NASA Considers a Return to Pluto

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After New Horizons Discovered Some Amazing New Data, a Return to Pluto May Be on NASA’s Agenda Soon.

NASA might make a return to Pluto in the near future. Recently, the agency, funded the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in order for them to look into a variety of Pluto missions, including an orbiter. And Pluto fans couldn’t be happier!

Let’s face it. Pluto gets bullied a lot here on Earth. I mean, if we think of the solar system as a schoolyard, you’ve got the sun, of course, which is the recess monitor. Jupiter and the other gas giants are like the big kids who are too cool for everyone else. Saturn’s the girl everyone wants to date (It’s the rings). And Earth is a bully. We and our pals here in the rocky inner circle think we’re so cool. We’ve got a life, and Mars might have had it at one time, too. We couldn’t stand the fact that there was another rocky planet hanging out over in gas giant territory. So we did what all bullies do – we downgraded its planet status and classified it as “less than” a planet.

I jest, of course, but there was significant popular controversy over the decision when it was made in 2006. After all, Pluto’s reclassification wasn’t necessarily intentional. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to define the term planet, and Pluto didn’t make the cut. However, making Pluto a dwarf planet caused outrage in parents everywhere who had always been taught that there were nine planets in the solar system.

We all remember this episode, right?

Classification issues aside, NASA may want to return to Pluto

Back in 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto on its way into interstellar space. If we stick with the schoolyard analogy, this would be the equivalent of us throwing a paper airplane at the nerdy kid. The thing is, what happens when the nerdy kid catches the airplane mid-flight and sends it back? That’s pretty much what Pluto did when the first images started coming back.

Pluto reclaims its “coolness”

We discovered some amazing facts about Pluto that are simply fascinating. As such, NASA funded the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and tasked them with looking into a variety of possible Pluto orbiter missions. This doesn’t guarantee that a mission will be chosen and launched, of course. However, the funding does indicate that NASA is serious about learning all we can about Pluto.

The fact that Pluto is covered with literal mountains (some up to two miles high) of water ice and flat plains of nitrogen ice is only the beginning. Data collected from an orbiter may reveal much more about Pluto’s formation. In turn, those data could further our understanding of how the rest of our solar system was formed. 

SwRI has been working on a pluto orbiter for quite some time, so the chances are good that if NASA continues funding their research we could see a new mission and a return to Pluto in the near future.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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