Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Friday, October 21, 2016

The old planet 9 and the possibly new planet 9, or the controversy continues as new discoveries in the Kuiper belt continue to amaze us; And New Horizons Team wins Planetary Society's top award, The Cosmos

Greetings from (offsite) Palmia Observatory

Well this blog is mostly about Pluto, the old Planet 9, and the controversy over its name change, and the new contentious and possibly new Planet 9.  So, there were quite a lot of fireworks and passion and emotion at the AAS/DPS meeting, so don't be mislead into believing that
scientists are cold and unfeeling, because we certainly witnessed some emotion.  Now, I'm not going to going over that part of the sessions, but there is some irony in the killing off of Pluto as Planet 9 (See Mike Brown's "Why I killed Pluto and why it had it coming") and the reemergence of a new possible planet 9, which is supposed to be about 10 times as massive as the Earth.

The AAS presentation started this session off is shown in the opening slide below.

Caltech Brown and Batygin playfully add their findings to the controversy
The presenters Caltech Brown and Batygin presented some of their latest calculation and went into how the discovery of more and more Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO's) and their alignment into two groups suggests that a cause is needed to explain this grouping and that a likely possibility is a conjectured Planet 9, yet to be found.

I cannot summarize those authors arguments, but for background on this whole interesting story, check out the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Nine

That article begins the story with some work by Trujillo and Sheppard in 2014 where they inferred the existence of some large planet 9 from an examination of the known KBOs at that time.  Subsequent investigation by Brown and Batygin in 2016 extended the analysis, first as an attempt to refute the earlier study, and now still leaning in the direction of the proposed Planet 9.  Scott  Sheppard was at the AAS and made a similar presentation showing how the proposed planet, and their continuing search for it, can explain the observed clustering observed as more and more KBOs are found.

Conjectured Planet 9 as possible explanation for KBO Alignment (Courtesy Wikipedia)
We will just have to wait and see.  So even though some folks are upset about the demotion of Pluto, its rank as one of the first KBOs discovered and all the interesting ideas about our solar system and how there is so much more to the solar system beyond the orbit of Pluto, continues to drive the search for more and better understanding of our solar system.

Finally, as part of the public lecture portion of the AAS meeting, Alan Stern made a great lecture presentation on the history of the New Horizons probe and some of the interesting discoveries made about Pluto.  No one could predict and no one did predict how strange Pluto really turned out to be.  He made a great presentation and his passion for Pluto and what is now becoming the new science behind KBOs was one of the best presentations that I saw.

His discussion of the many years it took to get funding for New Horizons, and the several times when the project was cancelled and then reborn was an interesting look at funding large solar system exploration projects.  He had fun showing the slide below about one alternate funding scheme that did not come to fruition, but with the advent of many crowd sourcing projects and projects funded by billionaire entrepreneurs it is hard to say how the next missions will be funded.
Alan Stern playfully considered how to get funding and pay for New Horizon probe to Pluto
Stern was so grateful to the public support that helped keep the Pluto mission in the public eye, especially the support from the Planetary Society was acknowledged.  In fact, the Planetary Society honored Stern with their prestigious Cosmos Award.

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye, The Science Guy, presents the Cosmos Award to Alan Stern, New Horizons Team
The New Horizons team did a magnificent job of selling, designing and building and launching and operating the probe to a successful conclusion.  Even still, the probe continues on its journey to another KBO and hopefully even more exciting discoveries in the future.

Until next time,

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