NASA Boss Jokingly Declares Pluto a Planet, Gets Everyone's Hopes Up

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

It's been 13 years since Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet—and fans of the celestial body are still not over it. Everyone from kids to respected astronomers have argued that Pluto deserves the title of the ninth planet in our solar system. As IFL Science reports, even the head of NASA has come out as Team Planet Pluto.

At a FIRST Robotics event on August 23, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine jokingly declared Pluto to be a planet again. “Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,” he said in a clip broadcast by NASA TV. “I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learned it and I’m committed to it.”

Based on that soundbite, it's easy feel hopeful about Pluto's planetary status. But NASA doesn't set the standards for planets in our solar system: the International Astronomical Union (IAU) does. On August 24, 2006, the organization announced that Pluto didn't meet the new criteria used to define true planets. According to the IAU, a planet should orbit the sun, be spherical due to gravity, and be the dominant body in its orbit. Even though Pluto meets these first two requirements, its orbit overlaps with that of Neptune, which means it's not technically a planet in the IAU's view.

The ruling was hugely controversial, and not just because it contradicted what millions of people were taught in grade school. The amount of "cleared space" in its orbit, an indicator that differentiates planets from asteroids, is not easy to measure, and it was rarely used to define planets prior to 2006.

Even if it's not official, Bridenstine's declaration should at least validate the many Pluto supporters still fighting for the former planet's dignity.

[h/t IFL Science]

A Super Pink Moon—the Biggest Supermoon of 2020—Is Coming In April

April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
jakkapan21/iStock via Getty Images

The sky has already given us several spectacular reasons to look up this year. In addition to a few beautiful full moons, we’ve also gotten opportunities to see the moon share a “kiss” with Venus and even make Mars briefly disappear.

In early April, avid sky-gazers are in for another treat—a super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020. This full moon is considered a supermoon because it coincides with the moon’s perigee, or the point in the moon’s monthly orbit when it’s closest to Earth. According to EarthSky, the lunar perigee occurs on April 7 at 2:08 p.m. EST, and the peak of the full moon follows just hours later, at 10:35 p.m. EST.

How a supermoon is different.

Since the super pink moon will be closer to Earth than any other full moon this year, it will be 2020’s biggest and brightest. It’s also the second of three consecutive supermoons, sandwiched between March’s worm moon and May’s flower moon. Because supermoons only appear about 7 percent bigger and 15 percent brighter than regular full moons, you might not notice a huge difference—but even the most ordinary full moon is pretty breathtaking, so the super pink moon is worth an upward glance when night falls on April 7.

The meaning of pink moon.

Despite its name, the super pink moon will still shine with a normal golden-white glow. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, April’s full moon derives its misleading moniker from an eastern North American wildflower called Phlox subulata, or moss pink, that usually blooms in early April. It’s also called the paschal moon, since its timing helps the Catholic Church set the date for Easter (the word paschal means “of or relating to Easter”).

[h/t EarthSky]

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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