Mini-moon for a Mini-planet: Although you, like us, may have been too distracted by the final shuttle launch to notice, last week NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope has found a fourth moon orbiting Pluto. This very tiny moon–it’s only 8-21 miles wide–has been given a very tiny name to match, P4. You may remember the intense controversy a few years ago when Pluto was downgraded from full planet status to being a mere dwarf planet. Now that Pluto can boast 4 moons, we at Caterpickles would like to know, how many moons does it take to be considered a planet? (Yeah, yeah, we know, that’s not really the point.)
The Bright! Shiny! Objects! Edition continues below the fold with:
- Sneezing suns, dying comets, and not one, but two galaxies undergoing a mid-life crisis
- Destination Mars
- The Sun’s magnetic personality
- And a not-so-shiny-object, a new invisibility cloak (no really)
The Universe in Biological Terms: What do you get when you combine a solar sneeze, a dying comet, and two menopausal galaxies? A ScienceNews News in Brief article that does an excellent job of anthropomorphising this week’s astronomical discoveries.
Destination Mars: The Space Shuttle Program may be over, but the Mars Rover is still going strong. Last Friday NASA announced that the newest Mars Rover, the Curiosity, will target the Gale Crater, a 150-km-wide depression on the Red Planet’s surface with a 5-km-tall pile of sediment in its middle. NASA hopes to sift through that sediment to learn more about the Red Planet’s geologic and environmental history. Key questions include how much water once filled the basin around that mountain of sediment and whether the environment could have ever supported life.
The Sun’s Magnetic Personality: NASA continues to work overtime to reassure us that the end of the Space Shuttle Program doesn’t necessarily mean the end of exploring the universe around us. A July 28th article in Nature reports that this time the credit goes to a sensitive instrument aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Using this instrument, researchers have been able to identify a network of magnetic waves in the sun’s outer atmosphere (the corona). Scientists believe these magnetic waves may be the reason the thin layer of gas in the corona reaches temperatures as high as a couple million degrees kelvin, far hotter than the 10,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures found on the sun’s surface.
New Invisibility Cloak: Scientists are one step closer to replicating the magic of Harry Potter. A new material, made of specially-etched silicon oxide and silicon nitride, can bend light waves away from objects hidden underneath it. The cloak makes the bumps caused by the hidden objects look flat and smooth to the human eye.
So, what about you? What caught your eye this week?
- Hubble spies new moon of Pluto (blogs.nature.com)
- Pluto and the Developing Landscape of our Solar System (or “Why We Don’t Think Pluto Is a Planet Any More” by the International Astronomical Union)
- New Moon: Tiny World Circling Pluto (blogs.abcnews.com)
- NASA’s Hubble discovers another moon around Pluto (eurekalert.org)
- Astronomers discover tiny fourth moon orbiting Pluto with Hubble telescope (telegraph.co.uk)
- NASA’s Next Mars Rover Landing Site Now Confirmed to be Gale Crater (techie-buzz.com)