NASA flyby gives closer look at Pluto’s mysterious ‘heart’

When NASA shared this image of Pluto with its Instagram followers Tuesday, scientists called it a love letter.
When NASA shared this image of Pluto with its Instagram followers Tuesday, scientists called it a love letter.
Photo: NASA/APL/SwRI

We downgraded its status, but Pluto still showed us its heart.

A spartan but warm-toned orb with a prominent heart-shaped terrain came into clear view Tuesday morning after NASA’s New Horizons snapped a picture some 476,000 miles from its surface after nearly a decade of travel.

Pluto was still considered a planet when New Horizon’s took off in 2006 for the end of our solar system. Since then, astronomers changed its status to a dwarf planet, but that did not diminish the excitement scientists and fans of star-gazing as the probe approached Pluto and its moons.

Hubble finds football-shaped moons in the end zone of our solar system

An artist's rendering shows the wobbble and oblong shape of Pluto's moon, Nix.
An artist's rendering shows the wobbble and oblong shape of Pluto's moon, Nix.
Illustration: NASA

Just because Pluto lost its planetary status doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting to astronomers.

NASA on Wednesday reported two football-shaped moons that wobble so unpredictably that the sun could rise in a different direction every day from either of the moons.

The Hubble Telescope recorded the oddball orbits of the oblong moons Nix and Hydra, which wobble because they are embedded in a constantly shifting gravitational field created by dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. Pluto and Charon share a common center of gravity.

Screaming ‘fire!’ in a crowded Russian space capsule is useless

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, left, and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov work through artificial fire aboard a Soyuz simulator.
ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, left, and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov work through artificial fire aboard a Soyuz simulator.

A first-class flight in a Soyuz space capsule is rocky, reliable and rather snug. An astronaut sits in a semi-fetal position, works the controls with a stick and feels a pretty heavy G load, especially on reentry.

So imagine if a fire breaks out on the Soyuz spacecraft. There’s no extinguisher, no exit and no help to call.

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen narrated a video showing he and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov going through a simulated fire on a capsule to train for an upcoming flight to the International Space Station.

This toilet demo shows how astronauts boldly go in space

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took time out from her work aboard the International Space Station to explain how astronauts go to the bathroom in zero gravity. Photo: ESA/YouTube
Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took time out from her work aboard the International Space Station to explain how astronauts go to the bathroom in zero gravity. Photo: ESA/YouTube

We have a reinvigorated interest in the mysteries of space. Astronaut Scott Kelly is just beginning a record-breaking stint in zero gravity, a space probe is about to fly by Pluto and manned missions to an asteroid and Mars are in the pipeline.

There is also the ongoing science on how to go to the bathroom in space, where things tend to float.

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti explained that mystery over the weekend, when she took time from her work on the International Space Station to give a video tour of the bathroom (see below) and delicately describe going Numbers 1 and 2 in zero gravity.

Apollo mission patches put stars in the eyes of a family

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The Apollo 11 mission patch. Photo: NASA/Neil F. Smith/YouTube
The Apollo 11 mission patch. Photo: NASA/Neil F. Smith/YouTube

I had the kind of dad who brought his work home with him. That was exciting since he was in the business of putting men on the moon.

Each time there was a scheduled launch, my two brothers and I could always expect our dad to come home with mission patches. Robert Pierini was an engineer in the late 1960s and early ’70s with an electronics company in Milwaukee that developed the guidance system for the Apollo mission.

So when filmmaker Neil F. Smith recently posted a video to YouTube, bringing animated life to each mission emblem, I immediately felt the same rush I had as a kid when I held a patch in my hand.