The neighborhood’s getting interesting again. Used to be we thought of Pluto as a cold, hard rock way out on the edge of the solar system. Dry, like an asteroid. But last year’s New Horizons probe is producing some shocking reveals as scientists pore through the data it sent back.
Starting with the possibility of running liquid on the surface at some point in the planetoid’s history. Yep, rivers and even lakes. Though not water—it’s still too cold for that. Instead, researchers believe Pluto may have once been home to bodies of liquid nitrogen.
And they suspect that the unexpected presence of hot and cold running nitrogen has something to do with the planetoid’s extreme axial tilt. Earth’s tilt sits at a relatively comfortable 23 degrees. Pluto, on the other hand, is canted over at a vertigo-inducing 120 degrees. And that means that it has large tropical zones. Places where it gets hot enough for nitrogen to thaw.
But it also has big arctic zones. And, in a weird twist, areas where the two zones overlap.
Yesterday, American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko parachuted their Soyuz capsule back to Earth after 340 days on the International Space Station—a new NASA record. Spending almost a year in space is an early step in NASA’s longer term plan for sending astronauts to Mars. And that trip will take two and half years return—hell of a commute.
While orbiting in his tin can, Kelly experienced more than 10,000 sunrises and sunsets in less than a calendar year. He travelled more than 231 million kilometres.
Meanwhile back on Earth, his identical twin, Mark offered himself as a medical test subject so doctors can compare the effects of zero gravity, radiation, etc. on the two brothers.
Here’s to putting boots on mars in our lifetime!
BTW—apparently NASA is looking for volunteers for more 1 year missions.