Friday, September 4, 2015

New Horizons and Ceres

New Horizons will pass by another Kuiper Belt object in January, 2019, if NASA's proposal gets the go-ahead.

Closer to home, Dawn is still sending back data from Ceres: including an image of a very odd-looking mountain.
  1. New Horizons: Names and a Decision
  2. Ceres: Mysterious Mountain
This has been a hectic few weeks for me. I'm still feeling a tad frazzled, and didn't have time to polish this post. That, and my brain's habit of taking my attention on unplanned excursions, left me with another afterword:


I'm a Christian: so how come I'm not afraid that God will smite NASA for cracking the celestial spheres?

If you've read these 'Friday' posts before, you know the answer: so go ahead, skip down to New Horizons: Names and a Decision; or do something fun, like reading the comics.

Basically, I figure that God is large and in charge:
"Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done."
(Psalms 115:3)
The things of faith come from God. Things of the world come from God. Honest, ethical, study of this astounding universe cannot hurt our faith in God. (Catechism, 159)

Pope Leo XIII probably upset some folks, a little over a dozen decades back, when he didn't forbid using the brains God gave us:
"...God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures - and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. ... Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth...."
("Providentissimus Deus,"1 Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])
I think this is a reasonable paraphrase of what Leo XIII wrote in that excerpt from Providentissimus Deus —

Brains and Free Will

We believe that God creates everything.

If a newly-found facet of reality doesn't match our preconceived notions of what's true: that's our problem, not God's.

If we keep looking at the facts, use our brains, and don't assume that our preconceived notions are the only possible explanation, sooner or later we'll understand.

That hasn't stopped some folks from insisting that God is offended when we think, and others from asserting that God can't exist because we are learning about God's creation.

We have brains and free will. Each of us decides how we act and what we believe: or do not believe. Responsibilities come with that freedom, and that's another topic. (Catechism, 1731-1742)

That reminds me of secondary causes, and that's another topic.

1. New Horizons: Names and a Decision

(From NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker, used w/o permission.)
("Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt."
"NASA’s New Horizons Team Selects Potential Kuiper Belt Flyby Target"
Tricia Talbert, NASA press release (August 28, 2015)

"NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.

"This remote KBO was one of two identified as potential destinations and the one recommended to NASA by the New Horizons team. Although NASA has selected 2014 MU69 as the target, as part of its normal review process the agency will conduct a detailed assessment before officially approving the mission extension to conduct additional science.

" 'Even as the New Horizon's spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer,' said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. 'While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science.'

"Like all NASA missions that have finished their main objective but seek to do more exploration, the New Horizons team must write a proposal to the agency to fund a KBO mission. That proposal – due in 2016 – will be evaluated by an independent team of experts before NASA can decide about the go-ahead...."
2014 MU69 and another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 PN70, were on NASA's 'short list' for New Horizon's next flyby. (July 31, 2015)

Like most hard-to-see things around our star, 2014 MU69 has several hard-to-remember names. Its minor planet designation is 2014 MU69, folks on the Hubble team call it 1110113Y, and the New Horizons folks call it PT1 — or 1110113Y — or MU69, I suppose, depending on who they're talking to.

I think Gelidus is a nifty name for it, but the IAU probably won't pay attention to my preferences. Anyway, we'll most likely send probes to colder and more remote places: eventually.

There's some urgency to NASA's decision.

As I'm writing this, New Horizons is heading in the general direction of this galaxy's center; at 14.52 kilometers per second (9.02 miles per second), relative to our sun. The sooner mission planners get the go-ahead, the less fuel New Horizons needs to change course.

Being Human

(From NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker, used w/o permission.)
("Path of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed 'PT1' (for 'Potential Target 1') by the New Horizons team. NASA must approve any New Horizons extended mission to explore a KBO."

That "artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object" is a nice picture: but scientists picked 2014 MU69 because it may not be quite like Pluto, apart from its location in the Solar System.
"...Scientists estimate that PT1 is just under 30 miles (about 45 kilometers) across; that's more than 10 times larger and 1,000 times more massive than typical comets, like the one the Rosetta mission is now orbiting, but only about 0.5 to 1 percent of the size (and about 1/10,000th the mass) of Pluto. As such, PT1 is thought to be like the building blocks of Kuiper Belt planets such as Pluto...."
(Tricia Talbert, NASA)
There isn't any practical reason for sending New Horizons to 2014 MU69, or studying the data it's sending back from the Pluto flyby. Not yet, at least. We can't eat the reports, although the print versions might make adequate nesting material.

But even if NASA closed its doors, and everyone else alive to day decided to stop being curious - - - someone would eventually send more probes toward the stars. Studying this astounding universe is part of being human. (Catechism, 2293)

2. Ceres: Mysterious Mountain

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, used w/o permission.)
("NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The mountain, located in the southern hemisphere, stands 4 miles (6 kilometers) high. Its perimeter is sharply defined, with almost no accumulated debris at the base of the brightly streaked slope."
"Dawn Sends Sharper Scenes from Ceres"
Tony Greicius, NASA press release (August 25, 2015)

"The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the small world's features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres' tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures....

"...At its current orbital altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers), Dawn takes 11 days to capture and return images of Ceres' whole surface. Each 11-day cycle consists of 14 orbits. Over the next two months, the spacecraft will map the entirety of Ceres six times.

"The spacecraft is using its framing camera to extensively map the surface, enabling 3-D modeling. Every image from this orbit has a resolution of 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel, and covers less than 1 percent of the surface of Ceres.

"At the same time, Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer is collecting data that will give scientists a better understanding of the minerals found on Ceres' surface...."
The Dawn mission visited Vesta back in 2011 and 2012, arriving at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Both are probably protoplanets that didn't keep growing: so studying them should answer a few questions about how planets form — and probably raise a whole lot more. (March 13, 2015)

I still think of Ceres as an asteroid, although it's currently called a dwarf planet. That may change as we learn more about the Solar System's development.

It's easier to say what this "pyramid-shaped mountain on Ceres" isn't, than what it is.

It's not an impact feature, like a crater. It's not like anything else we've found on Ceres so far, and it's not, really, quite pyramid-shaped: more like a truncated cone, I'd say.

It's at 11°S, 316°E, between Rongo and Yalode on this map:

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, used w/o permission.)
("This color-coded map from NASA's Dawn mission shows the highs and lows of topography on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres."

Here's a closer look at that photo. North is down on both images.It looks as if the bright streaks are only on one side of the mountain: the northeast half.

(From NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA, used w/o permission.)
(That's one odd  mountain: 11°S, 316°E, on Ceres.)


Invaders, Lizard-Men, and Me

That's all I've got this week for New Horizons and space exploration: the reality-based version.

I've enjoyed speculative fiction since the days it was called fantasy and science fiction, and was a fan of The Invaders.

If the flying saucer in that photo looks familiar, it should: it's a five-bulb version of a famous 1950s-era UFO photo.

There was a short story, I think it was Cyril M. Kornbluth's "The Silly Season," where space invaders staged a series of fake UFO sightings: so that when the real invasion force landed, nobody believed the warnings.

Stories like that can be fun: when they're recognized as fiction. When folks really believe that space-alien, shape-shifting, lizard-men are plotting against humanity: that's more serious.

There's no shortage of conspiracy theories with an outer-space theme:
Judging by the occasional chap like Richard C. Hoagland and David Icke, someone can wear an aluminum-foil cap, stay employed, and remain a somewhat-functional member of society.

That's not an option for me, though. As a Catholic, I'm obliged to accept reality: even if it means learning something new. As I keep saying, thinking is not a sin.1

Then there's the Dublin-born Calvinist's timetable that's woven into some religious beliefs. Since I keep running into folks who apparently believe that the 'Ussher was right' bunch reflect my faith, I'll keep explaining why I accept reality 'as is'

That doesn't keep me from having fun with the notion of space aliens now and then:
What got me started on this? Let's see: New Horizons and Dawn — which reminds me of Tony Orlando and Dawn and ABBA — Ceres, an odd mountain. Got it.

I figure it's only a matter of time before the mountain at 11°S, 316°E, on Ceres inspires a conspiracy theory or two.

I could get the ball rolling, with a claim that NASA airbrushed the northeast slopes in the publicly-released image, to hide evidence of an alien base.

Since there's no evidence supporting the notion that the mountain's a bunker, built by alien invaders — that proves that they've infiltrated NASA!!!!! A few more exclamation marks, and someone might actually believe it.

But like I've said before, that kind of trouble I don't need. (February 25, 2014)

So I'll wrap up this post as I usually do, with links to more of my take on life, the universe, and all that:

1 About humility, and thinking:
"CONSCIENCE: The interior voice of a human being, within whose heart the inner law of God is inscribed. Moral conscience is a judgment of practical reason about the moral quality of a human action. It moves a person at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil (17771778). An examination of conscience is recommended as a preparation for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance (1454)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, C)

"HUMILITY: The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as 'poverty of spirit' (2546)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, H)

"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, S)


Brigid said...

Did you mean to end this sentence this way? "of what Leo XIII wrote —"

Missing word: "someone wear an aluminum-foil cap,"

Missing word again: "running into folks who apparently that the 'Ussher was right' bunch"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...

Oops. Not really. Well, yes: but it isn't as clear as I thought it would be.

Fixed, and added the missing mystery words. Thanks, Brigid!

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