Pluto and the Pavilion

This is a busy week in many ways and for many reasons, but the main activity revolves around Graduation at the University of Sussex; the ceremony for graduates from my School (Mathematical and Physical Sciences) takes place on Thursday which gives me a couple of days to practice the pronunciation of the names I have to read out!

Anyway, last night there was a very Commemoration Dinner in the Dining Room of Brighton Pavilion:

Brighton_Pavilion_Dining_room

The decor is a little understated for my tastes, and in any case I was among a group of about 40 guests who were seated elsewhere owing to the popularity of the event. In fact I was in the Red Drawing Room, which as its name suggests is, er, red:

5_royal_pavilion_red_drawing_room

Anyway, the dinner itself was splendid with particularly fine wine to boot. One of the topics of conversation was the forthcoming flypast of Pluto by the NASA New Horizons spacecraft. As the token astrophysicist on my table I tried my best to answer questions about this event. In fact the closest approach to Pluto takes place about 12.50 pm today (BST) but it will take some time for the images to be downloaded and processed; data transmission rates from the outer edge of the Solar System are rather limited! After passing Pluto, the spacecraft will carry on out of the Solar System into interstellar space. One thing I didn’t know until this morning was that the discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh, expressed a wish that when he died his ashes should be sent into space. In fact, they are on New Horizons,  being carried past the planet object he found just 85 years ago. I find that very moving, but it’s also so inspiring that such a short time after Pluto was discovered a spacecraft is arriving there to study it. We humans can do great things if we put our minds to them. Science provides us with constant reminders of this inspirational fact. Unfortunately, politics tends to do the opposite…

I hope to provide a few updates with images from New Horizons if I get time. Here to whet your appetite is today’s stunning Astronomy Picture of the Day, showing Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in the same frame:

PlutoCharon01_NewHorizons_1080

Here’s a close-up of Pluto from yesterday:

Pluto_yesterday

And if that isn’t enough, click here for a simulation of the detail we expect to see when New Horizons reaches its closest approach to Pluto.

3 Responses to “Pluto and the Pavilion”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    “Clyde Tombaugh, expressed a wish that when he died his ashes should be sent into space. In fact, they are on New Horizons, being carried past the planet object he found just 85 years ago. I find that very moving”

    Not as moving as for him!

  2. Navneeth Says:

    “[It’s] also so inspiring that such a short time after Pluto was discovered a spacecraft is arriving there study it.”

    Yet I’ve always felt it odd that it has come so late in the Space Age. Maybe it’s peculiar to people of my generation, who began learning about the planets around the time of/immediately after the Voyager flybys of the outer giants. But until a few weeks ago, Pluto to me (and pretty much the rest of the world) was just a name and a point of light (a blob at best).

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