Montage by Emily Lakdawalla.
“Now that I have a reasonable-resolution global color view of Pluto,” writes Emily Lakdawalla, “I can drop it into one of my trademark scale image montages, to show you how it fits in with the rest of the similar-sized worlds in the solar system: the major moons and the biggest asteroids.”
The solar system contains dozens of objects that are large enough for self-gravity to make them round, and yet are not considered planets. They include the major moons of the planets, one asteroid, and many worlds in the Kuiper belt. The ones that we have visited with spacecraft are shown here to scale with each other. A couple of items on here are not quite round, illustrating the transition to smaller, lumpier objects.
It's just an accident that Pluto wound up next to Iapetus and Triton, which I think are the two best analogs for what we can see on Pluto's surface. Yet Pluto stands out for its uniquely ruddy color. Charon, too, is unique, for its dark pole, but there are similarities to the similar-sized worlds on the left side of the diagram: Ariel and Dione in particular.
These are the not-planets. Their non-planetary status is a handicap because these are the worlds that we need to get Earthlings excited about exploring. Titan's strange hydrology -- Enceladus' geysers -- the subsurface oceans of Europa and Ganymede -- the dynamic surfaces of Triton and Pluto. And beyond all the worlds pictured here, there are hundreds of Kuiper belt objects that I would include on this montage if we had ever visited them up close. But we haven't yet. So much undiscovered country yet to explore -- but they're all worlds that much of the public is not familiar with.
Full size here [PNG].
“The not-planets” [planetary.org]
Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.
Montage by Emily Lakdawalla.
Some extra-planetary Caltech news to take your mind off Earth Reports Caltech: “A rare asteroid orbiting snugly within the inner confines of our solar system has been discovered by Caltech’s Zwicky Transient Facility, or ZTF, a survey camera based at Palomar Observatory. The newfound body, named 2020 AV2, is the first asteroid found to orbit […]
James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), made this excellent clip comparing the rotations, tilts, and sidereal day lengths of the eight planets and two of the dwarf planets in our solar system. There are many more dwarf planet candidates, but they aren’t mapped so aren’t included,” O’Donoghue writes. “More space […]
Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut and in 1991 became the first woman to visit the Soviet Mir space station. In an interview published in The Guardian yesterday, she made a comment about extraterrestrials, the latter part of which is an eyebrow raiser: “Aliens exist, there’s no two ways about it. There are so […]
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