Thursday, June 21, 2007

T. Peter Park Reports: H. P. Lovecraft and A Trans-Yuggoth Planet

T. Peter Park just sent this to us:

If H.P. Lovecraft were still alive, would he decide Eris rather than Pluto was Yuggoth?
Maybe astronomers should name the next trans-Plutonian dwarf planet Yuggoth!
Eris is obviously much too small to have any possible relation to the Nibiru of Sumerian mythology!


Pluto can't seem to catch a break. It was ignominiously demoted to 'dwarf planet' status after astronomers discovered an even larger icy world in the outer solar system. Now, new observations have pinned down the mass of that world, called Eris, revealing it outweighs Pluto by a hefty 27%.
Eris was dubbed the 'tenth planet' when its discovery was announced in 2005. After re-igniting a debate over the definition of a planet, it became the largest "dwarf planet" – a new category of object that included Pluto – when astronomers officially defined the term in 2006.
Caltech researchers Michael Brown and Emily Schaller have observed the moon, called Dysnomia, over seven nights in 2005 and 2006 using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, US, and the Hubble Space Telescope. It appears to be on a 15-day circular orbit. Eris is 27% more massive than Pluto, – spanning 2400 km compared to Pluto's diameter of 2320 km.
"For a long time, Pluto was the only thing out in the outer solar system that was bright enough to study in detail and it was sort of the lonely oddball out there," Brown told New Scientist. "But now we are able to study many more of these new dwarf planets and we are starting to see how the entire family operates."The observations did raise a mystery, however. They did not reveal any other moons beside Dysnomia, which is thought to have coalesced from the debris of an ancient collision in the outer solar system.
Pluto, on the other hand, has three moons – a large one called Charon and two small satellites discovered in 2005. All three of Pluto's moons lie in a circular orbit and are the same colour, suggesting they formed from a single, violent collision involving Pluto and another large body in the early solar system. A big collision is also thought to have spawned the multiple moons orbiting another large, distant body called 2003 EL61.
"That was the biggest surprise – we spent a few hours staring at Eris with the Hubble Space Telescope thinking that we would certainly see additional moons, but nothing showed up," says Brown. "We're still trying to figure that one out."In the next few months, Brown will observe Eris and Dysnomia again with Hubble, in the hopes of learning the composition of Dysnomia. "Our hypothesis is that anything made in a giant collision like this is going to have coalesced out of water ice, and should be a huge ice cube," he says.
Journal reference: Science (vol 316, p 1585)

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