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article imageStripped of planet-hood, Pluto still interesting to NASA

By Dustin Bruce     Aug 24, 2011 in Science
Even before the defamation that comes with being stripped of planet-hood, scientists launched the New Horizons expedition to Pluto, and today marks a couple of very special anniversaries.
It was on this very day back in 2006 that Pluto was stripped of it's planet-hood, only 8 months after the launching of NASA's New Horizons expedition to investigate the "dwarf planet"
In the past, Pluto has been the focus of many investigations. Something about the small icy mass, then thought to be the furthest planet from the sun, attracts the imaginations of scientists. According to an article by Dr. Tony and Amelia Phillips, Pluto was actually discovered by accident. About 75 years ago, it was a commonly accepted astronomical problem that the orbits or Uranus and Neptune. The purported culprit was Pluto, found by Clyde Tombaugh. It was quickly realized it was all a big mistake, as something as small as Pluto couldn't possibly disrupt mighty Neptune and Uranus. Furthermore, it turns out that the orbits of Neptune and Uranus are fine. All a big mistake. A lucky break for Tombaugh, who's discovery was still named a planet in 1930.
In 1978, the moon of Pluto, Charon, was discovered, and the timing was perfect. According to an article by nineplanets.org, Pluto and Charon, commonly referred to as a double planet, began moving closer to the sun on their elliptical orbit. Through this process, the planets changed positions relative to earth multiple times, and by calculating which part of which planets would be visible, scientists were able to construct a rough model of the surfaces of both masses.
In 2005, researchers at the Hubble Telescope discovered the smallest two moons to date, and again in July of this year discovered P4
Recently, however, there have been further probes to understand Pluto. In 2006, NASA launched New Horizons, the first space expedition of the tiny icy mass. Today marks the half-way mark between earth and Pluto, a considerable feat considering the decade long travel plans. The primary goals of this plan, according to the New Horizons site, are to provide fly-by photos and information on Pluto, and all of it's moons. The information needed includes the basic geological make-up and chemical make-up of both Pluto and it's biggest moon, Charon. The mission also requires that the atmosphere of Pluto be characterized and the escape rate measured.
When the amount of time, effort, and money spent on Pluto are all quantified, and the potential for the small mass is measured, it seems trivial to debate whether or not Pluto is a planet, as it's obviously captured the hearts and minds of children and scientists everywhere.
More about Pluto, Astronomy, NASA, Planets
 
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