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Pluto: Preparing for the Perfect Alignment

22 Jul 2016, 18:36 UTC
Pluto: Preparing for the Perfect Alignment
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Today’s blog is from Anne Verbiscer, a research associate professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Virginia. On the New Horizons science team she studies the scattering properties and composition of icy surfaces in the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt.
Every year, planets orbiting the sun beyond Earth’s orbit reach what astronomers call “opposition,” when they appear in the sky at the position opposite that of the sun. At opposition, the planet, or satellite or asteroid, and the sun line up with Earth between them. Pluto and its moons were at opposition this year on July 8, at 03:30 universal time. Sometimes these alignments are so precise that if you were standing on the surface of one of these bodies and looking back at Earth, you would see our planet transit (or move across) the solar disk.
Earth and Moon transit the solar disk, seen from an outer planet during a “special” opposition when the planet is near the Line of Nodes. Credits: P. Molaro, et al., from arXiv 1509.01136, 2015
These “special” oppositions take place when the planet is near what is called the Line of Nodes at the time of opposition. The Line of ...

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