It’s been over 2 weeks since the New Horizons spacecraft completed its flyby of Pluto, and a lot of us are still wondering about its true significance (beyond amazing photos, of course!). Want your questions answered? Check out this SciShow video!
I recently discovered the website Random Facts, which — as its name suggests — is devoted to creating lists of sometimes random, but always interesting, facts.
Frankly, I think it’s pretty cool, and for those of us interested in astronomy, they’ve even got a few lists for that:
Most people alive now spent the vast majority of their lives thinking of Pluto as the 9th planet in our solar system, but all that changed in 2006 when the tiniest planet orbiting our sun was demoted to a “dwarf planet.” Yet, nine years later, people still talk about the issue, and there are even t-shirts and other memorabilia sporting phrases like, “When I was a kid, we had 9 planets.”
Some of this is just people reminiscing and having fun, but there’s also a certain amount of confusion surrounding the issue. Put simply, people don’t understand why the International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared Pluto a dwarf planet in 2006.
The most common misconception is that Pluto is no longer a planet simply because it is so small (which is not true). In reality, Pluto’s status as a planet was relatively secure until 2003 when astronomers discovered another celestial body orbiting beyond the then-planet.
It was named Eris, and it is bigger than Pluto.
This is by far the most detailed image of Pluto ever produced. To see what earlier imaging efforts looked like, take a look at NASA’s awesome animation, Views of Pluto Through the Years.
Looking to get started observing? Check out these free online resources.
- Space.com published a useful article on how to start observing and what kinds of equipment you might ultimately need: Astronomy Guide: Tools, Tips and Equipment to Start Stargazing.
- Sky and Telescope offers a free ebook on Astrophotography. You can download it here: Astrophotography eBook.
- Needing a source for major observing news/opportunities? Astronomy Magazine’s website has you covered: Sky Events.
- Learn the lingo using an online dictionary: Astronomy Terms.
- Already looking to purchase your first telescope? Take a look at Space.com’s guide to buying the beginner telescope: Beginner’s Buying Guide.
Our Sun is 150,000,000 km (93,000,000 miles) away from Earth. Seems like a lot, right?
The Sun is down right close compared to other objects in space. Even the Andromeda Galaxy, our closest large neighbor, is a whopping 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away. That’s 15 quintillion miles!
To cope with these unimaginably long distances, astronomers use other measurements — like AUs and light years — in their studies. If you want to learn how this all works, take a look at this video made by Astronomy Magazine:
And, if you really want your mind blown, check out the interactive site Scale of the Universe, which illustrates how the tiniest sub-atomic particles to the largest structures in the universe compare in size.