What Does It Take to Fly by Pluto?

In the old days, the usual practice for teaching the solar system was to have kids make models of the planets and suspend them from the classroom ceiling at varying distances from the sun that had nothing to do with scale. Motion (mass) and gravity–the primary forces that allow the solar system to exist were hardly mentioned, let alone considered deeply. Mary Ann Carson’s new book Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt, with photographs by Tom Uhlman is an adventure story of sending a spacecraft, named New Horizons, to the dark edge of the solar system to see what we could see. One result: Pluto is no longer considered a planet. It has a new name, a “dwarf” planet, and its largest moon, Charon, is almost as big. Instead of orbiting Pluto’s center of gravity, it circles a spot in space outside of Pluto! It’s almost a double planet! There are also four other moons. So don’t think that Pluto has been demoted, it is a system all unto itself–the largest group of orbiting ice and rocks called the Kuiper Belt.

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