eris with Dysnomia in the background, looking back towards the distant sun. Credit: Robert Hurt (IPAC)
Dr. Brown also released a blog story in celebration of the discovery of the largest of the Kuiper Belt objects, Eris, ten years ago last week. Ten years of Eris, reminisces about the great slew of small body discoveries by Dr. Brown, Dr. Chad Trujillo of Gemini Observatory and Dr. David Rabinowitz of Yale Observatory.
Brown encourages others to take up this final search right in the galactic plane but apparently his own intentions are to move on. What remains to be seen — that is, to be discovered — are hundreds of large “small” bodies residing in the much larger region of the Oort Cloud. These objects are distributed more uniformly throughout the whole spherical region that the Cloud defines around the Sun.
Furthermore, Dr. Brown maintains that there is a good likelihood that a Mars or Earth-sized object exists in the Oort Cloud.
Small bodies within our Solar System along with exo-planets are perhaps the hottest topics and focuses of study in Planetary Science at the moment. Many graduate students and seasoned researchers alike are gravitating to their study. There are certainly many smaller Kuiper belt objects remaining to be found but more importantly, a better understanding of their makeup and origin are yet to be revealed.
Artist’s concept of the Dawn spacecraft at the protoplanet Ceres Illustration of Dawn’s approach phase and RC3 orbit This artist’s concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows the craft orbiting high above Ceres, where the craft will arrive in early 2015 to begin science investigations. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Presently, the Dawn spacecraft is making final approach to the dwarf planet Ceres in the Asteroid belt. The first close up images of Ceres are only a few days away as Dawn is now just a couple of 100 thousand miles away approaching at a modest speed. And much farther from our home planet, scientists led by Dr. Alan Stern of SWRI are on final approach to the dwarf planet Pluto with their space probe, New Horizons. The Pluto system is now touted as a binary dwarf planet. Pluto and its moon Charon orbit a common point (barycenter) in space that lies between Pluto and Charon.
So Dr. Brown and team exits stage left. No more dwarf planets – at least not soon and not in the Kuiper belt. Will that upstage what is being called the year of the Dwarf Planet?
But next up for close inspection for the first time are Ceres, Pluto and Charon. It should be a great year.
The relative sizes of the inner Solar System, Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. (Credit: NASA, William Crochot)