21st Jul. 2011 :: Hubble Continues to Amaze with new Pluto Moon Discovery
I have no doubt that the Hubble Space Telescope will go on amazing us until the day that it finally plunges into our atmosphere and is lost forever. I think that it deserves a knighthood; "Sir Hubble the Space Telescope"! More seriously, I think that a permanent monument on earth so that future generations can be reminded of what we can achieve given the will would be a great idea. Maybe NASA will do something...
More about Hubble's achievements later but in more current news, just in the last few days astronomers have confirmed the discovery of another moon around the dwarf planet Pluto. Hubble was actually studying the Pluto system in preparation for the arrival of the New Horizons probe in 2015, specifically looking for any signs of a ring system.
This is one of those perfect examples of a discovery that results from general curiosity and research. The new moon - currently designated the name "P4" - isn't an earth shattering discovery in itself but it does develop our understanding of our own local solar system, and perfectly demonstrates Hubble's ability to continue making new and valuable discoveries.
P4 joins Pluto's three other known moons; Charon, Nix and Hydra all of which will be studied in some detail by New Horizons. P4 is estimated to be 13 to 34km (8 to 21 miles) in diameter - tiny in comparison to Pluto's 2,300km diameter.
P4 orbiting between Nix and Hydra:: NASA/ Hubble Space Telescope Image
The discovery of P4 adds to a colossal list of Hubble discoveries. It's difficult sometimes to understand just what we didn't know before Hubble opened our eyes. But I'm going to list a few here, just so we have some perspective on this amazing instrument...
- The famous Deep Field & Ultra Deep field images gave us evidence for the number of galaxies in the visible universe for the first time: ~100 billion.
- Evidence that there are additional mysterious forces at work in the universe called Dark Energy and Dark Matter.
- That smaller and more irregularly shaped galaxies existed in the early universe.
- By observing distant stellar explosions, evidence for the slowing and then speeding up of the expansion of the universe.
- Evidence for a value of the Hubble constant, which helps us age the universe at 13.7 billion years.
- The first visual proof that dusty protoplanetary disks surround stars and form planets.
- The first measurement of the chemical makeup of an extrasolar planet's atmosphere.
- The discovery that most galaxies have super massive black holes at their heart with masses millions to billions times that of our sun.
- The detection and evidence for the source of massive gamma ray bursts.
- Stunning pictures and data from the impact of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet into Jupiter in 1994.
- Hubble has made key discoveries and observations of planetary nebulae.
This is of course just a tiny taste of Hubble's work, and a brief look at the number of resulting scientific papers and references to those papers is amazing. Hubble's legacy is assured for decades. That's for sure.
Any finally - welcome home Atlantis...!
Atlantis - 21st July 2011 :: NASA Image
UPDATE: I just wanted to look up a few details about Atlantis and it's really quite weird to read Wikipedia articles about the space shuttles in the past tense; "Atlantis was...".