By Adam England
February 14th we celebrate Valentine’s Day and the birthday of our Great State of Arizona. One astronomical discovery in early Arizona history is that of Pluto at Flagstaff Lowell Observatory. Percival Lowell had begun the hunt for his “Planet X” in 1906, and died in 1916 unaware that he had actually imaged Pluto. 23-year-old Clyde Tombaugh continued taking photographs and comparing them under a blink-comparator, eventually locating what would later be called Pluto on Feb. 18th 1930.
In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons probe to explore Pluto, which culminated in the July 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet and its five moons. As the probe approached the planet, it began to take images, and the Heart of Pluto immediately stood out. Named the Tombaugh Regio, it is a smooth area of mostly nitrogen ice, surrounded by rock and ice mountains soaring over 11,000 feet from the surface. Data revealed glacial activity along these mountain ranges, similar to what we see on earth in the polar climates.
New Horizons continues to operate, and recently flew past Ultima Thule, an object 25% further from us than Pluto. Data continues to come in from the edges of our Solar System, with the initial images showing a snowman shaped object likely from the collision of two separate objects. ***** If you would like to learn more about the sky, telescopes, or socialize with other amateur astronomers, visit us at www.prescottastronomyclub.org or Facebook @PrescottAstronomyClub to find the next star party, Star Talk, or event. Adam England is a local insurance broker who moonlights as an amateur astronomer, writer, and interplanetary conquest consultant. Follow his rants and exploits on Twitter @AZSalesman or on Facebook @AenglandLM. IMAGE: Images courtesy of Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator.
Visit Prescott Astronomy Club at PrescottAstronomyClub.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAstronomyClub.Org. Adam England is the director-at large and in charge of public relations for the Prescott Astronomy Club. IMAGE: Courtesy of Jeff Stillman. For more of his work and information on astrophotography visit www.stillmanimaging.com