NASA is ramping up its social media campaign this summer with a Pluto widget that allows common Earth dwellers to experience what noon time daylight is on the dwarf planet Pluto. NASA scientists hope many send the agency pictures of ways to enjoy “Pluto Time.”
The “Pluto Time” tool, publicly released on the NASA solar system website, helps people calculate when the light levels around their home are equivalent to those at noon on Pluto. The widget gives people a specific time to step out and see what daylight looks like on far away dwarf planet. The times vary, depending on where people live.
The widget was released as part of a campaign promoting a flyby by NASA’s New Horizons scheduled for July 14. New Horizons, a space probe launched in 2006 with the specific mission to study Pluto, started its approach to the dwarf planet in January. New Horizons also sent back pictures from Jupiter in its flyby past the large planet, but scientists are excited about the Pluto mission because this is the first flyby for the dwarf planet. New Horizons is currently taking pictures of Pluto and its moons in its approach and sending them back to NASA.
To add to the excitement, NASA officials are encouraging people using the “Pluto Time” widget to take a picture of themselves outside at their appointed times. Officials said Pluto lovers can share their selfies on social media under the hashtag #PlutoTime. Participating in the campaign could land Pluto aficionados in an art project produced by the space agency. Those at NASA want to take all the pictures from people enjoying the widget all over the world and create a mosaic picture of Pluto and its moons. Those at NASA hope the ramp up of the social media campaign with the Pluto widget creates enthusiasm as New Horizons initiates its flyby.
Scientists have been studying pictures sent back over the years from the Hubble Telescope. Pluto’s five moons offered some surprises, according to scientists. The most notable surprise is the moons, so far, appear to rotate chaotically, meaning they can flip their poles. Scientists said that means the sun would rise and set in different random directions. One moon, Nix, is definitely chaotic and scientists believe the others could be also, although it would need more study.
The moons also do not orbit in resonance, but scientists believe they once were in lockstep in their movement. Three of the moons developed what scientists call a second resonance after the first fell apart.
The color of one, Kerberos, has scientists intrigued. The moon does not reflect as much sunlight as the others, leading NASA scientists to believe it could be made of something dark.
Pluto was discovered in 1930 and was named after the god of the underworld, which many thought was fitting because of its ice and darkness. Its name was actually suggested by an 11-year-old girl, Venetia Burney, who made the suggestion to her grandfather. The grandfather, Falconer Madad, was a former librarian and he sent the suggestion to an astronomy professor, who then passed to on to others in the United States.
Pluto, originally thought to be one of the nine original planets named in the solar system, was downgraded to a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union in 2006. The reasoning was two other similar icy objects, Chiron and Eris, were discovered and scientists realized that Pluto was not unique, but was one of many such objects in the Kuiper belt. The re-classification of Pluto caused a public debate. Pluto is one of the more popular planets, according to NASA, either because of its name or because of its intriguing distance from earth. Those interested in Pluto now have their chance to get involved as NASA ramps up its social media campaign this summer with the Pluto widget.
By Melody Dareing
CNET: Experience Earth on ‘Pluto Time’ with this NASA tool
New York Times: Astronomers Describe the Chaotic Dance of Pluto’s Moons
Design & Trend: NASA’s Pluto Time Widget Will Give You A Simulation Of Noon-Time Sunlight On Distant Dwarf Planet
Photo Courtesy of NASA HQ Photo Flickr Page – Creative Commons License