Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Universe Keeps Unfolding

In the spirit of the new COSMOS series (which is great, by the way), we are seeing discovery unfold every day as our telescopes and probes extend our senses into the vastness.

In the last month, this is what's happened:

As we all know, Pluto was demoted to a "minor planet" in a decision that, as we all know, was wrong.  Be that as it may, it's now clear Pluto isn't the minor planet furthest from Earth. 2012 VP113 has that designation.  It's so far out it's not clear how it was ever captured by the gravity of the Sun in the first place: its orbit averages 83 astronomical units (83 times the 93 million mile distance from the Earth to the sun) and, as astronomer Chad Trujillo put it, "Nothing that we currently know in the solar system can make objects that are so distant all the time, that never come close to any of the planets."

Nearer to home, finger-shaped objects that appear and disappear on Mars could - could - be evidence that water flows seasonally on the surface of the planet.   This phenomena was spotted, not by NASA or by a Nobel Prize-winning astronomer, but by undergraduate Lujendra Ojha.  (Keep going, kid: that Nobel Prize could be yours someday.)

Further from home, on the other hand, we have new extrasolar planets - 715 of 'em.  Talk about seeking out new worlds.
Gene Roddenberry, somewhere, is smiling.

Again, this is ONE MONTH of exploration.  Think about that.

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