In the race to discover a proposed ninth planet in our solar system, astronomers are conducting the largest, deepest survey for objects beyond Neptune and the Kuiper Belt. Nearly 10 percent of the sky has been explored to date using some of the largest and most advanced telescopes, revealing several never-before-seen objects at extreme distances from the Sun.
ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, saw a bright comet plunge toward the Sun on 3-4 August 2016, at nearly 1.3 million miles per hour. The comet, first spotted by SOHO on 1 August, is part of the Kreutz family of comets, a group with related orbits that broke off of a huge comet several centuries ago.
An international team of astronomers have discovered a new dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune. The object is roughly 435 miles in size, moving in a 700-year orbit that takes it more than 120 times further from the Sun than Earth. Designated 2015 RR245, it was found using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii.
Following its historic first-ever flyby of Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons mission has received the green light to fly onward to an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69. The spacecraft’s planned rendezvous with the ancient object — considered one of the early building blocks of the solar system — is 1 January 2019.
Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is home to an unusual canyon system that’s far longer and deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon. As far as NASA’s New Horizons scientists can tell, the canyon informally named Argo Chasma has a total length of approximately 430 miles — one and a half times the length and five times the depth of the Grand Canyon on Earth.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft spied extensional faults on Pluto, a sign that the dwarf planet has undergone a global expansion possibly due to the slow freezing of a sub-surface ocean. A new analysis by Brown University scientists bolsters that idea, and suggests that ocean is likely still there today.
In the latter part of June, Pluto is best seen low in the southern UK sky around 2am local time and reaches opposition on 7 July. The dwarf planet passes less than 1/20th of a degree south of naked-eye star pi (π) Sagittarii on 26—27 June in the deep twilight of the UK, but Southern Hemisphere observers will have the best views.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this stunning image mere minutes after closest approach on 14 July 2015. Seen here, sunlight filters through and illuminates Pluto’s complex atmospheric haze layers over portions of the nitrogen ice plains informally named Sputnik Planum, as well as mountains of the informally named Norgay Montes.
A mosaic strip just released by the New Horizons team now includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe. The mosaic affords scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them.