Which solar system body was named by an 11 year old?
Which solar system body was named by an 11 year old & what were her reasons for choosing the name?
Pluto was named on 14 March 1930 by 11 year old Venetia Burney.
She thought Pluto was a good name as "Pluto is the god of the underworld, who could make himself invisible and dwelt in a place that sunlight didn’t reach."
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA
In 1915 a team of astronomers led by Percival Lowell predicted that Pluto must exist because of deviations in Uranus & Neptune’s Orbits.
Originally they thought that the mass of Neptune was much larger than it is so they were actually looking for a planet larger than Earth dubbed “Planet X”. Of course they were wrong about the size of the planet but not about its existence.
Lowell died in 1916 and thereafter a re-named Lowell observatory in Arizona started to look for Planet X.
The discovery was made on 18 February 1930
Venetia and her family were eating breakfast at their home in Oxford England discussing the new discovery that was in the papers when she suggested the name Pluto.
Her grandfather sent it to a friend who was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society. They were debating many Greek/Roman names (as all planets are named after Greek/Roman Mythology) but had not thought of Pluto (Hades in Greek Mythology) God of the Underworld.
They, in turn, sent the name to the Lowell Observatory who also had Roman candidates but not Pluto. They also loved it as it also started with the letters PL for Percival Lowell. It was unanimously voted for as the name of the ninth planet at the end of May 1930.
Venetia received little attention at the time but her Grandfather did give her £5.
Amazingly Venetia was the second person in her family to name a celestial body, her grand-uncle gave Mars’ moon Deimos & Phobos their names in 1877.
Contrary to popular belief, Pluto is not named after Mickey Mouse’s dog, but the other way round. Pluto the dog’s original name was Rover!
In 2006 the International Astronomical Union introduced a standard definition of a planet and as a result of which Pluto, the ninth planet, became a dwarf planet leaving our solar system with only 8 planets.
Venetia died in 2009 at the age of 90, 3 years after Pluto was demoted.
It takes 246 years for Pluto to go around the sun (1 Pluto Year) and it was discovered, named and demoted in less than 1/3rd of a Pluto Year.
NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft will be the first to flyby Pluto in July 2015.
How old is the universe, and how do we measure that?
How old is the universe & how do we measure that?
The Universe is currently estimated to be 13.798 bn years old give or take 37 million years.
Scientists can determine the age of the universe using two different methods: by studying the oldest objects within the universe and measuring how fast the universe is expanding.
1. Age Limits
The universe cannot be younger then the oldest object in it.
We know the lifecycle of stars through observation and we know that the bigger (more mass) they have the faster they burn & the brighter they are.
We have also developed techniques to estimate the distances to stars using triangulation (parallax) and colour spectrum analysis.
Looking at dense collections of stars, something astronomers call globular clusters, we see that they tend to have similar characteristics and that the oldest of these globular clusters, based on brightness & distance, have stars between 11bn and 18bn years old.
The wide range is due to the uncertainty of the distance measurement as we are only able to use parallax accurately up to 400 light years away.
This tells us that the Universe is at least 11bn years old but could be as old as 18bn years.
However, we can narrow down this range by measuring the Universes rate of expansion.
2. Rate of expansion
We know the Universe is expanding and we know that the expansion is accelerating at a constant pace.
This we call Hubble’s constant.
This constant is dependant on the amount of Matter & Energy in the Universe and thus scientists have to measure and estimate the make-up of the observable matter, dark matter and dark energy to get an accurate figure.
To determine the density and composition of the universe, scientists rely on missions such as NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and The European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft.
By measuring the thermal radiation left over from the Big Bang, missions such as these are able to determine the density, composition and expansion rate of the universe. The leftover radiation is known as the cosmic microwave background, and both WMAP and Planck have mapped it.
From this information we have been able to estimate the age of the universe as 13.798bn give or take 37million years.
Just read the instructions & Of course I still love you?
What are “Just Read the Instructions” & “Of Course I Still Love You.”? (from a Space perspective, of course)
South African born Elon Musk, Billionaire Founder & CEO of SpaceX, has named their two robotic landing platform (or Drone) boats after science fiction spacecraft created by the late Scottish sci-fi legend Iain M. Banks.
1. Born in Pretoria
2. Matriculated at Pretoria Boys High
3. Co-founded Paypal & Tesla Motors
4. Founded SpaceX which is the only company to now have contracts with NASA for BOTH cargo & crew delivery to the ISS.
1. Died 2013
2. 'Just Read the Instructions' and 'Of Course I Still Love You' are two of the sentient, planet-sized Culture starships which first appear in Banks' 'The Player of Games'. Just as the Minds inhabiting each Culture ship choose their names with care, you have to imagine that Musk did the same here.
1. Remote control barges
2. Attempting to land the first stage of rockets upright onto the barges. Saves costs and thus reduces the price of going to Space, which, as discussed last week, is a major imperative.
3. Developed specially engineered “paddles” for descent control.
4. First attempt ran out of fuel seconds before to which Musk said “Close, but no cigar"
5. Second attempt delayed from yesterday to tomorrow, fingers crossed!
What are Space Elevators, Star Trams, Space Guns and Slingatrons?
What is a Space Elevator, a StarTram, a Space Gun & a Slingatron & what do they have in common? Bonus if you can name any others!
They are all Non-Rocket Spacelaunch Concepts or NRS's
Rockets are very expensive so alternatives are needed to make space more affordable & accessible.
1. Static Structures like a Tower
2. Tensile Structures that use cables (tethers) like:
Top must be above geosynchronous orbit to keep cables tight and then a lift can go up and down - proposals being examined to use an elevator to get to the moon from a Space Station as the Moon does not spin.
3. Dynamic Structures
Structures that are always moving like a Space Fountain that is essentially a floating tower.
4. Projectile Launchers
A tube that uses cables that repel each other, just like high speed trains use. It speeds a Space Vehicle up enough so that when it reaches the end of the tube it gets shot into Space
Space Gun: (chemical)
Using gas to propel a vehicle, through a barrel, into space! Forces would kill humans but can work for satellites.
Conceptually like gyrating a coke can causing the liquid insight to spin around and around until it reaches enough speed to be shot out into space!
Other forms of Projectile launchers include:
Check them out!