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July 20-26, 2015 / Vol 34, No 29 / Hawai`i Island, USA

17 Jul 2015, 20:13 UTC
July 20-26, 2015 / Vol 34, No 29 / Hawai`i Island, USA
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Solar System Human Mission Design Project: Welcome to the Third Zone

New Horizons zipping by Pluto and Charon is shedding light on a whole new region of the Solar System and has played a major role in the decades-long adoption of a much wider family of planets. A dwarf planet, not to be confused with a minor planet, is an object in direct orbit of the Sun with enough mass to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium under its own gravity, but which has not cleared its orbit of debris and is not one of the 4 terrestrial or 4 giant planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth Mars and Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune respectively). As of early 2015, in addition to the officially recognized dwarf planets Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris there are about 150 known Trans-Neptunian Objects that likely also qualify as dwarf planets (e.g. Orcus, Salacia, Quaoar, Sedna). Recently discovered bright spots in craters on Ceres are consistent with highly reflective materials containing ice or salts. Eris at (1.67±0.02)×1022 kg or 0.23 Moons is the most massive discovered so far and was recognized briefly as the “tenth planet” before being reclassified. The Kuiper Belt is a toroidal halo structure 20 times as ...

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