Planet Pluto beckons !


Yes, I still call it a planet ! Because nobody’s really satisfied me with a good enough reason to change my feelings about this. When I was very young – probably 7 or 8 years old – my Dad taught me the sequence of planets in order from the Sun outwards

: Mercury-Venus-Earth-Mars-Jupiter-Saturn-Uranus-Neptune-Pluto !

And it still rings in my head as strongly as the songs that captured my thoughts in those magical days – Maybe Baby, Oh Boy, That’ll Be The Day, Lucille, Jailhouse Rock …

So for me, a spacecraft arriving at this farthest-flung outpost of the Sun’s family of captive rocks – the first time EVER mankind has achieved this – is something beyond thrilling. I may have the chance to sit with the fathers of this amazing craft, named New Horizons, in 10 days time, as it passes close by this enigmatic, bitterly cold world.

I always thought of it as ‘icy’, so in my mind, it was white or grey and shiny. But the pictures the New Horizons craft has already sent us, as it approaches the rendezvous, tell us that Pluto is actually a RED planet – a counterpart to Mars in its appearance, but for different reasons. It’s highly likely that when we see those first EVER images of Pluto viewed from only a few thousand miles away next week, we’ll see something completely unpredicted.

Meanwhile a nice animation has been created of the spinning planet by a scientist called Bjorn Jonsson – compiled from the best currently available data (mainly from New Horizons).

It’s a fascination of mine to create stereo images out of rotation movies. And in this I have been very much assisted and enabled by my pal Claudia Manzoni. Here are some stereos derived from the Jonsson model.

I think it’s specially appropriate to share these stereos right now – because very soon we will likely have images which will make these redundant for ever.

So please dust your OWLS off (or get ready to ‘Free-View’) and … ENJOY !

This first stereo shows those four dark spots in a line abreast which have made a deep impression on observers in recent days.

Pluto 01

And this is a composite of four different aspects of the planet (OK – Dwarf Planet!) in quadrature.

Pluto 02

The red dot is there to help us align the eyes correctly to see the four spheres in 3-D. Relax the eyes, allow the two red dots to drift together and ‘fuse’ into one, and you will see all around it the four solid views of Pluto.

It’s hard to be sure at this time whether we are looking at a hard surface here, or the tops of clouds, or a combination of both, but I’m sure all will be revealed on 14th – 15th July.

Watch this space. As with the Rosetta mission, the improvement in quality that’s about to happen is expected to be DRAMATIC!!!