While the number of planets orbiting other stars stands at 373, it's easy to forget that the estimate of the number of significant bodies in our own solar system is constantly changing. Thought to be covered in water ice, Haumea is the fourth largest dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt, following Eris, Pluto and Makemake. And in the just last ten years many more trans-Neptunian objects with a diameter of at least 500 km have been added to the catalog, according to Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams. That total now numbers seventy.
Poor Pluto. At the Planetary Society, Emily Lakdawalla describes why New Horizons won't orbit Pluto on its historic mission to the outer reaches of the solar system.
Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)
Finishing a conference in Italy on outer solar system and deep space exploration, Paul Gilster reports on one of the many papers he pledges to blog about in the future - using near Earth objects (NEOs), asteroids in this case, as convenient transfer points:
"The idea here is that the astronauts can use the NEO as a radiation shield, digging in to its surface and exploiting its resources on the way to the red planet. Greg presented a table showing candidate objects that could fill the bill, including two — 1999YR14 and 2007EE26 — that have one Earth-Mars transit time amounting to one year or less."
See the entire post at the highly recommended blog Centauri Dreams.
Reading Paul's entry, my mind immediately wandered to the mission to the moon Phobos, which may or may not be an asteroid captured by Mars, and the Rosetta mission to orbit and land on Comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. Rosetta has already flown past the asteroid 2867-Steins (video is available on YouTube) and will encounter 21-Lutetia at roughly this time next year.
And the artist's image of the lander, Philae, lashed to the comet (above) has to be one of my favorite space images ever. Click to enlarge.
Now for a bit of housekeeping: Kentucky Space blog will be on hold for the next week as I spend some time away from the computer monitor on vacation with my family. See you a bit later.
Credits: ESA, image by AOES Medialab
Paul Gilster: 500,000 near Earth objects could be discovered in the next 15 years.
On Monday, MESSENGER will conduct the second of three planned flybys of Mercury before settling into orbit in March 2011. At an altitude of a mere 120 miles, the pass will undoubtedly produce more stunning images of the surface of the enigmatic planet, such as the one here showing an enormous scarp, hundreds of kilometers long. "Why Mercury?" is answered here.
ESA has published some of the sharpest ever ground-based imagery of Jupiter.
The Space Elevator blog has published an update from McGill, one of the competitors.
Cruising toward its investigation of the two largest protoplanets in our solar system, Ceres and Vesta, ion-powered Dawn continues to gently alter its trajectory and speed toward its targets, according to project mission engineer, Dr. Marc D. Rayman.
SEED Magazine editorializes on the future of NASA, which undoubtedly involve more collaboration and private enterprise.
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington