PHOTO OF THE WEEK

This image of NGC 6543, also known as the

This image of NGC 6543, also known as the “Cat’s Eye Nebula,” was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on September 18, 1994. Nebulae are clouds of interstellar dust and gas that sometimes become the birth places of stars and planets. Image Credit: NASA.

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WHY ISN’T PLUTO A PLANET ANYMORE?

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.

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PHOTO OF THE WEEK

global-mosaic-of-pluto-in-true-color

By combining four images from New Horizons’ LORRI imager and color data from other instruments, scientists were able to create this stunning real-color image of Pluto after New Horizon’s mid-July 2015 flyby of the planet. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

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.

FREE ONLINE RESOURCES FOR BEGINNING ASTRONOMERS

Looking to get started observing? Check out these free online resources.

Also, be sure to periodically check out both Sky & Telescope and Astronomy’s websites. They offer an ever-changing variety of free downloadable content.

CAN’T COMPREHEND DISTANCES IN SPACE? WATCH THIS VIDEO!

Our Sun is 150,000,000 km (93,000,000 miles) away from Earth. Seems like a lot, right?

WRONG!

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:

Observing Basics: Distances in Space | Astronomy.com.

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.