Thursday, October 27, 2016


Well, I’m late getting this written and posted. (Sigh.) What a bummer.

I actually tried to do some quick research on ‘tardiness’ for this thrown-together blog. Google returned lots of sites where I could get the definition, but I already know that. The few sites that weren’t for the definition were mostly about students who were habitually late, and a few were about business policies concerning tardiness. Not what I was looking for.

I was looking for clues about the reasons why people are late with projects. I thought maybe I could share some insights about why I am sometimes late getting a blog done on time. But that kind of site didn’t show up, or if it did, it was so far down on the list that I never got to it.

THIS week, I know why I’m late. Our household has become a mad-house.

Last weekend, we got another storage unit and started packing up and taking boxes of stuff that we’d been using the last several months. Any effort to maintain some semblance of a ‘daily schedule’ flew right out the window. My hubby was so worried we wouldn’t get things done that there were times when he got up at 5 am to pack. Having finally gotten our new po box number from the Florida post office, I’ve been trying to notify everybody of our immediate change of address, which made Hubby mad, because I wasn’t helping him pack and take stuff to storage. So no, I’m not done with my list of businesses and people to notify.

Today, Hubby dropped me off to drive home the rental truck. He is off at dospace for one last session on the laser printer. The moving men are supposed to arrive sometime around noon to load up the furniture and take it to storage for us. Then I can take the truck back.

Almost everything is packed. We will take the tv to storage in the morning. I have a laptop and e-reader to throw in my suitcase, and we’ll do one last load of wash tonight. (The washer and dryer are staying.) So, without him ranting about ‘never getting it all done’, I can take a break and do this blog, at least until the moving men show up. I have to be careful with what they take, because we have quite a bit of stuff that we are actually taking to Florida with us.

So, no big insights into tardiness. Only the insight that I do better when life has some semblance of a schedule. And eventually, once we get a new home and get settled, we will develop something that could possibly be called a schedule. I will be so relieved when that happens!

What’s coming next week? Hmmm. Hard to say. We are attending Icon in Iowa City this weekend, on our way to Florida, so I won’t have a lot of time for research. I keep hearing tidbits about ‘Planet 9’ - not that they’ve found it, only that it has to be there. I might put that off a bit longer, see if they finally do find it. Possibly a report on Icon; we haven’t been there for several years. Or maybe not, because once we get to Florida, there are lots of conventions of all types for us to attend.

I guess you’ll just have to come back and see what I write!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Any More Out There?

Okay, did I manage to discover anything about more potential dwarf planets? With most (except Ceres) so far from us, scientists often have to piece together bits of information from several different sources. Even Hubble telescope doesn’t do them much good, because all it showed of Pluto (the biggest dwarf) was a fuzzy blob. So, let’s see what they’ve jigsawed together so far:
It doesn’t have a name yet. But those who discovered it think they are close to deciding on one.
The designation means it was discovered in 2007, but it was only recently discovered that it was much bigger than originally thought. It is the 3rd largest dwarf, right behind Pluto and Eris, at a diameter of 955 miles [1535 km]. Its surface is very dark (the better to soak up what little sunlight it gets?) and reddish, and it rotates slowly - one day there is just under 45 hours long. They think it might be covered in volatile ices of methane, carbon monoxide and nitrogen.
OR10 has an elliptical orbit, which seems to be in fashion, that brings it close to Neptune’s orbit, but it is currently twice as far from the sun as Pluto. How far out does it go? I don’t think they’ve figured that out yet. I found no indication how long it takes to complete an orbit around the sun.
But if you really want to know the weird part about OR10, NASA’s information page stated there had been a hint of vegetation on its surface. What do you think? Some kind of lichen or what? I don’t think palm trees would grow there very well.
2015 RR245
Again, no name yet. It was discovered in 2015. The animation I found about its orbit shows that it gets to Neptune’s orbit, but then skedaddles far, far away, taking 700 years to make one trip around the sun. Its size is 435 miles [700 km], so it’s not a huge dwarf. It will make its closest approach to the sun on this trip in 2096.
What little I found on Sedna was mostly from 2004. (You’d think they would have found out more by now.) When it was discovered, Sedna was 8 billion miles [13 billion km] from Earth, 3 times as far as Pluto. It’s red, thought to be about 1,400 miles [2,250 km] in diameter, and there is some evidence it has a moon. It takes 10,000 years to travel around the sun. It’s very bashful, though - maybe that explains its blush? It will get slightly closer in the next 50 years, but still won’t be anywhere near Pluto when it starts heading back for the Inner Oort Cloud. (Strangely, the Oort Cloud was described as ‘hypothetical’, but it shows up on all my star navigation charts.)
Discovered in 2002, Quaoar (pronounced kwa-whar, the name of a Native American god) lies 621,372,292 miles [1,000,000,000 km] beyond pluto in a circular orbit. Maybe it hopes to grow up to be a ‘real’ planet. It has a ways to go, with a diameter of 808 miles [1300 km]. Quaoar is also known as 2002 LM60.
I’d actually forgotten about Sedna and Quaoar, it had been so long since they had been in the news. That’s all I’ve got this week. If you still haven’t heard enough about dwarf planets, try the website , which is updated daily by Mike Brown, an astronomer who seems to be right in the midst of discovering a lot of them. Some of it may be over your head (it certainly was for me), but check it out: as of 10/16/16, he listed 10 nearly certainly, 30 highly likely, 75 likely, 147 probably, and 695 possibly dwarf planets.
Wow! What a big family!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

3 Blind Dwarfs

Okay, I’ve talked about Ceres and Pluto. That leaves the blind dwarves. I call them blind not because they can’t see (although they probably can’t), but because humans have not - yet - sent out a probe to get a good look at any of them. Our information on them is relatively skimpy, so this probably won’t take long.
Eris was originally (2003) thought to be larger than Pluto, and was submitted as our system’s 10th planet. Designated 2003UB313 (and nicknamed Xena), it is now named for the Greek goddess of discord and strife, which seems rather fitting, since it caused Pluto’s demotion.
Eris’ diameter is 1,445 miles [2,326 km], which makes it pretty close to the same size as Pluto. The motions of its moon, Dysnomia, shows that Eris is about 27% heavier than Pluto, which means it is denser - probably a large rocky body with a thin mantle of nitrogen-rich ice mixed with frozen methane. This surface may be a frozen atmosphere, which only becomes an atmosphere for a small portion of its 557 year trip around the sun. And unlike most of its siblings, Eris’ orbit sits far outside the plane the other planets inhabit.
One website stated that an Eris day lasts for 25 hours. Another stated that Dysnomia’s circular orbit around Eris takes 16 days.
First discovered in March 2005, its first ‘name’ was 2005 FY9, its codename was Easterbunny. I can pronounce Easterbunny, but what’s the proper pronunciation of Makemake? Is it Make-make? Mak-ee-mak-ee? Ma-kee-ma-kee? Well, never mind, let’s move on. Oh, wait, here it is. It’s pronounced mah-kee-mah-kee, which is the name of the god of fertility of the Rapanui, the native people of Easter Island.
Makemake’s diameter is 870 miles [1,400 km], which is about 2/3 the size of Pluto, and takes about 310 years to circle the sun. Its orbit is quite lop-sided, as it goes as far out as 53 Å* from the sun and gets as close as 38 Å, not quite far enough in to say hello to Neptune. Its day is 22.5 hours. It has no atmosphere, is reddish in color, and has been determined to have frozen methane, ethane and nitrogen on its surface.
Makemake has a moon. S/2015(136472)1 (nicknamed MK2) is approximately 100 miles [160 km] in diameter and lives about 13,000 miles [20,900 km] from Makemake. It’s the color of charcoal. It’s been suggested that MK2’s gravity is too weak to hold onto any ices that might have been on the surface, so they sublimated into space. Scientists are still watching MK2, trying to discern the shape of its orbit; if it’s circular, the moon was probably produced by an impact, but if it’s elliptical, MK2 was probably captured by Makemake’s gravity as they passed.
Even though Haumea was discovered in 2003, it wasn’t announced until 2005, about the time its 2 moons were discovered. It was designated 2003EL61 (and nicknamed Santa), then named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth and fertility. Its moons - Hi’aka and Namaka - are named for her daughters.
Despite being found before the other two dwarves, every website I visited had about 10 sentences on Haumea, most of it repeating what every other website said. So, here some sketchy details:
At its equator, Haumea’s diameter is about 1,200 miles (1,931 km), making it almost as wide as Pluto. But its mass is only 1/3 of Pluto, at least partially because the diameter from pole to pole is much less. Now, even dwarf planets are supposed to be spherical, so why is this called a dwarf planet? Well, they’ve cut it some slack because its ‘day’ is less than 4 hours. That speed has deformed it into something resembling a half-flat beach ball. There is speculation that an impact set it spinning so fast, as well as created its moons.
Haumea is believed to be a big rock with a coating of ices that takes 285 Earth years to make a trip around our sun.
Those are all the juicy tidbits I could find about the 3 ‘blind’ dwarves. However, as I was doing this research, I caught tantalizing hints of other discoveries that may be on their way to being named dwarf planets. If I can find enough information to make a blog, I’ll let you know about those, too.
There’s also been some speculation of a Planet 10 or Planet X, also located in the Kuiper Belt. I’ll look into that, too, but I’m not promising I’ll find much. I heard some hype about the possibility for a little while, and then it just seemed to fizzle out.
So, be sure to come back next week, kids! Same time, same channel. See you then!

*Å = Astronomical unit, the distance between the sun and Earth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


I consider Pluto and Charon twins. They run around the sun, constantly together, and pretty much ignoring all their other siblings. Pluto was discovered in 1930, and was considered a planet until fairly recently, when it was demoted to dwarf planet.
Charon wasn’t discovered until 1978, and is usually considered Pluto’s closest and largest moon. However, there are scientists who (like me) think Pluto and Charon should be classified as a binary dwarf planet unit. For one thing, Charon’s diameter is slightly more than half of Pluto’s, which is very large for a moon. The relative sizes of a moon to its planet rarely approach that, from what we’ve been able to observe so far. Charon’s size is so large, compared to Pluto’s, that - strictly speaking - it doesn’t actually revolve around Pluto. Both of these twins revolve around a point somewhere between them. Kind of like 2 kids on a playground, holding each other’s hands and spinning around, laughing as they get dizzy and the world around them starts to look silly. And like those 2 kids, they don’t allow the 4 remaining ‘moons’ to join them. The tiny moons revolve around the pair, wishing they were part of the game.
Pluto’s diameter is 2,372 km[1,474 miles], making it the largest dwarf planet we know of. My quick research didn’t find Charon’s exact diameter, but it’s slightly more than 1,186 km[737 miles], which certainly makes it larger than Ceres (950 km)[590 miles].
While NASA’s probe thoroughly studied Pluto, it didn’t neglect Charon. Since it was there, why waste the opportunity? And aside from size, they do rather resemble each other.
Both Pluto and Charon are believed to have a rocky core surrounded by water ice, with other ices covering that. And at the temperatures experienced that far out, water ice is as hard as stone. I find that a little hard to fathom, but not impossible to accept.
Pluto and Charon are tidally locked, meaning each keeps the same side facing the other at all times. Rather like the 2 kids mentioned earlier. But they must have gotten so dizzy they fell over, because they travel around the sun on their sides - still revolving around each other. Maybe the twins got the idea of laying down from Uranus.
And like Uranus and Venus, Pluto rotates backwards, so that sun rises in the west and sets in the east. I found no mention of Charon doing that.
Both of the twins have some interesting features, like Pluto’s ‘heart’, which is a huge glacier made of Nitrogen ice, and Charon’s huge chasm that crosses its entire face. The ‘southern’ half of Charon is smoother and has less craters than the ‘northern’ half. The current thought is that when Charon’s internal water froze (and therefore increased in volume), the pressure forced some partially frozen water out as a type of lava. Remember Ceres’ cryovolcano?
For at least part of its year, Pluto has an atmosphere, or maybe it should be called ‘layers of haze’. And some of it is escaping into space, but not as much as scientists expected, and mostly methane, not the nitrogen they expected would be leaving. I thought I had heard that Charon also had some haze, possibly borrowed from Pluto, but I couldn’t find anything like that during my research, so I may have mis-heard or misunderstood what was said.

And now, I’m going to give a self-satisfied raspberry to those who decided Pluto was ‘just’ a dwarf planet. It (and Charon) were full of surprises and brain-twisting facts for the entire New Horizons team that studied the incoming data. Way to go, Twins!