Solar System Exploration – The Kuiper Belt

Beyond the orbit of the outer giants, beyond the orbit of Pluto even is a region of the solar system is the Kuiper belt. A place where the material left over from the creation of the solar system resides. We’re not quite into interstellar space (the space between the stars) yet, in fact we’re not totally sure where that begins yet. The Voyager probes that are the farthest human object from Earth are helping us to find this out.

The Kuiper belt isn’t a single object, it’s many object forming a ring around the sun from the orbit of Neptune’s e (30AU’s) to 50 AU’s from the sun. It’s in this belt that frozen comets, and icy dwarf planets are made. Pluto and Neptune’s moon Triton are thought to be Kuiper belt objects, captured and brought nearer to the sun. But what else do we know is out there?

Dwarf Planets

The Kuiper belt is known to be the region of a number of Dwarf planets:

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Eris

Makemake

Haunea

Sedna

Quaoar

Are the main bodies, but other smaller object such as Ixion, Varuna and Orcus are continually being discovered. Pluto is also now classified as a dwarf planet and a Kuiper belt object and Neptune’s moon Triton is suspected to be a large Kuiper belt object that was captured by Neptune’s gravity as it orbits Neptune the wrong way. Triton is made up in a very similar way to Pluto to give further weight to this theory.

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Voyager 2’s flyby in 1989 made discoveries of volcanoes or frozen methane and details on terrains which up until then we didn’t know existed. It was our first glimpse of what a Kuiper belt object was.


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New Horizon’s flew past Pluto on 15th January 2015. The historic encounter brought back images and data of a world which up until then was almost completely unknown. p until then Pluto and it’s largest moon Charon had merely been a small and detail-less point of light in even the most powerful telescope.

There was always the possibility that New Horizons would be used to explore other Kuiper belt objects. Now it has been granted it’s second mission and New Horizons has been steered to make a close encounter with the rather unromantically named 2014 MU69 on January 1st 2019.

New Horizons Kuiper Belt Object Encounter

This will be the furthest object ever encountered by a human spacecraft to date at over 43 times the distance the Earth is from the Sun. What we will find is a mystery, it might be another ball of frozen gas, rock and ice or something completely different. Either way it will give us more information about what is in the Kuiper belt.


Further Exploration:

The Kuiper belt is a long, long way off and it takes a long time to get there. Any future missions are going to have to overcome this problem and justifying going out there is another problem. This is why New Horizons is the first and only probe to go out there and look at anything. Maybe we can look at more before New Horizons speeds out of the solar system. But in the meantime, advances with space telescopes mean we’re getting much more data that we ever have been before.

Hubble was used to plan the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, looking for other moons that needed to be avoided. Hubble found a small handful, handy to know when you’re shooting long distance like that. Dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt are giving up more of their secrets and revealing moons – There’s a whole solar system out there!

Planet Simon

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Hunting for Organic Molecules on Mars

The question of if there is life on Mars still really isn’t over. But it has been accepted that it’s unlikely that little green men aren’t hiding in the rocks on our planetrary neighbour. What seems more likely and exciting is the life that was / might have been on Mars when it had water on the surface…

 

Credit: NASA

 

Planet Simon

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Solar System Exploration – Pluto

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Pluto was discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. Analysis of the outer planets suggested a planet out beyond Neptune and having taken photographs of the night sky and comparing them the movement of Pluto across the sky gave it’s position away. The mass of Pluto did not account for the gravitational anomalies, but Pluto was originally designated a planet and named.

Pluto is the Greek God of the Underworld, whose earlier name was Hades. Pluto was seen as a more positive figure, being a God of the afterlife rather than death.

 


 

Facts about Pluto

 

 


 

Moons of Pluto

The biggest moon of Pluto is Charon (pronounced Sharon), there are four others moons of Pluto – Styx, Nix Kerberos and Hydra. All of them keeping with the theme of the underworld, Charon being the carrier of souls to the underworld across the river Styx.

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Charon was discovered in June 1978 by James Christy, becasue of the small nature of these objects and the great distance Charon merely appeared as bulge to Pluto. The debate about whether Charon was a moon or a feature of Pluto was finally settled when Pluto’s orbit aligned with Earths between 1985 and 1990. Charon was named after James’s wife, whose nickname was Char. When this conincided with Greek Mythology the name was adopted.

Charon seems to be made up manly by water ice, however there is differentiation between the northern and southern sides of the moon. This can be seen with the relatively craterless north side and the cratered southern side. The dive to this can be seen with the enormous crack between the two halves.

 


 

Re-classification

After Pluto was discovered, a number of other objects similar in size to Pluto or larger were discovered in an area called the Kuiper belt, where Pluto resides. This caused debate about whether Pluto was a planet or not.

In 2006 the IAU (International Astronomical Union) decided that a planet must fulfill three criteria to be designated a planet. These are:

  1. It must orbit the sun.
  2. It must have enough mass to form a nearly round shape (a perfectly round shape won’t be achieved).
  3. It must have cleared the neighbourhood. This means it’s must be the most grvitationally dominant object in it’s system.

Because Pluto doesn’t meet the third criteria it was decided to re-classify Pluto to a dwarf planet. This decision has met with controversy and the debate hasn’t ended.

 


Inspiration

Holst never wrote a piece specifically for Pluto, however his Ode to death based around WWI events feature death heavily and Rachmaninov’s The Isle of the Dead could also derive inspiration from his world.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Recent Events

In July 2015 the New Horizon’s space probe flew past Pluto, taking pictures and making a variety of observations. This was the first time that a probe had visited the world. This was a flyby mission because the speed that New Horizons was travelling was so fast that Pluto would not be able to capture it and it couldn’t carry enough fuel to slow it down enough.

New Horizons was launched at huge speed in order to reach Pluto in ten years, it had gone beyond the Moon’s orbit in a day and had reached Jupiter in about a year. Using it’s gravity to give it further speed and slingshot it on course to it’s destination. This also give us an idea of the huge expanse New Horizon’s had to cover and how distant Pluto is.

 

new-horizons

Despite this being only a flypast mission New Horizon’s gave us an amazing glimpse at a world we knew nothing about. Just like Triton around Neptune there was far more than we could expect. With a huge heart shaped plain of frozen Nitrogen, to huge ridges and mountains there was so much to explore an analyse, more than perhaps they ever expected.

Pluto -snow mountains 1

 

The future for New Horizons isn’t certain, after Pluto it could be sent to investigate other Kuiper Belt objects or it could be left to speed out of our solar system and towards the stars. But our first look at this world has been amazing, who knows if we will ever visit again in our lifetimes?

Planet Simon

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3 Days, 3 Quotes Challenge – Day 3

I like this challenge and it’s been a while since it’s passed my way, but a while ago a momma’s view put me to the challenge and I’ve finally got around to taking up this challenge with a special request as it seems she’s expecting some galactic quotes.

How could I refuse?

Thank you for taggin me in this, this is the last one and I hope thse quotes were galactic enough for you.


 

The rules are simple:

  • Thank you to the person who nominates you
  • Post one quote per day for 3 consecutive days
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

Interstaellar used the phrase ‘do not pass quietly into the great goodnight’ but this is humanity down to a tee.

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My next three nominee’s for this challenge are:

Thisistapasi
Kristian
Charlie

 

Planet Simon

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3 Days, 3 Quotes Challenge – Day 2

I like this challenge and it’s been a while since it’s passed my way, but a while ago a momma’s view put me to the challenge and I’ve finally got around to taking up this challenge with a special request as it seems she’s expecting some galactic quotes.

How could I refuse?

Thank you for taggin me in this, I hope over the next three days these quotes are the kind of thing you’re looking for…


 

The rules are simple:

  • Thank you to the person who nominates you
  • Post one quote per day for 3 consecutive days
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

This is perhaps the greatest teching for life, from a little green… Yoda.

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My next three nominee’s for this challenge are:

Amberley Griffin
Sarah C Jensen
Holly

 

Planet Simon

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Star Wars Obi Wan’s Story

I saw this video montage on Twitter and it’s truly an awesome piece of work, this will send shivers down your spine if you’re a Star Wars fan.

Check out @DepressedDarth’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/DepressedDarth/status/979757693278834689?s=09

Planet Simon

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Also find Planet Simon on Twitter

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NASA – 10 Things on the Mars Helicopter

One of the things that caught my attention recently is the deployment of a helicopter on Mars. While this  might sound like a fairly simple task the reality is that it’s technically a very difficult challenge and testing this helicopter on Earth is also very difficult. This explains more…

Credit: NASA

Planet Simon

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Also find Planet Simon on Twitter

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3 Days, 3 Quotes Challenge – Day 1

I like this challenge and it’s been a while since it’s passed my way, but a while ago a momma’s view put me to the challenge and I’ve finally got around to taking up this challenge with a special request as it seems she’s expecting some galactic quotes.

How could I refuse?

Thank you for taggin me in this, I hope over the next three days these quotes are the kind of thing you’re looking for…


 

The rules are simple:

  • Thank you to the person who nominates you
  • Post one quote per day for 3 consecutive days
  • Nominate three new bloggers each day

This isn’t really a quote, but you know it’s good advice from Douglas Adam’s Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy.

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My first three nominee’s for this challenge are:

Hotmessmemoir
The Darkest Fairytale
The Little Mermaid

 

Planet Simon

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Also find Planet Simon on Twitter

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Solar System Exploration – Neptune

Neptune1

Neptune was discovered in 1846, the credit of discovery is split between Urbain Le Verrier and John Couch Adams. Both these astronomers used permutations in the orbit of Uranus to locate Neptune before observing it.  Neptune is the only planet to have been discovered from mathematical computation rather than direct observation. Although Galileo had observed Neptune in 1613 and had mistaken it for a star, so he is not credited for it’s discovery. Neptune is named after the Roman God of the sea and is also known as Poseidon as the Greek god of the sea.

Neptune is composed of an icy / metallic core and a helium / hydrogen atmosphere, the core making up  90% – 95% of it’s mass. The remaining 5% = 10% is it’s helium / hydrogen atmosphere. By comparison the core’s  is  between 10 x and 15 x Earth’s mass.


 

Facts about Neptune

 

 


 

Moons and rings

Many of Neptune’s moons have not been discovered until recent times, some not until the 1980’s from Earth and then in 1989 with the Voyager 2 flyby and still subsequently with Hubble.

Neptune has some amazing names attached to it’s Moons like Triton, Larissa, Thalassa, Despina and Galatea. Here a few that we know something about.

Triton

Neptune15

Triton is named for the son of Poseidon in Greek mythology, it was discovered in 1846 by William Lassell.

Triton has a retrograde orbit, this means it orbit Neptune the opposite way to the other moons, because of this and it’s similar composition to Pluto it’s been suggested that Triton is a captured dwarf planet.

Made up of a surface of frozen nitrogen and 30-40% water ice. Triton is a very cold place to be with temperatures of -38K (-235C). Despite these frozen conditions Triton is one of the few moons in the solar system that’s know to be volcanic.

 

The volcanism doesn’t involve hot lava as on Earth, rather this is cryo volcanism. The sub surface Nitrogen vapourises under the surface until the pressure build enough to erupt to the surface. When Voyager 2 passed by in 1989 it captured images of geyser like eruptions coming from the surface.

 

 

Proteus

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Names after the shape changing God of the sea Proteus is 420km across and is the second largest of Neptune’s moons. It was discovered by Voyager 2 while on approach to Neptune. It wasn’t discovered from Earth because it is so close to Neptune.

 

Larissa

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Larissa was discovered from Earth by a star occultation in 1981. It’s the fourth largest of Neptune’s moons and is made up of debris from other moons smashed up by Triton.

 

Neptune7

During the Voyager 2 flyby’s it discovered and photographed the rings of Neptune, faint and thin but several sets of rings were discovered. This settled a long standing discussion about discoveries of ring from Earth that couldn’t be substantiated. As usual these rings are likely to be made up of rock and ice.

 


 

Inspiration

This is the final piece in Holst’s The Planets suite. With Neptune being 30x further from the sun than the Earth it’s a mysterious place and this is beautifully captured in his piece in Neptune.

 


 

Recent Events

The first and only spacecraft to have visited Neptune is Voyager 2 back in 1989. It carried out a flyby mission, taking photographs taking measurements of Neptune and it’s moons, finding out anything it could about this mysterious world.

Neptune4

What was immediately obvious is that Neptune is a world that’s very different from it’s neighbour Uranus. Neptune is a world that is visibly active with storms that have wind speeds over the speed of sound, clouds and spots.

 

Voyager 2 picked up the great dark spot on it’s approach, with smaller storms in in the lower bands of the planet. As Neptune is so far from the Sun, the most likely cause of these storms is the internal heating effect of the planet itself. Voyager found so much when it visited this distant and mysterious world, things that from Earth would be so difficult to observe. Storms, rings, volcanoes on Triton. There was far more than anyone expected or could have hoped for.

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Artist’s impression of how Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, might look from high above its surface. The distant Sun appears at the upper-left and the blue crescent of Neptune right of centre. Using the CRIRES instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, a team of astronomers has been able to see that the summer is in full swing in Triton’s southern hemisphere.

There are no plans to go back and visit Neptune in the near future. The legacy that Voyager left behind as it left our solar system lives on though. With so much to go back for it’s only a matter of time before blue gem has to give up it’s secrets for us.

Planet Simon

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Digital Art with Inkscape – Giving the Drawing Colour

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with approaches to create illustrations in digital and I’ve been sharing these. I’ve also been keen to work out how to take and improve on hand drawn sketches and ideas and bring them into digital too. Key to this has been learning how to use Inkscape or at least to get by with it and find out what it can do. This is the first in a series of posts which I’m hoping will help others to pick up the same techniques I have and bring their own creations to life.

Firstly anyone wishing to follow this will need to get their hands on Inkscape, this isn’t a problem as it it open source (i.e. free) and should be able to work across a range of platforms. In order to find out more and download it have a look at https://inkscape.org

Also if you want to find out more and can’t wait for me to write my posts there’s the Inkscape manuals:

Inkscape Manuals

There’s also the Inkscape Wiki:

Inkscape Wiki


In the last digital drawing post ( InkScape – Creating the Drawing ) we created our drawing, a kind of goofy little Minion:

Minion_006.png

Even though he has a smiley face he’s still looking kind of bland so is in some need of some colour.

Do do this we need to use the Fill tool Digital Art with Inkscape Part 1 – How Inkscape Works shows us where to find this. The way the Fill tool works is a colour is selected either before or after clicking on it and it will fill an area bounded by lines with that colour. What this means is that any gaps will make the colour leak everywhere. So watch out for that.

Minon_010.png

First off the eyes want filling in:

  1. Select Black for the pupil and then select the fill tool.
  2. Click the fill tool in the centre of the eye and it should be nicely filled. You’ll notice there’s a thin white boundary – I’m not sure how or why this is yet.
  3. With the Fill tool still selected press ESC once.
  4. Click on the colour for the eye and fill it. ESC needs to be pressed first to break the link between the last filled shape, if you go ahead and select a new colour then the last filled shape will change to that colour.
  5. To correct any mistakes press CTRL + Z to undo.
Minon_011.png

Now for his body.

  1. Fill in the body colour with a bright Minion yellow.
  2. Do the same for his outfit, making it a nice blue and don’t forget his buttons.
Minon_012.png

Make the hands, feet and goggles band black and et voila!

Once almost convincing and colourful Minion.

Let me know what you think of these posts – are they useful or not? Want to know something specific then ask me in the comments.

Also have a go yourself and let me know how it goes!


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