I must admit –there were times when I thought I’d never be around when NASA finally got its New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto. Or that the Chicago Cubs would win a World Series, the first since 1908.
As I celebrated my 72nd birthday in February, I felt I could no longer depend on the Cubs.
So I’m putting all my hopes on New Horizons, launched in 2006 and now closing in on Pluto after a speedy nine and a half years of flight at up to 47,000 miles per hour.
It is expected to get to Pluto for a close fly-by on July 14. That’s coming right up.
We have so much to learn about Pluto and its relatively large moon Charon, and also about Pluto’s other moons—Styx, Hydra, Nix and Kerberos. Early pictures taken by the approaching New Horizons show a possible polar cap on Pluto.
But looking back, Pluto has always been kind of a challenge. I just read again about Midwest farm boy Clyde Tombaugh who went to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. He got a job looking night after night for a planet past Neptune. Very tedious work.
Finally, after many chilly nights scanning the sky, in February, 1930, he found something that was moving faster than anything else in that area of the sky. Check and recheck and yes, it was a new planet way out past Neptune. For years Tombaugh scanned the night sky looking for another planet. Nothing showed up.
Later, astronomers have found bodies well past Pluto, even a few that might be larger.
So then, in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted at a meeting in Prague to downgrade Pluto to dwarf planet status.
The matter is not over completely. There’s still a lot of opposition, from other Pluto experts to Barrow, Alaska and other students.
The students in Barrow and other villages sent a petitions to the IAU, saying:
“On behalf of people in a remote and dark land (at least in winter) we say we should be treated with respect and seriously consider reversal of their decision.” They never got a response.
Once again, as New Horizons closes in to Pluto’s neighborhood, I’ve read that some exciting or unexpected news from Pluto might persuade the IAU to reconsider.
Stay tuned! I think we are going to hear a lot more from Pluto. And I’m very excited about (hopefully) being around when all that news comes from Pluto and beyond!
Finkler, a frequent visitor to Dyersville, relocated to Medford, Wis., in 2008 after previously living in Barrow, Alaska.