Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pluto has become my favorite non-planet

Since the age of 9 when I looked through my grandfather's telescope and saw the rings of Saturn, I have been an astronomy geek. It makes perfect sense that I would become an architect.

Our solar system is resilient, having been around for several billions years, it is innovative and agile, having spontaneously deployed life within the past few million years, and it is of course predictable - i.e. the Sun *will* come up tomorrow. Take that to the bank.

It is also full of wonder and excitement. Here we are in 2015, and we are about to get our very first glimpse of the planet Pluto. Oops, I mean the "dwarf" planet Pluto. If you've not been following the news (you do read Scientific American, right?) you might have missed the news of Pluto's demotion.

Pluto lost its full planet status when smart people considered that unlike other objects that circle the sun (Earth, Mars, Neptune), Pluto's orbit is not very round, it's not on the same plane (level) as the others, and it is merely one of thousands of objects among a collection of others in an area called the Kuiper ("kiper") belt.

Nine years ago the indigenous life on the third rocky planet from the system's central star expelled a small metallic object that circled past the system's largest planet (Jupiter) to pick up speed and then traversed the 3 BILLION miles to the outer reaches of the system to the small non-planet called Pluto.

While Pluto is not that interesting as a planet, it is utterly fascinating as a celestial body. How about this... Pluto has at least five moons. The largest of them, Charon, is so large and is so close to Pluto that the two actually orbit around each other.

On July 14 (Earth date/time) - the New Horizons spacecraft will fly so close to Pluto as to be able to see objects the size of a Quidditch Pitch, or football field for the Potter-challenged. I for one am not expecting to actually see such constructs, but still the close up view of the Plutonian terrain will be fascinating.

I am taking the week of the 14th off for vacation, partly to enjoy the constant stream of news coverage from the outer reaches of our solar system, and of course to learn of the sporting life of the local inhabitants of the orb formerly defined as a planet. In the meantime, I'll try to focus on duplicating the resiliency, agility, innovation, and predictability of our celestial architecture.

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